Non Plus Ultra - Paul Cosquieri


Non Plus Ultra!

The new mural at the Gibraltar University has been both an artistic and personal journey for artist Paul Cosquieri who describes the final piece as part intentional part accident. Decorating the Common Room wall at the educational facility the work tells a story about Gibraltar celebrating its past and present.

The President of the Fine Arts Association says the evolution of his work was organic. The mural had to convey one simple theme that of Gibraltar with Paul putting his own stamp right at the beginning. He says he tackled the mural as another of his paintings, but a considerably larger one. He explains this was a significant decision as normally mural work involves the creation of smaller paintings which are then projected or enlarged to fit into the final size requirement. “I started the mural without any predefined idea and with the simple resolution of letting the painting speak to me and show me the way.” Talking about the process, he says he confronted it as he always does, undergoing a process of seeking, finding, and discarding. 

Paul tackled the mural a month after having a stroke.  At the time he says he’d almost recovered from the physical effects the stroke had on his right arm and leg but was still suffering from slurred speech and other related problems. “The fact that I had this project to do was crucial to me. I had to get it done and I had to recover. I had to simply get on with it and not look back.” Paul believes the mural greatly helped him to recover the pieces, saying it gave meaning to his life again. The experience has had a lasting effect, “I feel that I now somehow paint in a different and freer way. I just want to have fun!”

He explains one of the reasons he accepted this project was its final destination. Housed in the Common Room, the heart and hub of the University, it will be seen by local and international students. “I had to do something that would connect with bright young inquisitive minds, but also something that would reach out to all students from different backgrounds and nationalities. I think my painting sets out to create dialogue and foster conversation among students.”

“Yet the mural works in different levels with the colouring and action painting serving to transport the viewer somewhere else. I think the painting works at different levels and the more you look at it the more you will see.”

But it’s been a journey for Paul, a journey of recovery plus a journey into the unknown, as he says he somehow had to find himself again personally and find a way forward.

The artist also explains the process.

His choice of colours was conditioned after he was given a colour scheme for the room. The blues and yellows chosen were very bright and cheerful, and his painting he says had to convey that same youthfulness and vibrancy. The artist also gathered information about Gibraltar and the Gibraltarians, visiting the National Archives. “This visit proved to be crucial from the word go. I was bombarded with a lot of visual information; photos, prints, texts from the beginning and I knew that somehow all this information had to be simplified if I was to make anything of it. “

“I was clear from the beginning that the use of photographs and the historical aspect could not be in a “linear” form. I did not want the painting to read as a timeline. I therefore selected a “Pot Pourri” of Gibraltar related images. Politicians, past governors, historical and interesting characters, musicians, soldiers, every day people, ships, the Neanderthal skull and a myriad of related images, which I printed out and cut to size. These images I kept for the final stages of the painting.”

The overall composition had to be horizontal, so Paul mentally divided the painting into four horizontal bands loosely representing the sky (sky blue), the sun (yellow) the sea(ultramarine blue) and the land (ochre, sienna and yellow). He tackled the central band first with a collage made up of pages of one particular edition of the Gibraltar Chronicle. This is something that runs through a large number of his works but for this particular painting Paul chose one day, as in ONE day in the life of Gibraltar. “I did a very rough collage in the centre and then painted over it in white, I repeated this process again and again. This idea of adding new pieces of one same newspaper is very interesting as the end result is a totally uncontrolled graphic effect that keeps part of the original context but comes across in a completely new way.”

Wanting to also represent today’s community he used the Telephone Directory as a source, using one particular year and proceeding to stick pages down in a totally random way. Again, exercising very little control over this, even using the yellow pages in order to create a dividing line along the bottom where the sea meets the land.The two upper bands were used as the carrier for the photos. “I wanted all images to remain visible to some point but I did not want them to stand out too much and rather blend into the overall effect of the painting”.

After, he let his action painting take over and let himself loose on the painting. This further helped to “remove” the overpowering effect the photographs had on the mural by pushing them back a layer or two and serving to unite the whole painting into one singular and overall statement.

No doubt the scale of the final piece also played an important role. This is the biggest job I’ve done to date and it allowed me to walk all over my canvas giving me a great perspective over the end result. I am very pleased with the end result as I feel the mural fully answers the brief and more importantly, it is totally true to myself and is a totally honest painting. The work took around three months to complete.