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Literature Week interview remembers Gibraltar’s art doyen Mario Finlayson

So synonymous with art Mario Finlayson has Gibraltar’s National Art Gallery called after him, the doyen was the topic of conversation on Wednesday night’s Literature Week interview.

His daughter Paulette Finlayson was joined by Dr Jennifer Ballantine Perera and Gino Sanguinetti as the trio came together to talk about Mario Finlayson’s work, his book ‘A Lifetime in Art’ and their experiences with the artist.

The discussion started with a self-portrait from 1947 which he painted shortly after the war and on repatriation.

“I remember having some conversations with him when we were putting together his book and he felt the evacuation hard as it was it offered him an opportunity to be able to further himself as an artist,” said Dr Ballantine Perera.

She spoke about his time in London where he was working as a draftsman and asked Ms Finlayson if she thought he knew he always wanted to be an artist.

“I think art was always intrinsic with his being and I think that maybe he wanted to stay in the UK to pursue his fine and evolvement as an artist, as a painter,” Ms Finlayson said.

“So coming back to Gib he felt he might be stifled. So I think he always had that lure of going back to the UK even to America.”

“I think he always felt he wanted to travel back but I think that sometimes you don’t necessarily have to travel somewhere to be able to evolve as an artist or even as a person.”

She believes her father realised this later on in his life.

The artist was first a police officer and then a fire officer all while he still painted especially Devil’s Gap as this was a view he had at the time.

“It was where he was happiest and it was where he was evolving,” said Ms Finlayson.

In those years being an artist was isolating with not many artists on the Rock at the time but one artist Gustavo Bascarias used to visit Mr Finlayson in his studio to see how he was progressing.

They spoke on how Mr Finlayson was always striving to learn and improve on his skill set.

Former Chronicle editor and artist, the late Jon Searle was aware of Mr Finlayson who was making a name for himself on the Rock in the 1950s and early 60s.

Mr Searle gave him the opportunity to give evening art classes and this opened up a new world for him, a world of art education.

On his view and his passion for roof tops, a series he is well known for, Mr Sanguinetti said, “the whole series of rooftops is a reflection on Gibraltar but also a reflection of style in different ways of seeing things and experiencing things.”

Dr Ballantine Perera agreed and also recalled when he was at St Jago’s School he arrived full of hope and a passion to project that vision to students.

The Art Centre he created brought together all forms of art.

“I think people take it for granted that it was always there and not how it came to be,” said Ms Finlayson.

They spoke about his time at Slade School of Fine Art in London and showed some paintings while noting that the artist was always changing and creating new pieces.

Reflecting on the messages in his paintings Dr Ballentine Perera recalled when he said he was not a socially committed artist.

“He said ‘I just feel it comes from within and I just want to explore this’, but after we had this conversation I wondered and I think Mario is socially committed and I tell you why,” she said.

“Not socially committed because you see a message on the canvas but socially committed because everything that he did was to set the building blocks so that everyone else could have the opportunity that he didn’t have and that he had to create for himself.”

Mr Sanguinetti was asked how he would best remember the artist.

“His eyes,” he said

“The way he looked at you.”

“He really looked at you and listened to what you said.”

As the session wrapped up his daughter said “I think he would be very happy and honoured that we are remembering him,” before she was overcome with emotion.

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