Maltese born Kane Cali is blazing a trail in modern glassmaking. Having trained in the UK and lived in London for several years, the artist now lives and works in Valletta. Following his acclaimed solo exhibition in there last year, Cali talks to us about incorporating new technologies into traditional glassmaking practices, where he finds inspiration on the island, and his favourite local haunts.
Can you tell us a bit about what it was like growing up in Malta?
Malta is a very small island, so small you can see the whole of the ‘rock’ from a plane. Its size though, I feel, is what makes it so special. Island life asks you to build a relationship with the sea, its people and most importantly, light. There is a quality of light here that has stuck with me to the point of returning after nine years of living in the UK. As a child, I would often spend my summers at the beach or at friends’ houses swimming and cooking together. I also distinctly remember getting lost in fields, mostly farming land, where we would find a tree and camp out underneath; these were simple luxuries that gave a euphoric sense of freedom that’s so hard to find in adult life.
Do you remember the first time you saw glassmaking in action?
I would like to say that it was in Malta at Mdina glass blowing, however this memory is vague and not necessarily significant. I truly felt glass in action when visiting the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey. I distinctly remember feeling the heat as I walked into the hot shop, the molten glass as it emerged out of the furnace spinning on a rod; it was ridiculously dangerous, and I loved it.
What made you want to pursue a career in ceramics and glassmaking?
I initially moved to the UK to read for a degree in 3D Character Animation in 2004. Though exciting and new, I soon realised (two years into the degree) that I needed more than computing power and simulations to drive my creative interests. I knew I wanted my hands to somehow get involved in a more tangible manner, one that witnessed, expressed and experienced material. Long story short, I packed up and found a course that did just that. This then lead me to UCA in Farnham, where the foundation of my understanding in glass and ceramics took place, and later, the Royal College of Art, where my views and network expanded. Throughout both my BA and MA, an experimentation and dialogue with the virtual and the real remained present within my work, culminating in what I have and still produce to this day.
How do you go about respecting Malta’s long-established history of glassmaking and ceramics whilst also exploring your own creativity?
The thing is, Malta’s heritage in glassmaking/ceramics and my work actually have very little in common. Interestingly enough there are two paths one can choose to go down when working with glass, glass blowing and glass casting. I’m mainly involved in glass casting, which means I follow a very similar process seen in bronze foundries—a process known as lost wax casting. Due to this and my involvement with more contemporary means of making through 3D scanning and 3D printing, I only ever cross paths with traditional techniques when mould making. I believe it’s more a case of respecting the extended notion of the word ‘technology’ and moving forward with a mindset that understands that the traditional is not there to be replaced but used alongside ‘new’ technologies.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Apart from the obvious large commissions and public recognition brought on through successful solo shows, I feel that the most rewarding moments so far came through meeting new people; ones that have intrigued and broadened my understanding of art and the art world.
Where do you go in Malta if you’re in need of inspiration?
A trip to Dingli cliffs is a ritual for me. The sheer expanse of an endless sea always sets the tone—that and Max Richter playing in the background. I do occasionally sit down for a coffee and people watch; the diversity of mannerisms and conversations that go on around me I find strangely stimulating.
Describe your perfect day in Malta?
North-westerly winds, the temperatures just gone above 24 degrees. I meet friends for breakfast at a local café, followed by lunch at the Harbour Club overlooking the grand harbour. A spritz or five later and a walk within the capital city Valletta is in order. The day comes to an end with pizza on a rooftop. Bliss!
Can you share some local secrets with us that you think visitors should know about?
Malta is full of hidden gems and the best way to find out about these is through chatting with the locals! I personally spend most of my time in the capital, this baroque city built by the Knights of Saint John, as it’s naturally rich in culture. There’s St John’s Co-Cathedral with its deceivingly plain façade but, on entering, visitors will notice that the interior is laced in gold and marble. My friends and I often refer to it as a Faberge egg. More recently, Valletta has become more vibrant with new restaurants, coffee shops and art galleries. I always believe it’s the small places that count. I recommend Lot 61 for coffee, Sicilia Bar for a great plate of pasta in the sun, Blitz for art exhibitions and events and 59 Republic for dinner with flair.