Escape the Ordinary

Showcasing his series of unique and delicate ink drawings, local artist and designer Glenn Ellul is hosting his debut solo exhibition Structures of the Mind, which can be viewed online and at the Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana throughout November.

The exhibition focuses on Glenn’s personal interpretations of both local and international artefacts and architecture, and his main aim is for people to escape. ‘For me, these drawings were a form of therapy. And that’s what I wish for visitors: to see and escape — maybe even to be inspired to draw or create something. That’s what I try to do with every drawing.’

Escape into the Mind

Glenn has been working on this exhibition for the past two years, creating unique pieces inspired by the past. ‘I create intricate architecture on paper,’ he says. Certainly the geometric patterns and fantastical facades leave the eyes bedazzled.

While his art is meticulously detailed, Glenn’s drawings are never planned but instead done freehand. ‘I never sketch before. I draw two lines to find the centre, and then I let it flow. That’s why the exhibition is called Structures of the Mind. I build them while I draw.’

He also refers to the way he mixes different styles in his work. Existing buildings are his main inspiration, which he tries to turn into his own vision. His unique pieces are inspired by the past, with a melange of baroque, postmodernism, modernism, and other styles.

‘I never sketch before. I draw two lines to find the centre, and then I let it flow. That’s why the exhibition is called Structures of the Mind. I build them while I draw.’

At the same time, the strong symmetry and straight lines hint that the person behind this work is neat, tidy, and structured. ‘It reflects my character in the sense that I’m a perfectionist. I work with ink, so you have to be tidy. There’s a bit of ‘me’ in every piece.’

Glenn’s fascination with architecture started back when he was just a boy. ‘When I used to go to church with my mom, I would always be looking at all the little details. I was studying those details every Sunday, always trying to find something new.’

Besides his local surroundings, he finds inspiration in foreign architecture, too. ‘European architecture is more baroque and classical, but places like India, Asia, and the Middle East have a lot of intricate buildings. We’re not doing anything similar to that nowadays.’

An Inland Empire

But a lot of his work simply stems from his rich imagination and life experiences. ‘It’s a kind of therapy for me as well. Everything I draw stems from my subconsciousness. If I’m creating a lot of windows, doors, and empty rooms, that means something. It’s like I’m hiding my anxieties and issues in life.’

‘When I’m drawing more decorative architecture, I might be feeling more happy and playful. When I’m not doing great, it’s more brutal architecture. That way, my work is a medium to express myself.’

Despite being extremely knowledgeable on the topic, the self-taught artist never studied architecture. It is truly his passion for the craft that drove him into drawing it, having had no architectural education at all.

Growing up, his hobby wasn’t watching TV but drawing intriguing shapes. As time passed, it turned out he was drawing his own imagination. Over time and with practice, his work improved. ‘Obviously, I got better over time. I went from using biros to using ink. When I see old work, there’s a lot of difference. The skill gets better the more you practice.’

‘It’s a kind of therapy for me as well. Everything I draw stems from my subconsciousness. If I’m creating a lot of windows, doors, and empty rooms, that means something. It’s like I’m hiding my anxieties and issues in life.’

COVID-19 also played a role in the development of his skill, as the pandemic gave Glen a lot of free time to work on his pieces. ‘It takes a lot of time, only using your hands. One piece takes a month, a month and a half. People comment about my patience. They ask me why I go into such tiny detail. I know it takes time, but the detail makes the full drawing.’

I’m an Artist, not an Architect

Despite his passion for architecture, Glenn has never considered working in the field. As a graphic designer, he enjoys the artistic process, though the work is very different from his art. ‘I work on different brands and commercial design, with design programs on computers, so it has nothing to do with drawing by hand.’

Glenn Ellul

‘Having an architecture job wouldn’t be that satisfactory. You often don’t get the freedom to design what you want. Besides, I’m not aiming for these designs to be built. They’re there to be appreciated on paper. It’s visionary and imaginary more than concrete plans.’

And that’s his main aim: to have people look at the drawing and escape for a few minutes by immersing themselves in the details. ‘It’s like escapism. Maybe someone can relate to any particular architecture or shape. I want the viewer to escape and to forget about the world in that moment, to dive into the structure.’

In our fast-changing world, where we don’t often get the chance to stop and think, a picture, photo, or drawing can move your emotions. Art moves, inspires, and starts conversations. And that’s exactly the importance of art, Glenn says. ‘Without artists, we’d just live and work, without stopping to think and ask ourselves questions. Even if you don’t actively think about a piece of art, subconsciously you’ll still wonder about it. You still think to yourself “I saw that photo and it reminds me of something.” Without art, it would be madness.’

He hopes to raise a question about how Malta is currently being built up. In contrast to the islands’ earlier days, architecture is no longer used to leave a legacy. While a church’s big structure imposes a feeling of importance on the visitor, contemporary architecture seems to be built for functionality rather than form. 

‘We’re just building things to build them, without much thinking. The architecture doesn’t say anything about the building. Today, in my opinion, there is no character and no meaning. I hope I can raise some questions for people to talk and discuss.’

However, his artwork isn’t all political. ‘I do this because I love architecture and creating new pieces,’ says Glenn. ‘It’s not mainly a protest for Maltese architecture, but I hope that people will realise that if we invest time and a bit of thinking, we can build something that lasts, or at least evoke emotion.’

And that’s exactly what Glenn’s work does. When people see his artwork, they tell him they wish something similar would be made in Malta, rather than just building boxes on top of boxes. Prepare yourself to wander into a different world and be inspired by Structures of the Mind this November.

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