Every other product or service being launched out there increasingly seems to be the outcome of a creative collaboration of sorts, sometimes between very unlikely partners too (FILA and Chupa Chups, anyone?). Where does the collaborative spirit of our generation come from? Perhaps the internet, arguably being the most remarkable collaborative effort in recent history, has something to do with it. It's never been easier (or more tempting) to share what we're up to, get inspired by others' work, reach out to like-minded individuals or hop onto each others' projects. At first it might sound a bit contrary to the fact that an artistic practice involves a high level of individualism. There is an understandable tendency for creative professionals to find it difficult to invite others into their personal process, but when it works, it really works and creative collaborations have led to the creation of some pretty innovative outcomes that make our life easier and more aesthetically pleasing.
In order to explore the local collaborative spirit and the benefits of teaming up, il-lokal spoke to Maltese illustrator Zack Ritchie about his Beppe Collaboration. Back in January, Zack reached out to 33 Maltese and foreign creatives, asking them to depict his prickly pear character named Beppe in their own style. He invited them to use his prompt as a chance to reflect on their own creative process. In this case, all the participants come from somewhat similar creative backgrounds, focusing on graphic design and illustration, but each of them brings in a highly individual approach from different locations around the world.
il-lokal: Who is Beppe and why did you choose this character as the subject of your collaborative project?
Zack: Beppe is a curious explorer. He represents the prickly pears that are so characteristic and found all around the Maltese Islands. The character first appeared during a collaboration with Redbull and further developed as part of a collection of characters made for my first solo exhibition in 2018 titled 'Malta's got some character’. I chose Beppe as the subject for the collaboration as it helped give the participants a consistent parameter within which they could play, experiment and perhaps push their own boundaries. Being the character that Beppe is, they could play with various elements such as movement, abstraction and emotion.
il-lokal: How did the Beppe Collaboration come about? Was there a particular moment that sparked the idea?
Zack: Initially, I reached out to the Vizwali team so they could help me turn Beppe into a 3D character for a separate project. I spend a lot of time doodling Beppe and often share my doodles online without giving it much ulterior thought. There was a point when several artists started reaching out to me, asking me if they could also draw the character. Seeing my character through the lens of someone else’s style blew me away! I was very excited by the diversity and became really curious about taking it a step further. I wanted to highlight creative diversity and gain some insight into [the other artists’] perspective. I'll give you an example. Pasa reached out to me asking to turn the character into a 3D model. He created a 'melting chocolate Beppe' and explained his love for Nutella and how expensive it is in Brazil, where he is from. Who would have ever thought about that!
il-lokal: You invited both local and foreign artists to join the project. How did you go about this process?
Zack: A few creatives approached me first, then I reached out to creatives that I casually speak to on social, as well as to groups in communities and subsequently to creatives whose work I admire. Then I formulated an email with a small brief and an image of Beppe and hit send! This was the first time I attempted a collaboration of this scale, so it presented a learning curve and I am so grateful to each creative that responded!
il-lokal: As the creator of the original character, how did it feel to let Beppe go like that? How territorial are you over your work?
Zack: Actually, extremely liberating and inspiring! I am more attached to what the character represents - a curious explorer. Beppe is a good template that feeds my curiosity and pushes me to explore deconstruction, abstraction and different styles, and so it was awesome to see others have their go at it too.
il-lokal: You asked featured artists to share their thoughts on creativity and the answers make for an insightful read in themselves. As a creative yourself, do you see a universal element in their creative practices?
Zack: What struck me the most was how relatable all of their views are and how we all experience these moments at different stages of our creative careers. Off the top of my head, I remember reading about style and voice, criticism, passion, the comfort zone, personal projects, connections and growth - all of them are notions that we all deal with at some point or other, irrespective of our individual practices. Hopefully, these shared insights will inspire creatives at different stages of their practice to understand that it's okay to have such concerns as it’s all part of the creative journey.
il-lokal: How has this experience affected your own creative practice?
Zack: For too long, my creative exploration has been a solitary journey. This project took me way outside my comfort zone, with putting together and managing a collective, but it gave me a lot of excitement. It made me realise that as creatives we often tend to look for solutions individually, yet we are all experiencing similar struggles. So perhaps we should also turn solution-finding into a shared experience. Maybe through collaborating more we can help one another as well as celebrate each other. I'm now looking forward to getting in touch with and including more creatives in future projects.
It was very positive to find out, after talking to Zack, that sometimes all it takes to initiate an exciting partnership is to drop someone a line and simply share with them what’s on your mind. Zack touched on some elements that are key to a successful collaboration; he mentioned that he was happy to let go of the total ownership he had over his creation and make his creative process a shared experience. His project was an open invitation to others to use him as a sounding board and bounce back with something of their own. Some unexpected results emerged from that exchange - 33 versions of the same character, presenting 33 new dimensions to Beppe the prickly pear, 33 different approaches and sources of inspiration. Surely, Zack could have never by himself imagined his character taking on so many different forms and lending itself to so many concepts. How rewarding!
In a best-case scenario, working closely with artists, particularly if you're an artist yourself, will be an invaluable source of idea generation, knowledge-sharing and new approaches. But there are also numerous, more practical benefits to be considered too. For instance, teaming up is a good way to tap into cross-promotion and show that you are acknowledged and have a place within a wider creative community. It demonstrates involvement, presence and a certain sense of camaraderie. It says, "Hey, I’m here, this is what I do, I’m interested in what we have in common and have something to offer".
The 33 participating artists in the Beppe Collaboration:
Mattie De Bono / Valentina Attard / Glenn Ellul / Moira Zahra / Daniela Farrugia / Philip Sultana / Emma Galea / Michaela Fleri Soler / Ed Dingli / Daniela Attard / Jan Frantz / Laura Morellon / Jon Calleja / Vizwali / David Oku / Sean Whealan / Anna Valeria D'Alessandro / Cooker - Glenn Cauchi / Jordan Falzon / Daniel Romero - WithoutBrain / Ben Sacco / Craig Mcdonald / Steffi Venturi / Pasa Edtl / Dwayne Dominick Jr / Aaron Craig / DoodleJor - Jordan Best / Christ Scicluna / Nicola Strada / Malcolm Ricci / Andrea Caruana / Jean Claude Vella / Magda Azab
Story by Manuela Zammit.