INSPIRED IN CHINA
Fine Art Exhibition by Maltese Artists 2017
Walled towns and old villages, lanterns swinging in the breeze, sculpted dragons and masks, precious jade, the pungent smell of spices and herbs, rice fields and tea in abundance, a karst eroded landscape quaint and strange with conical mountains, and hills covered by luscious vegetation as far as the eye can see, is what inspired our local artists. The feelings, emotions and moods that this panorama of lakes, rivers, waterfalls, caves and dizzy cliffs and slopes, with steps, and more steps to reach one belvedere more higher and beautiful than the other, was what stimulated Aaron Bezzina, John Vic Borg, Stephen Grima, Matthew Mirabelli and Enriquè Tabone to interpret works and permanently seal them for posterity. Hardly did the subtropical heat: damp, stifling and exhausting, discourage the artists brimming with enthusiasm, energy and with a thirst for adventure.
A bold neo-realist John Vic Borg (1971- ) presents a figurative, tangible and solid reality. Possibly like Gustave Courbet, he believes that painting ‘is essentially concrete and cannot but represent real and solid objects’.
He relies exclusively on the perception of the senses and therefore equates reality with perception. He exploits his talent for portraiture to give an almost photographic, figurative and representatively human and humane reality astounding in its veracity.
He captures protagonist, atmosphere, mood and place with such impressive vitality, but at the same time with deep compassion and understanding, meticulously rendering the harsh and frugal reality of man’s vicissitudes.
‘Intrigued’ and ‘Village Life’ are quite representative. His nuances of light and shade and his contrasts in ‘chiaroscuro’ demonstrate his indebtedness to the masters. The Chinese are used to such palpable and tangible reality.
Stephen Grima (1979- ) goes beyond the figurative and representative, and yet manages to seal optical images. He is primarily inspired by the spiritual, mystic, magical and mythological vision of the Miao minority ethnic group. ‘Miao Traditions’ is a good example painted in a light, dreamy style in the manner of a ‘buon fresco’, a technique Stephen masters.
The ‘Golden Pheasant – Legend meets Reality’ focuses on the origins of the Miao people: a bird gives birth to their village; a symbol used to explain identity.
In ‘Ode to the Beautiful Sun of Guizhou’ the artist aims for simplicity in a naïve style that echoes that of Picasso in ‘The Pipes of Pan’, a lyrical and poetic dream world. In ‘Mount Fanjing – Stairway to Heaven’ Stephen uses collage: rock, wood and cut-outs demonstrating his versatility with various media without losing unity and classical nuances.
The birds of prey is the nearest he could get to the seagulls that dive over his head at his studio in Mellieha. And the steps reaching up to the sky, to heaven, is the artist’s personal yearning for the spiritual and divine.
Matthew Mirabelli (1975- ) impressively expresses his concepts in photography. A press photographer and photo journalist he specializes in the actual and factual. He captures the fleeting moment in great definition. His vast collection of Guizhou images is dominated by a captivating shot of a father and son.
The latter is sound asleep on his shoulder oblivious of the dizzy heights of Mount Fanjing and the world around him, while his father is fixing a padlock to a chain for good fortune. What wonderful poetry elevating fatherhood to such intensity. Matthew loves portraiture, character study and the universal language of physiognomy, body movement, hands and finger studies in spontaneous shots taken in a split second, but backed by years of experience to make of the image a permanent nutshell of wisdom.
The images vary from a daughter who fails to capture her mother’s attention; the narcissism in a frontal image of a proud mother and her child; a painter caught drawing with rapt and absorbed concentration in his work; meticulously carved wooden facades; Qingyan and Zenuyuan ancient towns and the spectacular 82-metre high Huangguoshu waterfall. So evident is his sensitivity and sensibility to evoke mood, atmosphere, feeling, sentiment and emotion.
‘Xewka’ by Aaron Bezzina (1991- ) is a kind of contraption, purely abstract and geometric. Its matrix could be organic or better still geological: the countless and varied stalactites and stalagmites we saw in Zhijin Cave in Guizhou.
Since the contraption lies in a horizontal position the artist’s intention was to change its original context or to avoid perfect imitation, as Aaron is of the opinion that man feels so overwhelmed by the superhuman and spectacular force of nature that he is constrained to copy it, in his fragility and mortality. Possibly this shamanic quality of a thorn or spine lies in its form of a projectile or firework rocket. There is a sense of violence or pain in its sharp and pointed form. Hardly phallic in its reclining position, it might echo Aaron’s previous series of quaint mechanical contraptions.
The vision and concept in his work is purely intellectual, though the object is possibly fictitiously functional as the Kafkaesque machine in ‘The Trial’ or as in the ambiguous or relative meaning in Pirandello’s play ‘Cosi é se vi pare’. The various materials used extend further its metaphorical or conceptual quality – perhaps a failed attempt by nature to articulate the skeleton or an empirical but almost perfect experiment: hence its ambiguity.
Enriquè Tabone (1987- ) focuses and emphasizes light and colour, etched linearity, module, pattern and movement. With a little imagination, Plexiglas the medium she chooses might suggest jade or amber, as it is translucent and transparent and can refract and reflect light, especially in the way the artist uses it in modules to suggest pattern and movement. Plexiglass is warmer in effect than plain glass and more tactile and malleable.
‘Go, go, go’ that strikes a resemblance to Antonio’s Sciortino runaway horses, titled ‘Speed’, is representative in its linearity, translucency and horizontal flow. The sleek form stands in its slipstream as a symbol of urgency in a 3,000 kilometer tour of Guizhou’s scenic wonders. It gleams magically in natural light. ‘Gānbēi’ is the ultimate of a structure in modules, a free interpretation of a drinking bowl or Holy Grail used in a boisterous ritual of libation to test alcohol resistant guests. With fantasy it could be related to the bird’s nest or Olympic stadium in Beijing. Standing on a leg, it can easily be tilted without affecting its balance. The modules are welded or glued together to form a solid pattern.
The artist was captivated by the saturation and boldness of colour and by the enchanting play of natural light, and of electric light at dusk. Red, the Imperial colour, is used in her other works. The bold red she chose was inspired by the material used for paper-cutting. Almost blood red it becomes like translucent rubies, especially in ‘A Riddle’ and ‘Where Flowers bloom so does Hope’ that imitates a blooming lotus flower that opens and exposes its hidden secret. ‘A Riddle’ glows like a spirit or soul with a light within. ‘Intangible’ is wearable art, a piece of unique ‘jewelry’ delicate, elegant and feminine. Black lace-like images in silhouette stand in contrast on a background of red flowers: exotic flowers so organic, sensual, orgiastic and symbolic of a woman’s elegance and poise.
Inspired by traditional Miao costumes, the artist transforms the concept into modern designed jewelry. Enriquè fuses permanence and the ephemeral by exploiting translucency, transparency, and the refraction and reflection of light in the medium she chooses.
This collection of figurative and representative, of abstract and abstracted work, demonstrates great liberty of interpretation and execution, of varied talent and technique, of vision and concept, of objective and subjective approaches, of spiritual and concrete lyrical and poetic expression of feeling, emotion, sentiment, mood and atmosphere.
E. V. Borg
Curator and art critic
2018 Tour of the Maltese Islands
Venue #1: The Parliament of Malta, Freedom Square, Valletta
Open to the Public: 19th January – 28th February 2018 (excluding Public Holidays)
Monday – Friday 9:00hrs to 17:00 hrs
Saturday-Sunday 09:30hrs to 12:30 hrs
Entrance is free
Venue #2: Level 0, SkyParks Business Centre, Malta International Airport, Gudja
Open to the Public: 1st March - 1st June, 2018
Entrance is free
Venue #3: Exhibition Hall 1, Ministry for Gozo, St Francis Square, Victoria, Gozo (except on Public Holidays)
Open to the Public: 8th - 29th June, 2018 (excluding Public Holidays)
(8 - 5 June) Monday – Friday 8.30 hrs – 16.30pm
(16 -29 June) Monday – Friday 8:15 hrs to 12:45 hrs
Entrance is free
Venue #4: Renoir Gallery, Cavalieri Art Hotel, Water`s Edge, Spinola Road, St. Julians Open to the Public: 30th June - 30st August, 2018 Entrance is free
Info: Phone: +356 21225055; Email: [email protected]