The Malta Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce 160th Anniversary programme for 2012 presents a completely new feature. The Council of the Society invited artists who have not yet held a personal exhibition of their work to participate in a competition to choose from among them five prospective exhibitors. Since, during judging, the level reached among 35 entries was considered relatively high, it was decided to give a chance to the first nine, hence the title: Novonoveart.
The chosen participants hail from all walks of life. Art for them is not their bread and butter but a vital necessity, something that keeps them alive, the air they breathe. These circumstances does not diminish the difficulties or problems that result from a full-time job combined with the urge to create. Stress and tension are mitigated knowing that art is not the only means to survive but the pressure of work from a full-time job allows little spare time to experiment and research to create a work of art. The real advantage is that the artist need not contemplate the commercial aspect. On the other hand just producing a work for personal satisfaction alone limits the primary scope of art: communication with the wider world.
Organizing the event has already achieved results. It has served to throw light on actual difficulties in attending a life class from the model, of designing an art studio with all that requires, of putting up a personal exhibition and of finding the right time and space to create in a situation that involves various responsibilities, including family. Most rewarding and satisfying was trying to capture through photography the artists’ enthusiasm for their particular expression and it was quite an experience for both of us, curator and photographer sharing in their excitement and artistic endeavours. All in all it was a sharing of passions which will surely enrich all of us involved in this project. The exhibition presents 90 works by nine artists, 8 painters and two sculptors and the end result is highly professional.
The pâpier maché masks by Egeo Baldacchino (b.1944) are wonderful creations that express so much emotion, sentiment and feeling as to mistake them for real faces either introvertly shy or crying tears of blood as in ‘Pierrot’. Pinocchio is a human face carved in ‘wood’ while the hair of ‘Flower Lady’ is gorgeously decorated with flowers. ‘Bacchus’ is serenely smiling perhaps intoxicated with wine while the ‘Medusa’ is a tragic Greek mask modelled with great sensitivity by an artist whose love for his craft is boundless. His bottega is a joy to behold.
Benny Brimmer (b.1959) is concerned about night, about darkness lit by bright shafts of light. His dark-lit streets are perhaps inspired by subconscious memories of childhood when fear used to grip his heart and he would whistle a tune while going upstairs to pluck up courage and challenge the unknown in the dark. He is also interested in flood-lit edifices or monumental structures as ‘L-Imdina fis- Skiet’ or ‘St. Paul’s Cathedral’ on Marsamxett Harbour. ‘Desiderio’ a woman groping in the dark of her future destiny is more dramatic than ‘Solitude’ , a woman engrossed in thought while ‘Bizzilla ta’ Għawdex’ is rather narrative and traditional. Only ‘Mġarr ix-Xwejni’ and ‘Bastion Street, Mdina’ are saturated in light. This for Benny is the light at the end of a dark tunnel as his long desired dream of coming out of the shadows come true. Fear dispels like mist and dream becomes reality.
Adrienne Cassar (b.1954) is a bold expressionist cautiously and prudently following in the steps of her father the late Carmelo Mangion (1905-97) and like him she admires the French Impressionists and Expressionists. The freshness, spontaniety and freedom of her brush strokes show a decisiveness of thought and action. Perhaps her best work depicts a path that leads into the picture space when suddenly it disappears into a valley. This scene could be a landscape from her rooftop studio overlooking San Gwann. It gives a sense of space, of freedom and well earned solitude. Her obsession with light entering arched streets and underground vaults reveals her love for contrasts while her streetscapes dominated by our domed churches point to vernacular leanings for hilltop villages, for open spaces and green open countryside. Adrienne is inspired by nature and the connivance of man.
Susanne (Sue) Flask (b.1972) is a proud mother whose love for her progeny is projected boldly in their portraits. Her romantic approach is acutely realistic but profoundly human. The facial expressions are quite psychological portraying an analysis of character in a synthesis of physiognomy. The best work is perhaps ‘James’ in a self-conscious look, caught as in a lens with his schoolbag on his shoulders going to school. ‘Spring’ is the most symbolic with a wreath of tulips in various stages of blossoming denoting the seasons. ‘Francesca’s’ big dark eyes strike you dumb. Sue can handly pencil and paint dexterously.
Alfie Gatt (b.1985) creates faces of adoloscent women not as characters but as allegories or symbols, states of mind or moods hence ‘Mystic’, ‘Summer Breeze’, ‘Winter Hater’, ‘Breeze’ and ‘Violet Voltage’. The titles represent the effect of seduction each face performs on the victim. ‘Breathless’ a fascinating woman naturally leaves you breathless and ‘Summer Bummer’ hardly needs any explantion or understanding by reading language between the lines. Perhaps one of Alfie’s impressive works is ‘Just my Imagination’, the sweet face of a child rapt in awe of something wonderful in his line of sight outside the picture. ‘Breeze’ with flowing hair is the most seductive of the lot. Alfie’s inspiration is street and pop art. He is under the influence of contemporary graphic design. His idiom is so modern that it exposes his age as the youngest in the group.
The nudes by Ethelbert Perini (b.1971) are a study in academic design. The delicacy and elegance attained exposes a refined personality who seeks perfection and beauty. Though classical his works emanate a certain warmth and give the model the kiss of life. ‘Nude Study’ in charcoal is highly free compared to the rest of the works while ‘Female Nude 2’ is sculptural in the modelling of forms. The precision, the cleanliness, the crispness of these pencil and charcoal drawings show complete control, discipline and acute concentration. Though the sense of these finished works imply great application in reality they are very spontaneous and executed in a short time span.
The work of Joseph Martin Risiott (b.1949) is precise, meticulous and minutely and intricately detailed. His skills as a draughtsman are the basis of his reliefs in paper pulp. Highly textural his works are the result of his fertile imagination and fantastic flights of fancy. He induces his viewers into an unreal alien world full of colourful but dwarfish characters in simple, domestic and rural pursuits. He suggests the supernatural or darker side of life in rich epic narratives that ultimately are positive, optimistic and life embracing. Personal and intimate experiences have deeply influenced Joseph to express works dealing with human and natural evolutionary cycles, the afterlife and the cosmos. His works are universal arras depicting the journey, the seasons, life and death. The most ominous is ‘Reverse Growth’.
Valerio Schemri (b.1969) creates structures in space characteristically solid, massive and heavy. His architectural background is the basis of his concept and vision. He is more deeply concerned with the interior of masses or structures than their at times deceptive exteriors. He is obsessed with searching in what is happening inside the core of his creations inspired by rock formations, caves, bones, and solidified magma and their various textures. His works are timeless fossils, ancient geological strata or layers, sheer massive cliff faces, caves and surfaces eaten by natural forces, by the agents of denudation. The erosion is devastating giving the structures a sense of decadence though concurrently indestructible and monumental. These physical and tangible forms are perhaps symbolic as Valerio is inspired by Umberto Eco (b.1932) and his philosophy about language and its meaning, about the skin and the significance of what is underneath the skin, about the mask and what it hides beneath thus the gaping holes in his forms that expose the core.
Anthony Weitz (b.1953) looks at Malta objectively with the soul searching eyes of a foreigner. His landscapes are impressions as seen in dreams. Though ‘dream is nearly always more vivid than reality’, reflections are absolutely more beautiful than actuality. In reflection there is double ‘entendre’ – reflection is thinking deeply or a mirror image. Anthony’s impressions are romantically poetic, redolent with moood and atmosphere. He captures the brilliant light of the Mediterranean sun: scorching, sizzling and blinding as it hits the water and reflects and refracts or warm and soft as ‘Valletta’ and ‘Ta’ Xbiex Sunrise’. Romance is the essence of ‘Birgu Beauganville’ while a taste of Monet surfaces in ‘Burmarrad Farmhouse’. What an idyll this field with swaying poppies and sun-drenched farm with a hazy dreamy, cloudy sky. The scene is timeless and nostalgic.
Art unifies and liberates. Its creative power has brought together an upholsterer, a salesman, a lecturer, an educator, a visula editor and graphic artist, a bank manager, a draughtsperson, an architect and an advertising illustrator.
Art is magic, it is mystery and enigma. There are perhaps levels of understanding, or relative comprehension but no absolute cognition in life. Art educates and mitigates our misunderstanding in the distortion of language.
E. V. Borg
25. 03. 2012
Joseph Martin Risiott