Monday, December 3, 2012

Natasha Mifsud reviews Christopher Saliba's latest exhibition of paintings (The Sunday Times of Malta - December 2, 2012)

Abstracted landscapes take centre stage at Christopher Saliba’s latest collection of works, ‘Places Revisited’, which are being exhibited at Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates, Valletta. The exhibition consists of 20 semi-abstract landscape paintings that were executed throughout the past couple of years. Saliba’s neo-expressionist paintings, though inventive, never lose touch with their source in nature. He often draws outdoors and feeds on direct perceptions that counterbalance the more synthetic process that develops in his studio. It is the real experience of the landscape that comes through in the palpable atmospheres Saliba manages to conjure. Vibrant colour chords and carefully adjusted tonal modulations glow beneath gestural strokes, forming complex layered surfaces. Saliba’s lyrical scenes range from deftly rendered observations to nature-based concoctions with invented and autonomous colour harmonies. Crucial to his own artistic process is the stage between his sensory experience of external stimuli and the act of creating an image. This phase of internal gestation allows impressions and feelings to germinate and ripen, unconsciously and in their own time, until brought forth in the act of artistic creation. This tendency towards abstraction is determined by his inclusion of purely abstract elements. Saliba’s paintings suggest rather than describe landscape components and perspectives. The push and pull between representation and abstraction is evident in the artist’s interpretation of the local landscape genre. Spatial relationships are subverted and suggestive forms and shapes appear to be subtly dislocated. This is evident in the facture of his painted surfaces: agglomerations of distinct, often dry-brushed pigments, textures, concoctions and juxtapositions of complex fields of colour. Saliba is bold in scale and experimental with materials, creating multi-layered works that are rich in texture and stratigraphy - the outcome of patient scraping, scouring and re-layering of paint. What finally emerges after months of hard work is a numinous, radiant and evocative body of work, fuelled by an inner light that emanates a profound spirituality. Central to Saliba’s creative approach is the desire to create and to celebrate beauty – the beauty of natural and man-made configurations, of the fragility and mutability of matter in time and place. And if beauty is about the creation of meaningful appearances, then Saliba’s abstracted landscapes are indeed viscerally beautiful artefacts, inspired by and evoking natural beauty. They are, in the artist’s own words, “freeze-framed in time and motion – specific, but always eluding and defying absolute definition.” Saliba has put up several exhibitions since 2002 at the National Museum of Fine Arts, at St. James Centre for Creativity, at the Auberge d’Italie and at the Auberge de Castille in Valletta. His works have also been exhibited in Perugia, London, Paris and Palermo. ‘Places Revisited’ runs until May 30 at Chetcuti Cauchi, 120, St. Ursula Street , Valletta.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Upcoming exhibition

The last time I exhibited my landscape paintings in Malta was at the National Museum of Fine Arts in 2006. The works displayed , all of which belong now to private and public collections, were well received by the general public. Six years have passed by, but it was not until these last few months that I have been toying with the idea of organising another exhibition of this kind. It was just a matter of finding a suitable place at the right time. Recently, I reached an agreement with Chetcuti Cauchi - a popular legal and financial firm in Valletta - that offered me the possibility to station my work in the heart of the city for six whole months. Besides having the possibility to visit my gallery in Gozo, interested art lovers would therefore be able to view my work in Malta as well. More or less twenty pieces shall grace the spacious walls of this sumptuous building, with replacements being made whenever there are any purchases. Most of the paintings displayed will feature my personal interpretation of local landscapes, and these would be complemented by a couple of abstract works.The exhibition will be officially open on 30 December. More information coming up soon.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Measures of Blue, 2012

Somewhere at the edge of a cliff, lead weights hold a wooden sheet in a precarious position. Below this cliff, waves could be heard smashing against the rocks. At the other extreme, a thin transparent glass vessel appears more fragile than ever before. 1kg of pure blue pigment is held in equilibrium, somewhere between earth, the sky and the sea.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I would like to thank all those who have been following my blog throughout these years. The number of daily visits encourages me to keep this blog active with regular updates. Some have even sent me e-mails and asked me whether there are any exhibitions in the pipeline. I am presently busy on a daily basis in my studio, where commissioned works take most of my time.New works, mostly paintings, have been unfolding regularly. A new collection of abstract works is also gradually taking shape and I am keeping it aside for a future show. I am taking my time to find the right opportunity and venue to exhibit my work. As regards contemporary art, some new ideas and projects related to interventions on the natural environment are ready to be developed and documented. I am very excited about the finalisation of these projects and it is just a matter of a few months when life on the sister island becomes less hectic and photographic documentation is facilitated by the sensual autumn light. Roaming around unspoilt and solitary natural spaces makes me feel at ease - it is in such places where some of my ideas and thoughts are staged, away from the hustle and bustle and formalities of everyday life. My other project, Aging Mirrors, is still in progress and will take longer than expected to complete.

Friday, June 8, 2012

True Art and Vision

The history of art is first and foremost the history of vision. Technique changes as a result of a change in the mode of seeing; it changes whenever the method of seeing changes. It changes so as to keep pace with changes of vision as they occur. And the eye changes its method of seeing according to the relation man establishes with the world around him. An individual views the world according to his attitude towards it. Two influences affect this vision - an outer one and one from within. As soon one realises that his vision is always a result of both external and inner influences, it becomes a question of trust. It becomes a dilemma between trusting more in the outer world or otherwise, more in the inner self. Once one arrives at the point where he can differentiate between himself and the world, when he can separate outer from inner, he can choose to find comfort either in the outer or inner world. A third possibility is that of halting on the boundary line between the two. Significant form, no matter whether it results from the outer or inner world, stands charged with the power to provoke aesthetic emotion in anyone capable of feeling it. The beliefs of men bear different weights during different times; the intellectual feats of one age are the follies of another; only great art remains stable and unobscure. Great art remains stable and unobscure because the feelings that it awakens are independent of time and place. It is generally assumed that people who cannot feel pure aesthetic emotions remember works of art by their subjects; whereas people who can, as often as not bypass the subject of a picture and its representative elements and prefer to talk about the shapes of forms and the relations and quantities of line, colour and texture. By doing so they win an emotion more profound and far more sublime than any that can be described or narrated through facts and ideas. The forms of art are inexhaustible, but all lead by the same road of aesthetic emotion to the same world of aesthetics.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Roots of an Island (2007)

This image shows a selection of my semi-abstract paintings exhibited at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta throughout the month of November 2007. My dear friend and art critic Chev. Emmanuel Fiorentino passed away a few days before the official opening of the exhibition.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Art and Politics

Politics is about power relationships. Art is related to politics as well since it is capable of becoming political by its own or by the volition of culture, changing via the process from Art to History. All art as it becomes known becomes political as well regardless of the intent of the artist. When art becomes useful and relevant to culture and society in general, it becomes History. Elsewhere in my blog I have commented that maintaining a sophisticated stance above or outside of things is also taking sides, for such indifference and aloofness is automatically a support of the ruling class. A great number of artists quite consciously support the bourgeois system, since it is within that system that their work sells. Irrespective of the 'avant-garde' or 'conservative', 'rightist' or 'leftist' position art institutions might assume, they remain always a carrier of socio-political connotations. The policies of publicly financed institutions are obviously subject to the discretion of the governmental cultural division, whereas privately funded institutions showcase the predilections and interests of their patrons. In order to have an idea about the forces that elevate certain products to the level of 'works of art', it is indispensable to look into the economic, the selective and political underpinnings of the institutions, individuals and groups who participate in the control of cultural power. Artists as much as their supporters and their enemies, no matter of what ideological affiliation, are unwitting partners in the art-syndrome and relate to each other dialectically. Holding the strings from above we find the administrators, dealers, critics, curators, pundits, gallery staff, etc. These contributors, who were once considered the neutral servants of art, have now become its masters. They gradually consolidated their role in administering the artists' pure manifestations of freedom and in transforming them into commodities with a pricetag on the media-market. This is a mode of existence in which most artists accept to become subbordinates to the blind urge to production-consumption; their work becomes subject to scrutiny, assessment and administration by those who are close to the sources of control in the market hierarchy. The products change and selections occur continuously, but the process remains the same: the ruling market sets the standard of intelligibility. The ever-increasing promotion of an avant-gardist elite has successfully reduced unnecessary competition, if not eliminating it altogether. Undoubtedly, the 'permanent revolution' in art orchestrated by the market is actively designed never to fulfil any social ideals. Contrarily, the market system seems to predilect the celebration of the new individuality, arrogantly set against the idea of sociality. What used to be the production for a privileged middle-class, contemporary art has gradually transformed itself into a spectacularly elitist production, remote even from its own producers' actual lives and personal problems.