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.