1980s

At this time I became interested in the metaphysical work and philosophy of Giorgio de Chirico (1888 – 1978). His work struck me for its visual poetic translation of serenity, solitude and drama

The Valletta experience, as well as the years spent at the docks, also seem to have contributed strongly to a range of work which I executed in the eighties. The closed, shaded, architectonic spaces of the City and the confined spaces afloat tankers led to a flowing source of imagined scenery for a personal, metaphysical painting with local characteristics.

Walls, screens and partitions were repeatedly represented by stage-like, solitary, confined spaces in sharp, knife-edged contours.

This genre of painting also required a somewhat limited palette, made up of ochres, umbers, siennas with touches and sometimes glazes of prussian blue. Such a specific colour scheme was necessary to create the particular theatrical mood so appropriate to my thematic content at that time. Such works in the metaphysical genre were also included in another personal exhibition which I held in 1984, at Gallerija Fenici housed at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta.

This was also a time when I started to write poetry in Maltese and in Italian more frequently, something which I began in the mid-seventies. My participation in an international poetry competition in Sicily with Il Tempo Passa, awarded me an Honourable Mention. The poem speaks about the passage of time, of man’s lifecycle while Tomba, a poem which I wrote in an empty classroom in February 1980 on a cloudy, chilly, windy afternoon, should explain a feeling of escapism.

Tomba

Come sono triste
in questa stanza
piena di malinconia;
niente da fare
niente da guardare.

Una finestra davanti
sembra un quadro
di natura morta

anzi mortuoria;

un muro alto
che lascia poco spazio
per il cielo,

un pezzo di cielo
grigio piombo
invernale,
vuole sfogare.

Voglio uscire!
Voglio scappare
fuori
nel vento arrabiato
gelato

Ma fra uomini vivi…
Via da questa tomba!

Not swept by the figurative idiom, my concerns with the more abstract qualities within my own category of work, had been constantly and gradually developing. This is evident in a number of paintings and constructions which I had produced at the time. Two such examples are The Trap, dated 1983, and Cross I dated 1985. Towards a more direct reference for a number of reasons is Spatial Structure, also from 1985.

The 1985/1986 set of abstracts combine a variety of materials in the genre of Arte Povera. Rope and nylon chords provide a bold three-dimensional line structure visibly tying up the canvas combined with plastic, fabric, collage, sand and paint. Such works, together with others, were exhibited in my third personal exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta in March, 1988.

Though in the most part, colours were still subdued and earthy, my first abstract site-specific Installation, set up within an enclosed space of industrial containers at Tigne’ SeaFront in 1988, provided metres of canvas with splashes of colour throughout. There, I let loose my experimental approach and produced loose canvases, some literally flowing down from the wall towards the floor, others hung pegged on a lining, while a particular one lay flat on the floor

While such an idea seems rather isolated from the rest of my work at that time, the real three-dimensionality in these paintings has also been a point of reference for development in later works since then. 

At the opening of my exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, South Street, Valletta, March 1988.
Left to right: the Minister for Education Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, me, MUT president Alfred Buhagiar, and art critic and friend EV Borg.

But besides such satisfactory rewards, the eighties also meant some disappointments which eventually marked a few sore wounds. Two applications which I submitted to the Education Department, the first for a one-month summer bursary at the Accademia di Belle Arti Pietro Vannucci (Perugia) in February 1983 and a second one for an Italian Long Term Scholarship at the Regia Accademia di Belle Arti (Rome) in April of the same year, were turned down.

Moreover, two other applications in 1984/1985 for courses in Italy, this time in the vocational/technical area, were also followed by a negative reply. This, naturally affected my morale for some time, but my will to paint did not diminish. Instead, I turned my deepest feelings and emotions into my increasingly personal art as described in this chapter. Such circumstances, among others, were at the roots of my expression in the bulk of my work during this decade.