Today, a new series of paintings by Gozitan artist Christopher Saliba go on show at The Art Cube in Xewkija, on the main road between Mgarr and Victoria. And because I can’t make the launch event this afternoon, I was lucky enough to have a sneak preview earlier in the week.
Saliba is best-known for his striking and intensely-colourful approach to the local landscape. Influenced by the nineteenth century painter Cezanne whose work he greatly admires, his carefully-composed canvases have both strong structure and an intuitive emotion: he teams bold striations and planes of colour with small carefully-placed brushstrokes to build joyful and passionate Maltese vistas encompassing terraces and cliffs, domed churches and the deep blue sea.
But this weekend, Saliba presents an interesting new exhibition Naked Souls which is a stark contrast: this series of nudes are a soulful outburst based upon life drawings dating back to Saliba’s time studying in Italy. Unlike the older painting they surround – the figure of a lady (2005), lyrical in luminescent red, orange, teal and green which is included as a counterpoint – Saliba’s new works are first drawn in charcoal on paper, to which he adds paint on canvas.
In hues of peaches and creams, buttermilk, sand and stone, Saliba’s Naked Souls remind the viewer that we are all made in the same human mould: beautiful, vulnerable to bruising, fragile yet resilient. The crudely-textured flesh captures both the solidity of age-old rock and the timeless and delicate contours of shells in sunlight.
Against plain backgrounds or dark blood-red tones which elicit rich warmth or a biblical strength rather than trauma, the figures appear suspended in time and space, seemingly weightless and perhaps trapped. Underpinned by the concept of existentialism, the idea that each person is alone in a world which has no meaning beyond their own actions and character, Saliba lays bare both the individual in each picture and a wider human condition.
Saliba’s nudes are not sentimental nor sensational, neither muses nor mystical. Each figure’s essential contours are skilfully outlined in an angst-ridden pose. Visceral without being raw, they clearly convey the essence of both the individual and the series in which Saliba makes a gentle statement about people’s quiet troubles and the weakness of mankind. In physical poses suggestive of simple suffering and everyday worry rather than tortured souls, each painting has a quiet drama which leaves the viewer wondering about the story of each figure, where they have come from and the thoughts they carry in their heads. Some are darker in mood than others, illustrating perhaps the darker edges of Christopher’s own moods. And although only one or two of the figures on show hold the viewer’s gaze, each is captivating and thought-provoking.
Naked Souls is an invitation to take a moment in a busy life, to step into this intimate space and reflect upon your own life and your place in history and the world at large. And whatever your circumstances or dark recesses lurk within you, if you’re in Gozo, there’s light to be found in the landscape all around.
As published by Gozo News, October 2018.