The Malta Independent 20 February 2019, Wednesday

Nude but anonymous

Marika Azzopardi Monday, 19 December 2016, 14:05 Last update: about 3 years ago

There is a lot to be said about nudity. That common denominator of bare skin which each and every human being is born with. That very same covering of skin which can determine so many things, so many facets of a personality, so many unspoken understandings and misunderstandings, so many social and intimate norms, quirks and peculiarities.

Gabriel Buttigieg is yet another artist who attempts to tackle the nude and this is not surprising. The human figure presents a continual challenge for an artist because no figure is quite the same as another. No person exposes his or her skin as valiantly or as equally as another. No skin colour or body shape is quite the same as the rest. Everybody wears his or her skin differently. And while we are bombarded with images of the nude, be it in a soap commercial, a burlesque show, a pin-up magazine or a love scene on the big screen, we still somehow look at artistic depictions of the nude with different expectations.

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Why so? Because each artist imbues the nude image with his or her own sensations, thus making each artist's nudes unique in themselves. The bodies take on a different meaning, a different perspective, depending on the artist involved. The nude body is transformed by an interpretation belonging to that very unique artist who comes with his or her own baggage of experience, both artistic and non.

Because the nude painting supports an underlying sense of voyeurism, felt even more intensely if the nudes are audaciously succinct. In the case of  the Nudes by Buttigieg, it is evident that he has kept his sitters anonymous, in some cases, purposely demure. These nudes have no eyes, blank eyes, empty eyes, eyes which, where visible, give away nothing, no identity, no emotion. It becomes evident that the artist attempts to step into the wider and broader aspect of the nude when engaging in the painting of Two Nudes - specifying their ambiguity by giving their eye sockets the black-out effect - it is none of our business who these bodies belong to after all. However, he evidently knows them well enough. The depth of each encounter is decipherable from the artist's unconscious use of subtle or violent changes in colour, the dark depths of intrigue, the lightweight colour of romance, the happy, the sad, the fleeting, the angry, the extraordinarily passionate. The artist's moods are tangible and real. The viewer remains titillated, then becomes suddenly confused, then goes back to feeling serene or even curious - each nude tells a distinctly different story. Yet none are obscene - the artist remains reverent towards the human figure throughout.

Although I personally tend to prefer larger paintings, this time, out of the 24 paintings on show, I seek the smaller and more intimate versions of Buttigieg's work - I feel they help me to understand better. I particularly enjoy absorbing the light and colour invoked to display the painting Reclining Female. It speaks of warmth, youth, happiness, past pleasures and sensations... ...promises. It feels somehow more intimate than the rest. It feels neater, away from anything other than caring.

Then I become intrigued by a non-nude or rather, a non-body-nude - Portrait (Blue), an oils on paper showing a face, a quasi-portrait - young, petite and unique. The artist teases the viewer further, keeping the sitter's one eye averted, the other totally absent. This play of paint urges a closer look - is this a wink? - ah no, but look at the simplicity of it all! There is another portrait, Portrait (Red), which is however, strangely shielded by the one accessory that stands out valiantly in this show of barren bodies - a pair of spectacles. Why depict a face, possibly the same face, twice, in a nudes exhibition? Maybe because the face is the one nude characteristic we rarely cover up and perhaps (Blue) is truly a bijoux of a face worth remembering.

The curator Michael Fenech has thought well to urge the artist to include such a mix of works for this show of nudes, punctuating the collection of female figures with the occasional squatting 'Male'. Gabriel Buttigieg has likewise thought well to experiment in this segment of the visual arts - not many will tamper with the nude figure in art, and those who do either succeed well or fail miserably. In this case, I see there is potential for further growth, even while, I feel this artist, in this exhibition arrived right on target with that one little reclining female I liked so much.

'Nudes' by Gabriel Buttigieg is at Pjazza Teatru Rjal, Republic Street, Valletta until 21 December. Opening times: Monday to Friday 11am-7pm 


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