The Malta Independent 23 May 2024, Thursday
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Goxwa (2011)

Malta Independent Sunday, 27 November 2011, 00:00 Last update: about 11 years ago

My relationship with Goxwa spans backwards to our womb history: our childhood inter-twinkled between our bohemian genetic structure and a volcanic yearning to create. This kinship took the form of our nostalgic love for Strada Stretta, our milieu of infant dreams, something that remained engrained in our psyche till modern times. Theatre, the visual arts, transparancing one’s soul into the nowhere space formed part of our Gemini-like character with a strong dose of a Sagittarian focused ambition.

The mystic and bacchanal relationship strengthened with separation. I left for Soviet Russia whereas she found abode in the United States. Years of loud silence were broken upon my return from the Soviet Union, when I met her and her works in the 80s. Unknowingly for both, both had chosen a path in the arts. I had graduated in Philosophy and Law, and concurrently in the Arts, opting for the latter as my main activity. Goxwa, after drastic turbulences and hesitations found her niche in a dramatic leap into the visual arts. At this conjunction we met again. Seeing her first works, I was immediately struck by an incredible tinge of talent. I phoned my friend Norbert Attard, who was in the process of organising his next exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology. I was so sure of Goxwa’s talent that I was convinced that Norbert would give up his date in favour of my cousin artist: I was proved right. This was her first exhibition in Malta (1989). Another silent separation.

Our next project was her first exhibition in Paris, at the Galerie Christine Colas (January, 1997). I still recall the enigmatic presentation of Le violinist Guillermo counterbalanced by her other work La Madone de Giuseppe. This exhibition was the culmination of our passion, which also had its reflection in my book Ma Gdibtlekx (I lied thee not), the verses of which were sung and recorded by a French amateur soprano, Elena Salazar.

Her wax-building paintings drastically influenced me. Our relationship evolved into a deep passionate one, intermingling Pompeian art, Fayoum portraits, Byzantine-Russian Icon principles, the underworld of Hades, and the beauty of the dark night. Within the rhythmicity of these realms, she collected walls while I, doors.

The Fayoum element which had been so radical in my own early portraits, proved resistant in Goxwa’s works as can be attested by Anne Monnet who, after seeing The Angel said: “The reign of peace wherein these young muses, daughters of time, virginal figures of the eternal return, abode with grace and majesty, suggests they are there, eternally at home. It is from there that like Fayoum portraits they beckon us. As beautifully written by Jean-Christophe Bailly, ‘they look at us as from a neutral place that is neither death nor life, from a distant past that miraculously nearly reaches our present’.”

Nora Monnet also intuited Goxwa’s love of walls and ruins: fascinated since childhood by the honey-coloured walls of Malta, these “silent witnesses” who are like masks, at the same time concealing and revealing living beings behind them, Goxwa slashes each of her paintings to reveal the background. A tear in the material becomes a signature, a scar of a mature style, which accelerates the aging of the painting, deepens the yellow and red ochres, rendering them similar to a fresco from Pompeii. “Similarly,” Robert Wernick says, “She has been fascinated by the honey-coloured walls of her native island, which have witnessed all that has happened, ordinary and extraordinary, since six thousand years. If these walls could talk.”

Goxwa’s works reflect a multi layer of unique influences which she beautifully integrates as a whole. One feels a Mediterranean ‘aura’ without any hint of cliché: the amber sombre colour scheme done in a wax-impasto that deceives by its Pompeian-purple smoothness. The faces that are walls of silence recall the Fayoum gazes bordering the Anubis frontier between death and life. Her decorative nods enhance the Persian characteristic of a lost paradise. Another fascinating element is the beautiful glistening that is achieved by the wax method, the ancient encaustic technique. Besides such technicality, this provokes a deep feeling of dampness so particular to the Maltese catacomb culture. In fact, the Maltese artist is strongest when she contains herself within such mediterraneanity. Interesting but not quite confident are her earlier serious nods to the great masters, particularly Manet.

However, her recent October 2011exhibition at the Galerie Felli, in Paris shows her triumphant consolidation as an artist to be reckoned with in the international arena. Angel, Black Glove, Autumn, Watching, The Proud Pigeon, Wedding Shoes, attest to this. As usual I cannot escape comparisons and artistic interactions that can only enrich an artist. I deeply believe in the spirit of art pervading and infusing different cultures and continents. Goxwa is no exception. Besides the already mentioned Pompeii-Fayoum-Byzantine-Russian Icon interactions Goxwa’s works nostalgically remind me of Vrubel’s (1856-1910) magnificent magic-realist works. Here it is worthwhile mentioning his Six-Winged Seraph (1904), Swan Princess (1900) and the Fortune Teller (1895). The uncanny parallel between her Newly Wed and the Russian artist’s Tamara and the Demon (1891) should, I hope, give Goxwa more food for thought: a forced strive towards realism or the verosimile can many a time backfire. Another peculiar equivalent is her earlier work The Diver. This painting recalls the mystifying Tomb of the Diver at the Poseidonia on Italy’s Amalfi coast. I would have loved to feel the same nothingness of the Poseidonia fresco in Goxwa’s variation. Furthermore, the works of Massimo Campigli (1895-1971) seem to be permeating unconsciously through the Maltese artist. His Two Women (1943) is a case in point.

This might sound a bit hyperbole, but I believe that Goxwa is showing radical elements of a novel Maltese-Mediterranean school of artistic thought. Malta never succeeded in creating its own school of art. Hyzler’s was a component of the Nazarene movement. Caruana Dingli’s was too much integrated within a Neapolitan-Costumbrista school, aborted by compromises. Goxwa, on the other hand, has unearthed exciting elements from our indigenous Mediterranean zeitgeist. I am sure that this will usher a radical new worldview if correctly nurtured. Such a school of thought must draw from the fascinating 20th century results of Josef Calleja, Caesar Attard, Gabriel Caruana, Sina Micallef, Anthony Catania and others.

“U ħabbejtek fil-ġenn ta’ kappella

U ħabbejtek fid-dlam ta’ għajnejja

U ħabbejtek mas-siġra b’mantellha

U ħabbejtek kif ħbejtek ma’ dellha

“U għammidtek jien. Mingħajr ma taf

U għammidtek f’ħin. Li minna tar

U għammidtek jien. F’tarf il-għar

U għammidtek f’ħin it-trab tal-blat

tal-blat, li bkewna b’dmugħ affann”

Andrei Fitaine

In the madness of a chapel, I did love thee

Amidst the darkness of thine gaze and mine

Within a tree’s mantel-cloak, I did love thee

I did love thee within its shadow dark

Baptised I did thee, as if unknown, and secretly

In time a moan away, at the cavern sad abyss

Baptised I did thee when rock did dust become:

The rock that shrieked the breath of last.

Dr Schembri Bonaci is a lecturer in the Department of History of Art at the University of Malta. The author thanks Ms Grace Cassar for editing this article

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