The Malta Independent 29 May 2024, Wednesday
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Of flames, paint and one dandelion

Marika Azzopardi Tuesday, 9 July 2019, 11:47 Last update: about 6 years ago

"Are you ready to talk about that?"


"Will you?"



"Because I need to."

- Will Hill, 'After the Fire'

Artists are fortunate creatures. They do not need to speak in so many words. Their very essence allows them to create and give birth to something that absorbs an experience, swallows it entirely, regurgitates it and then lets it loose to dispel the joy, the angst, the stress, the fear, the relief, the serenity, and whatever else is generated that would otherwise remain unspoken.


There is a certain something which distinguishes the art of Alex Dalli in a remarkable way. Alex Dalli's paintings seem to have that unique calm and serenity about them, devoid of harshness or overt expression. They are unpretentious, minimalist and placid, standing out remarkably well, albeit their humble bearing, amidst other works produced by contemporary local artists of his calibre. Yet, looking closer allows the attentive observer to feel undercurrents, subtle and unpretentious, but very real, nonetheless.

Now as I view his present collection of works on exhibit at MSA in Palazzo de la Salle's Upper Galleries, I stand with amazement in front of a painting which, contrary to others, gives me an inkling of passion, a spark of energy that does not belong to Dalli's usual oeuvre .The passion of fire. Or perhaps the fear of fire. Could it be the respect of fire? Whatever, but fire it is. Indeed it was a fire in his home which spurred the artist to release himself in a series of new works that reflect this tumultuous experience as only Dalli can..... through paint. 

The oldest work on show is incidentally a painting entitled 'Agony' dating back to 1986. However it has lost all trace of its date thanks to the fire's devastation which left it scathed, but not destroyed. The newer work has all been produced over recent months, post fire.  The artist successfully managed to channel his post traumatic feelings towards the production of auto-biographical paintings that speak of the unexpected event like a chronicle.

One painting is particularly significant to my eyes..... It symbolises the imprint of his shoes on the soot which settled on the floor of his house after the fire was put out. The shoes belonging to the feet of a person lost in preoccupation, devoid of privacy and home, displaced, stunned and confused. The texture of the painting, its colour, its lonely disposition to stand alone in full significance of the incident are in unison touching and compelling. Just look and step into those shoes for one short moment.

The flame and the fire urge the escape to safety, the flight of steps, which the artist shows us, indicating the escape route whilst, incidentally capturing the character of the traditional 'garigor' like few artists have. And after the escape, the couple holding hands and moving on out of danger. Dalli retains his typical minimalist approach to paintings, still says things in one single and very short phrase. But here comes the secondary novelty born out of this show. In a fantastic turnaround, Dalli suddenly injects colour into his paintings. From the morose blacks, browns and beiges, the whites and rare appearances of vague yellows, he suddenly leaps into blues and reds, greens and vibrance. The texture becomes mellower, the onus is on the hues. A transition from despair to hope, an exercise in courage. And the lone wild dandelion which stands proud in its painting, expresses the desire to wish well for the future.

The exhibition is ably curated by Roderick Camilleri who has carefully selected past works of Dalli's to give a better perspective of his typical oeuvre, juxtaposed against the newer works. Most certainly this exhibition is a very personal account of a very intimately shattering experience. But it has helped to give us another perspective of an artist whom we had thought we knew well.


'Preżenza', exhibition of works by Alex Dalli, is showing at MSA, 219, Palazzo de la Salle, Valletta until 20 July

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