The Malta Independent 4 June 2020, Thursday

The things we fail to look at

Marika Azzopardi Monday, 24 February 2020, 19:18 Last update: about 4 months ago

The Cotyledon Orbiculata is a species of succulent commonly found around the Mediterranean, also in Malta. You may even have one growing quietly in your own backyard, only noticeable thanks to the vibrant red borders on its cushiony leaves. Yet, here I am, finding myself in a close encounter with a Cotyledon as it sits comfortably oversized on the wall in front of me, bragging its still-life and gigantic status painted by watercolourist Anna Galea.

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This succulent holds a place of honour in what is essentially a show of exaggerated blooms, veggies and foliage, triumphantly captured in watercolours. This is Galea's favoured medium, one with which she has developed an intimately expressive relationship, as is evident from all of these 18 paintings. Exhibited for the first time in Malta, some have flown in from other countries where they showcased previously namely Washington, New York and Dubai.

Eyeing you is another mesmerizing painting, pretty much gigantic, so that the flower grabs your attention from a distance and you cannot but draw closer and look intently at its exposed inner core, poking your nose into its most intimate space. I had, many years ago coined Galea as Malta's very own O'Keefe, because Galea does oversized blooms with a certain relish and aplomb that remains as yet unparalleled locally.

Over the years, she has taken to elevate the simplest of greens to the same identical level as the flower. So the peas in a pod, the red and green peppers, the carrots.... all are painted in extra large format for all to admire, competing with orchids and Calla lilies.  Galea may not be the first artist to do still-life paintings in this way, but her way draws the viewer closer to the model than ever before.

One of the first of such "ordinary" kitchen vegetables Galea had felt challenged to glorify was a humble cabbage which I remember viewing some years back, and remaining enchanted by the way in which she rendered the cabbage as beautifully detailed as a majestic rose in full bloom. Since then she has experimented with varied complacent still-life models ranging from turnips to tomatoes to vine leaves..... but why? Anna explains: "It all boils down to the way we go about our lives, failing to live for the moment or in the moment. One episode which I remember intensely is a lesson of awareness a teacher was giving some children. She had them hold a tangerine each, feel its skin, smell its fragrance, observe its texture, memorise it, open it, eat it and meditate on it all. A tangerine is just a tangerine right? You open it and eat it. Simple. But when you stop to actually look at it and observe it, it opens up a whole new world. You see the red pepper on the wall? Take a red pepper in your hand, look at it closely, at its colour, texture, the way its skin shines in the light. Its skin feels different from that of any other vegetable. I research the 'model' in varied ways, sometimes even growing the species in my own garden. It brings me in touch with the way it has grown and developed. Then I take my time, setting the 'stage' so to say, experimenting with the light, the backdrop and setting the pepper at its best angle to create impact and comparison."

Still Stills is a follow-up to Stills, another solo which Galea held in Malta last year. In Stills Galea shed light on traditional Maltese food - coffee or tea and pastizzi, lemon tea and espresso coffee in a cup. Again Anna recalls: "I had started my adventure with that exhibition after I stopped to look at the steaming coffee in my espresso cup one morning. The colours, innuendoes of the brew, the fragrance.... I had to replicate them in painting and my first Stills exhibition was born."

Delving into the world of Galea's paintings helps one delve into the reality of the small things in life which pass us by without us noticing. She magnifies the nondescript and renders it noticeable and we have no other option but to stop and look, for once.

 

'Still Stills' - exhibition of paintings by Anna Galea, is showing at Palazzo de La Salle, 219, Republic Street, Valletta, until 28 February. Opening hours: Monday to Friday 8am to 7pm; Saturday 9am to 1pm.

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