The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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The forms of creativity

Marika Azzopardi Sunday, 7 August 2022, 10:38 Last update: about 3 years ago

Patrick Dalli's current show at the MSA's Galleries on the piano nobile of Palazzo de La Salle, comes as a surprise. While viewing the 32 canvases on show, I personally witnessed art aficionados walking in and allowing their mouth to gape open. And no, the stupor is not about the female nudity, typical of Dalli's paintings to date. Rather, it is about the fact that not one square centimetre of flesh is here on show. Yet it is all about a "she", female, feminine and temperamental. Call her Gaia, Dame Nature, Great Mother, Demeter ... whatever name you decide on, Dalli presents her to us compelling, vibrant and surprisingly candid in some of the most dynamic colour combinations local artists have shown us of late.

Dalli remains bold. It is his way of being. There is nothing wishy-washy about this artist. And true to his nature, his over-sized nudes have always been straightforward and in-your-face... as I myself wrote about his Spoleto exhibition back in 2015, the artist typically uses "unforgiving brush strokes, which are totally oblivious of the 'photoshop' effect. What you see is what you get". Figuratively clear, down to the last wrinkle on a hip, his nude figures, mostly female and abundantly abundant, have rarely been set against a backdrop of detail. No chintz curtains, no embroidered piano shawls lying negligently by. Rather, Dalli's nudes have always been juxtaposed against a vague or geometrically organised chromatic backdrop.

Curator Roderick Camilleri points out, "During the Covid-19 lockdown period, the artist needed to exit his studio and find inspiration in nature. In Landforms, he creates a collage of paint. The geometrics of colour have taken centre stage, brought out of the background where they held second place in his nude paintings, and placed directly on the foreground. This is something the public has never seen Dalli produce."

In fact, these geometrics are literally basking in the light. The artist is showing another facet of his talent, and it is dynamic, startlingly brisk and vociferous. The journey into novelty began with a tiny landscape, where the sky is blue, the tree is green and the ground is somewhere in between. All as one would expect. As he continued to experiment, Dalli retained the "normality" of a landscape, obediently transferring what he saw onto canvas.

And in Landforms we can witness how suddenly the paintings grow bigger, jump out of the canvas and become bizarrely enthusiastic, with an in-your-face spectrum that could become open to subjective interpretation. As Camilleri explains, Dalli is drawing inspiration from the Siggiewi environs, apart from a couple of works lifted from the Sicilian countryside. Dalli himself describes how, "It was all very spontaneous, there was never any philosophy involved. I would go on location, do a few quick sketches, go back to my studio and quickly transfer what I had seen onto the canvas. I did not have to stop to contemplate. At times I would return to a discarded painting with a brainwave idea to transform it, and transform it I would."

Yet these beautiful vivacious multi-faceted strata of rambling land and sky do allow space for reflection. The colours speak... all his trees remain green, while the skies take on colours which skies typically delight us with in very particular moments. There is an absence of humans and buildings. But the land itself becomes something marvellous. And I stop to recall places I have been and seen, with wide expanses of exciting flowing colours that left me silently smiling to myself. As happened with the multi-coloured blooming lentils in the valley of Castelluccio di Norcia, in the Umbria region of Italy, or around the expanses of sunflowers and red clover typical of spring in Malta.

I look into the paintings created with oils on linen canvas. While the overall scenic impression is one of stillness, the magnified view of the brushstrokes reveals an energetic hand, rugged strokes of paint and a strong pulsating verve. The paints are jumping off the canvas and some colours capture the light, while others appease the entirety of it. Note how I write about "stillness". There is nothing to give away motion, but there is one dark brooding sky, and another which seems to be welcoming a storm. I would happily walk into Untitled, marked (13) on the wall, a great big welcoming painting that leads to somewhere calm. Dalli does an effective double take on further abstraction, teasing the viewer with a pink hole in one sky and a red abyss in another one.

Landforms is a revelation, further proof that artists mature while seemingly at play; that colours change form in the hands of the same artist and that land forms, just like body forms, manage to evolve and delight in different ways which effectively broaden our perspective of what is to be expected.

Landforms, curated by Roderick Camilleri is showing at MSA, Palazzo de La Salle, 219 Republic Street, Valletta, will run until 11 August.

Opening hours: Mondays and Fridays: 8am to 7pm; Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 8am to noon, 4 to 7pm; Saturdays: 8am to 1pm and Sundays closed.


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