The Malta Independent 26 November 2022, Saturday
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Archetypal imagery in stone

Sunday, 25 September 2022, 09:08 Last update: about 2 months ago

‘Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it’ – Michelangelo Buonarroti

Louis Laganà

Joe Xuereb has established a name and reputation as a sculptor not just in Malta but also in many other foreign countries. For many years, he is one of the few artists who experimented and explored in sculpture the use of the Maltese stone.

Like many other sculptors, Xuereb is attracted mostly to the human figure. In this collection of works, we see various situations we encounter in life and the artist's interpretation is expressed with simplicity and directness so that the viewers would understand the message without any difficulty. To the artist, what matters most is to make clear that it is far more important to understand the essential physicality of his sculptures and also the fact that they are connected with the art of the most distant past, and at the same time that they are deeply embedded in our experience of modern life.


One can say, that Xuereb's inspiration is derived from two important sources; Malta's prehistoric past and human emotions and conditions. The archetypal imagery and expressions in the works like Greediness, Greediness, ComfortSensation, Deep Feelings, Searching for Solution, Agitation, Downhearted and others, are connected to our lives. Archetypes appear in consciousness as universal recurring images, patterns or motifs representing typical human experiences. Psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung shows that archetypal images are inherited from archaic times which emerge from the collective unconscious of the basic content of religions, mythologies, legends and art (Jung 1954: 3-4). Xuereb's manifestation of these archetypes in stone are valuable to us because they provide a language to talk about the kind of behaviour and experience that seems resistant to the changes of time and which cultural inheritance would otherwise be lost.

Simplicity is a major force in Xuereb's sculptures with the voluptuousness of the female form recalling strongly the influence of Malta's prehistoric artefacts found in many temples sites on the islands. Stylistically, Xuereb has an affinity with the sculptures of the great 20th century British modernist sculptor, Henry Moore (1898-1986). Xuereb's "spiritualised" figures vary in different poses, mostly standing, reclining and seated. Many of his sculptures represent the goddess or mother and child which reflect his primitivist's vision and creative impulse together with the works of the primordial "artist". As in primitive art, Xuereb's work is a direct response to "life". Henry Moore himself once commented: "The most striking quality common to all primitive art is its intense vitality. It is something made by people with a direct and immediate response to life. Sculpture and painting for them was not a calculation or academism but a channel for expressing powerful beliefs, hopes, and fears." (Moore 2003: 103).

Xuereb's love of biomorphic forms and prehistoric artefacts is embedded in his works and he tries to combine these forms in a symbolic manner with his personal beliefs and imagination. Like Moore, Barbara Hepworth and other modernist sculptors, Xuereb introduced "holes" into his figurative sculptures. These form an important part of the composition and suggest an interplay between space and matter. His figures seem to emerge out of an absent centre, many times carved into circular motifs, coils and bone-like shapes.

The artist's animistic sensibility is expressed in his sculptures through the simplification of form. One can also say that thematically Xuereb's sculptures are also related to the work of the German expressionist sculptor, Ernst Barlach (1879-1938). The artist admires Barlach's art for his ability to express great devotion and love for humanity.

Undoubtedly, Xuereb will remain an important contemporary sculptor who works in Maltese stone, not least for his direct references to Malta's prehistoric heritage and the symbolical representation of the creative and fecund powers of nature.

The exhibition is being held in the lavish gardens of The Phoenicia until 14 October.

Professor Louis Laganà is an associate professor in art and lectures on the Arts, Health and Wellbeing at the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta


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