The Malta Independent 28 January 2023, Saturday
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Textured Utopia

Sunday, 13 November 2022, 08:29 Last update: about 4 months ago

Melanie Erixon

It's time for Jo Dounis to exhibit her second solo exhibition and yours truly is curating. But if you thought you knew Jo's style and your assumption is to find artworks showing her abstracts executed in fluid art style, you're in for a surprise.

I met Jo Dounis some 18 months ago through mutual artist friends and we quickly exchanged business cards. I started following her artistic journey and was very thrilled when months ago she asked me to curate her second solo exhibition. I also immediately learnt (the hard way) that she gets very peeved when people mispronounce her surname, so let's clear that up - [Doonisss]. I was calling out artists' names during an official presentation of certificates issued by the President of Malta, thanking the artists who kindly donated works to the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation for an auction, when I massacred the pronunciation of her surname during the presentation. Needless to say, now I know exactly how to pronounce it.

Jo left Malta as a young adult to work in Greece and Italy, returning to her motherland after 18 years. She has been exposed to the world of art and design from a tender age, as she is the daughter of an architect. She studied both art and interior design, an industry in which she worked for over 20 years.

Months ago, Jo invited me to her studio in Mellieha, to see the first paintings from this new series of works that she was working on. She had not mentioned anything about the new style that she had embarked on, and of course I was expecting works in fluid art. I was in for a surprise, a good one. I still remember thinking... what is happening here?! She had prepared an array of artworks - these sublime dreamy places, one next to the other, one more captivating than the other.

Her signature fluid art style shows an ethereal quality, where she manipulates colours to blend and flow together, creating layers of organic shapes and abstract designs, sometimes on non-porous surfaces like acrylic glass, in order to better achieve a particular effect. Whereas, the "new" style is textural, in which she creates an almost three-dimensional, tactile experience for the viewer. Her textured land, sea, city and skyscapes have an abstract, dream-like quality through which she expresses a deep desire to transport her viewers into an alternative, Utopian world using a completely different direction in technique.

As mentioned, Jo spent many years living in Greece and this experience left a great impact on Dounis. In fact, the exhibition is entitled YFES, which is the Greek work for "textures". Also, some of the artworks' titles are in Greek which sound very poetic and idyllic in themselves (at least according to how I am pronouncing them in my head).  

In the YFES collection the artist is exploring a variety of textures to create incredibly tactile works which portray an idyllic place or space in time. No human figures are present and these pristine landscapes, seascapes, spaces or atmospheres, created from the artist's profound imagination and harmonious manipulation of colour and light, emit a surreal feeling of being in another dimension.

I have been following Jo's work like a hawk for the past year and I believe that the first of these works, which hinted at this tactile style, was a work titled Torn & Tangled, which was part of the MCCFF auction in late 2021. The work showed an abstract composition which was very textural, including a "torn net" pattern in some areas of the composition. Another of the first exhibited works which highlights the move from fluid abstract to these idyllic spaces, is Majesty, which was exhibited some months ago in a collective exhibition titled A Midsummer's Red Dream.

Some of the works are portraying these imaginary locations where only an atmosphere of stillness and silence reigns. Some examples are The Loch, Nordic Breakwater and Tranquillity.

In Torrential and Looming, the texture is more pronounced. The intensity of the obsessive and almost haphazard linear grooves in 'Torrential' takes over the composition, whereas in Looming apart from the texture, the palette used is very intense and different. The stillness is still there but one can feel other hidden deep emotions stirring beneath the layers of beautifully executed layers of paint.

A number of works are depicting lonely boats, boats that seem abandoned and stuck motionless in a specific moment in time. As mentioned earlier, there are no human figures present in any of the works, though of course the boats do hint at some human intervention, but it is impossible to state when, by who or in what context. These are images which can conjure a million different stories, at the pleasure of one's creative imagination. Of course, I am allowed to have a favourite, and Iremia (tranquillity) is my favourite from these works and the last one to be executed. It just transports me to somewhere that I have never been and that I am not sure I ever want to leave.

Other works are more atmospheric than others and these are executed in a series of threes or twos where Dounis is using the same palette for a group of works showing different "angles" of the same imaginary landscape, as we can observe in the warm palette employed in the Ablaze series and a much colder palette, in the series titled Exohi (countryside).

Another group of works shows not so unfamiliar structures, like a watch tower and an interpretation of the now lost Azure window, in Ghost. One artwork features skyscraper-like structures, maybe reminiscent of a city visited by Dounis, or just an imaginary one, wrapped in a veil of rain, in Blurred by the rain.

To sum it up, these works need to be experienced, since photos and words can never make up for their textural qualities and captivating aura. To conclude, I am quoting some inspiring words by Jo, "my wish is to connect with people, through my art, on a deeply emotional level, inspiring positive feelings of joy, serenity, peace and calm and encouraging them to dream..."

Jo Dounis' art can be found in private collections in Malta as well as in North America, Australia, the Middle East and several countries in Europe.

The exhibition is being held at Gemelli Art Gallery, Ta' Qali.

Opening hours are Monday to Friday from 7am to 3pm and Saturday 9am to noon.

For more information visit the Facebook page 'YFES - An exhibition of new works by Jo Dounis'

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