The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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A maritime artist who loves all that is nautical

Marie Benoît Saturday, 18 November 2023, 08:30 Last update: about 9 months ago

HENRY BORG BARTHET loves the sea and sailing boats. He observes the impact the sea, sailors and sailing craft have on each other and paints them. He tells Marie Benoît what painting means to him

When so many Maltese talk about leaving, you have returned from Canada after 16 years. Any particular reason?

I left to go to Canada in the early 70's.  At the time there was an exodus from Malta and hundreds of professionals were leaving the island due to various reasons. I had worked as an Architectural Assistant prior to leaving. The change of government at the time changed the conditions that settlers enjoyed to buy property and retire on the Island leading to a collapse of the building industry.  I chose Canada as my sister had emigrated 10 years previously and I had someone to sponsor me, my wife and my 18-month-old son.

I returned to Malta in the late 1980's. I came to join the family firm with my brothers. The prospect that Malta would join the EU was another factor. Today young people have all of Europe to work in, with great jobs and good salaries and that is one of the reasons that they are leaving the island other than overcrowding, traffic, overdevelopment, etc., etc.


What started you drawing and painting? Is art in your DNA? Do you have any relatives on either side of the family who are artists?

As long as I can remember I was drawing or painting; my uncle, Esprit Barthet, had his studio at roof level in the apartment block we lived in, this was located on South Street, in Valletta. I must have been 7 or 8 years old at the time. I was always hanging out watching Uncle Esprit creating amazing paintings out of a blank canvas.  I loved the smell of the studio; the paintings leaning against the walls; colour everywhere. I tried to emulate him and that perhaps was what started me off.


Can you share with readers how you organise your day when you are painting?

Before I start painting, a couple of days prior, I would have formulated the painting in my mind. I make sketches, look at photos and get a feel of what the final painting is going to look like. I do not spend hours painting, after one or two hours I take a break, which could be of an hour; or I stop till the next day and then go back to the painting with a fresh mind. It is not the first time that I place a painting against a wall in the sitting room and look at it, again changing and improving it in my mind, then once I am convinced of what I want, I make the changes, sign it and after that I would not touch it again.

Do you have a studio here in Malta?

I use my study as my studio but it is not the first time that I move my easel out near my terrace where the light is from the North; a clean light that does not alter the colours.

What is your favourite medium?

I use Acrylic, it has the advantage of drying fast though I must admit that could be a curse on a hot summer's day.  Another reason why I paint in two-hour stints is that acrylic colour changes once it is completely dry, so I can see the result of what I am painting.

We are surrounded by the Mediterranean, the sea of  civilisation. We all love the sea. You mostly paint sailing boats.  I am assuming that you sail. Did you manage to sail in Canada?

I love the sea and consider myself a maritime artist, I am also a romantic.  I love a traditional sailing boat, the sea fascinates me. It changes according to the weather; the cloud cover; the depth of the sea; the reflections of the sails in the water; the wind; the waves; the power or calmness of the sea. I want to express these in my paintings.

I was lucky that while in Canada we sailed in the Abacos, the North part of the Bahamas; I also lived a few miles from Lake Ontario; I enjoyed the boats over there in the few months of warm weather.


Why do you think Art is important to society?

I believe that art reflects the society we live in; it is an expression of the inner soul; it exists in every society in the world whether it is in a civilised society or a primitive one.  Art flourishes in an affluent society, helping artists to express themselves while making a living. Perhaps the last statement is not quite accurate. Going back in the history of art not all artists that did not want to follow the dictates of society, flourished. Take Vincent Van Gogh; he only sold a single painting in his lifetime.


Who are your biggest artistic influences?

My Uncle Esprit was a big influence. He was a colourist. He made me understand colour; see colour; the correlation of colour. I love the post-impressionists their sense of colour; Gauguin is an example.  There is colour in everything. Colour changes in every passing moment; colour reflects the mood you are in.


Has your style changed over time?

My style has changed; my paintings are bolder; my colours are cleaner; my brush stokes are more confident.  I love painting the sea in all its moods; one can easily see the rendering of the sea in paintings.  I am happier now with my style than before.  That does not mean it will not change in the future; an artist must evolve.


Do you collaborate with other artists here or abroad?

I exhibited with other artists, seeing other styles helps one to broaden one's horizon but I do not usually discuss art with other artists.  I am painting the way I do because that is the way I express myself; I like the work of other artists but whether I agree with their approach to their paintings is another question.


Do you have a life credo?

I believe that everyone has something to contribute to life and society, poor or rich, no matter what religion one belongs to or the colour of your skin, makes no difference. I respect everyone. I listen to the life experiences of persons from every part of the world. I believe that Canada taught me to understand and respect everyone no matter where they come from. After all we were all in the same boat; we were all immigrants except for the native Canadians who I was lucky to befriend in Parry Sound, Ontario.  They taught me to respect nature in the wilderness of that part of Canada.


Is there any world artist or local artists which you admire?

I love the paintings of Pawl Carbonaro.  His unique style, his sense of colour and balance of irregular shapes make his paintings stand out in the local art scene.


Is there anything you have learned which you wish you had known before?

Every day is a learning experience; so many things that are new to one's life. I could not single out one thing.


What message, what advice would you give to those who want to make a career in art?

I think that a good knowledge of the history of Art is important.  Do not think that you are going to create a masterpiece from day one.  Draw, sketch, learn to understand colour.  One can venture into digital art.  Whatever direction one chooses, a solid foundation is important.  Draughtsmanship; perspective; in depth knowledge of colour makes your choice of a career in art a little bit easier. Best of luck.


Henry Borg Barthet's paintings at Madliena Lodge are on a semi-permanent basis. Henry changes his paintings from time to time. It is one way of displaying paintings that might result in the occasional sale.  

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