The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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In search of ‘Organic Formations’

Sunday, 23 June 2024, 08:00 Last update: about 26 days ago

Written by Melanie Erixon

The wait is over! Ruben Formosa's debut solo exhibition is now open at the Wignacourt Museum in Rabat, curated by yours truly, and will run until the 7 July.

I first met Ruben just over a year ago when he was searching for a curator for his inaugural solo exhibition. He had never exhibited before, and I was in for a delightful surprise when I visited his studio for the first time. His work spans a wide range of themes and styles, demonstrating his remarkable versatility. From wood, ceramics, metal, stone, clay, and marble to mixed media, Ruben's creations range from detailed figurative pieces to more abstract forms.

Ruben's journey into the world of art began at a young age. He started as an apprentice with the late marble sculptor Ronald Pisani, training in the classical tradition for five years. He then expanded his skills by working with a carpenter, mastering the trade of carpentry. In his mid-20s, Ruben joined AP, one of the leading architectural firms on the island. After more than 15 years there, he decided to establish his own design studio.

His art workshop, perched above a beautiful garden and bathed in natural light from its large windows, is truly a dream workspace. It was in this inspiring environment that we agreed to collaborate on his first solo exhibition. Since then, Ruben has participated in several group exhibitions that I have curated, including charity exhibitions.

We started working on the exhibition "ORGANIC FORMATIONS" about a year ago. It's always thrilling to be involved in an exhibition from its inception. From the outset, we decided that the theme would revolve around nature, with a stylistic leaning towards Ruben's abstract work. Finding the perfect venue was a challenge, but it gave us a great excuse to explore various locations around the island, often turning our lunch breaks into an excuse for prosecco. Ultimately, the Wignacourt Museum stood out as the ideal setting. Its majestic, wide corridor, flooded with natural light and surrounded by lush plants and trees, provided the perfect backdrop for Ruben's organic formations.

The inspiration for this exhibition delves into what lies beneath the surface-beyond the first layers of skins, patinas, and, as Ruben likes to compare with, dried fig tree leaves. It's a quest to uncover the structural frameworks hidden from the naked eye. From leaves and coral to strange mushrooms and fungi, visitors have likened these biomorphic forms to a variety of natural shapes and creations.

The theme started evolving into various series of works, quite naturally.  The works in all these series range from minute cute forms to larger ones up to around 60cm in length.  The first series that Ruben started working on emphasizes framework structures made up of intricate non-straight and almost undulating lines and layers, akin to cobwebs, which in themselves form abstract forms.  Some of these elaborate and ostentatious forms are not far from recalling Gaudi's architecture, which was also driven by nature.  

Next, Ruben introduced spheres within these mazes of framework layers, creating forms reminiscent of molecules. These interconnected orbs paved the way for the subsequent series, featuring large-scale blobs that appear to have absorbed the spheres. Hints of these orbs can still be seen within the blobs, creating an undulating motion within the works.

Another set of works showcases what I consider to be 'les enfants terribles'-the rebellious ones-where the layered framework starts sporting long spikes along their outer layer. This series stands out for its bold, dynamic energy.

Perhaps the most playful and colorful series includes numerous half-spheres in various sizes with incredible glazes. These pieces evoke the look of acrylic pouring but are achieved through ceramic glazing. I've affectionately nicknamed them 'eggs,' as they remind me of Daenerys Targaryen's dragon eggs from Game of Thrones.

Even though some works might seem very different from others, viewing the exhibition as a whole reveals a harmonious evolution. Each series seamlessly transitions into the next, showcasing Ruben's versatility and the cohesive development of his artistic vision.

The venue also played a very important role in this exhibition.  After securing the venue, Ruben was motivated to produce more works and explore various forms. One notable addition is a very large artwork that was not part of the original exhibition plan. Influenced by numerous visits to the museum, Ruben felt compelled to create a substantial piece to complement the spacious and majestic setting. This particular work stands out as the only one executed in mixed media, contrasting with the rest of the ceramic pieces, and it was completed just days before the exhibition opened.

Our curatorial plan and exhibition narrative evolved alongside Ruben's artistic journey. Initially, we intended to display the works in batches, grouping pieces from each series stylistically. However, we later opted for a more dynamic and playful arrangement. Some works were grouped like a small family, while others were organized based on their hues. We experimented with matching colors for some groups and creating contrast with others.

The glazes used in these artworks played a crucial role, adding depth and character to each piece. The colors imbued the works with a distinct personality, almost as if they possessed a soul. I was honored that Ruben involved me extensively in selecting the hues for many of the works. It was an enjoyable process to attribute characteristics to these formations. Some pieces radiated a happy yellow, others a perplexed purple, and some even a fiery red, each color choice contributing to the unique identity of the sculptures.

The exhibition thus became a vibrant and engaging experience, with each piece resonating with its own story and character, brought to life by the interplay of form and color. The venue's influence and the collaborative curatorial approach ensured that the exhibition was not just a display of artworks but a cohesive narrative of artistic evolution and inspiration.

I won't delve into the technical intricacies of creating these works. As all ceramists know, the process is lengthy and demands serious dedication. I've experienced, second-hand (the morning after), the absurd alarms in the middle of the night when the kiln needed to be switched off or opened to ensure the desired results. I was fortunate enough to be part of the rollercoaster of emotions that accompany every kiln opening. Most of the time, everything goes as planned, and these little treasures emerge from the kiln. However, there are times when accidents occur, and some beautiful pieces don't make it-an inevitable part of a ceramist's life.

This debut exhibition is a testament to Ruben's diverse talent and unwavering dedication. It offers a unique opportunity to explore the breadth of his artistic journey and witness his evolution as an artist.

 

The exhibition ORGANIC FORMATIONS is on till 7 July, at the Wignacourt Museum, in Rabat.  The exhibition is open every day from 9:30am till 4pm.  Free Entrance.  For more info, follow us on social media.

 

Photos: Andrew E Zarb

The photo of the artist by Therese Debono

The photos of the venue by Ruben Formosa

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