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Like-mindedness

Streets of Valletta, from the ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’ series by Ritty Tacsum.Streets of Valletta, from the ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’ series by Ritty Tacsum.

A collective exhibition is often difficult to come to terms with. I cannot help asking myself why artists with often different and sometimes conflicting styles and techniques feel comfortable with exhibiting together.

Ritty Tacsum is definitely one who is thinking outside the box when it comes to photography, and is producing some intriguing pieces- Charlene Vella

The raison d’être for such exhibitions is often times a practical one. Nonetheless one must concede that there can also be a praiseworthy justification.

The 12 artists currently showing samples of their work at the Lily Agius Gallery, Sliema, do share a common thread: their like-mindedness. As a matter of fact, some of the artists have collaborated in previous collective shows, and are far from new to the local art scene.

This exhibition is entitled 6:6. This is because half the participants are established professionals, while the other half are relatively new in taking the creative plunge. A simplistic title? Maybe. But it does stress the importance of giving emergent artists the opportunity of coming to terms with established ones.

Most of the established artists are founding members of START which launched in 2002 and which was instrumental in launching Malta Contemporary Art in December 2008 with Eight eighteen. This important show included nine of the founding members, each of whom chose a young Maltese artist to participate with him/her.

6:6 runs on analogous lines and finds justification. Among the new names is Mariam De Giorgio. It is the first time I have come into contact with her work. Also relatively new are George Eynaud, Emanuel Bonnici and Ritty Tacsum (Ritianne Muscat).

All of the works in 6:6 are being shown for the first time, and some form part of a larger series. A common theme in the works is their general experimental nature. There is undeniable creativity in their conception.

The media used include photography featuring in different forms, painting, drawing, sculpture and works in mixed media also feature.

The exhibition is beautifully curated and comes as a breath of fresh air. It judiciously steers clear of what has become a common trend of Maltese exhibitions. I’m referring to the same old landscapes and such themes. It is one of the merits of the exhibition that themes are revisited, rediscovered, and given a new dimension.

Anton Grech’s 1999 Circe comes immediately to mind for the way the mythological sorceress is given a new form in painted terms.

‘Gianni Series’, by Austin Camilleri.‘Gianni Series’, by Austin Camilleri.

Austin Camilleri’s two exhibits belong to this ‘revisited’ category too, with his ‘Gianni Series’ from 2008. These comprise limited edition prints of works by Gianni used as supports that Camilleri has interpolated upon in a unique and beautiful way. His works are as usual, beautifully framed.

Pierre Portelli’s 2012 Geekgod is clever and identifiably his. It is a work that ultimately makes you smile especially when you consider the play on the title of the work and the medium used.

In this work, the figure of a creature that seems to have come out of a retro arcade game emerges from the midst of a collection of 36 coconut fibre broom heads.

Norbert Francis Attard explored yet another captivating theme, that of sexuality, this time with the ‘Hermaphrodite Series’ of four photographs which subject can become deities for some, according to their individual forms.

Raphael Vella and Ruth Bianco explore social themes. Two works in mixed media – Red Tsunami and Green Tsunami – by Vella, one of which is very close because of its association with Gaddafi, are of particular interest. Bianco’s exhibits belong to the 2008’ Dead Famous Series’.

George Eynaud and Mariam De Giorgio are sticking to acrylic on canvas, and both focus mainly on the human head and portraits.

Eynaud’s Heads are interesting explorations making use of strong brushwork. When it comes to portraits, with Eynaud these take on a different form altogether, whereas De Giorgio’s have a unifying theme entitled Interdict and are related to a particularly sad time in Malta’s recent history.

The latter are rendered with a fresh execution that does the 21-year-old much credit. Her work, like Eynaud’s, promises well.

‘Go Figure’ religious icons, by Emanuel Bonnici.‘Go Figure’ religious icons, by Emanuel Bonnici.

Elisa von Borckdorff is providing us with more works from her bright-coloured still-life photography, while John Paul Azzopardi continues his work in sculptural constructions, this one entitled Dead Clock, a work imbued with a sense of anxiety. Emanuel Bonnici again uses themes that play on the religiously iconic, entitled Go figure!

Ritty Tacsum is definitely one who is thinking outside the box when it comes to photography, and is producing some intriguing pieces. Her photography can be anomalous, even when illustrating known subjects. The set of six photographs collectively entitled ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’ found in this exhibition reveal how interested she is in movement and sometimes the complete opposite, a complete stillness, composition and the manipulation of images. Largely self-taught, this young photographer promises well.

Such exhibitions of contemporary, avant-garde art raise many questions, and one must have an open mind and appreciate the innovation of the works, not only in relation to themes explored.

­The problem, I believe, is for artists to understand how to produce ‘good’ art in this day and age.

We want something that is inspirational or intriguing in subject, if not aesthetically beautiful; something that is at least produced with good knowledge and understanding of materials and technique.

In a stirring speech given to Fine Arts fraduates at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia not so long ago, a notable author who has just received an Honorary Doctorate of Arts and who has never been formally trained, Neil Gaiman, said to the new graduates: “Make the world more interesting for your being here: make good art”.

But this is tricky, and far from simple. What is remarkable is how the works by the emerging six blend beautifully with those of the established six, in 6:6, because of innovative concepts and technique.

As interesting as this exhibition was, I cannot help but think, however, that some artists are producing more of the same, having reached a comfort zone. Nonetheless, this is an exhibition that bids well for the future of Maltese art.

6:6 is open until June 16 at Lily Agius Gallery, 54, Cathedral Street, Sliema.

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