A self-discovery process

Denis Calleja’s interest in art takes us back many years. Since he was a child he enjoyed drawing and painting, apart from playing the piano and writing poetry. Although he never had any academic training in art, in his free time he produced many drawings and paintings.

As he progressed, his paintings were created spontaneously with different media, like glitter, sand, wood and other materials that are not so common.

The style of his art is a synthesis of form and colour derived and inspired by aboriginal, primitive, oriental designs and other motifs found around him.

Calleja was the first artist to exhibit his paintings on the Gozo ferry boats. His art was never contaminated by academism.

I remember when I first introduced him to the public as an ‘outsider artist’ around 15 years ago. In fact, this is his 15th art exhibition. Since then he has exhibited continuously in Malta and also showed his work in England, Bulgaria and Lithuania.

Like most artists in the field, Calleja somehow accepts the description of his work as ‘Outsider art’ which, over the past few decades, has become the umbrella term for work created by self-taught artists of all genres. The art of these artists is raw and pure and they create art as a way to feel closer to nature and material reality.

Artists who believe that material has an inherent energy, whether atomic or magical in nature, pursue these spiritual qualities through what is called perceptual primitivism.

As suggested, ‘animism’ of this kind explains that material objects have the potential to carry life. The idea of raw materials taking on life is seen in some of the works of the moderns. For example, the work of Jean Dubuffet and what he termed art brut (raw, untreated or crude), seems to hint at the potential spiritual or physical energy of raw material in art.

Artists like Calleja are moved by the poetry of everyday objects like soil, dust, sand, dried flowers, leaves and other objects used for a collage.

I find that these artists are intimately involved in the use of raw materials and objects to express the whimsical simplicity of forms.

Calleja builds his shapes and forms on paper or papyrus by creating continuous layers of contours filled with rich hard-edged shades and bright hues. At times these forms tend to characterise images of objects, animals, primordial signs and mysterious icons suspended in space.

The background of his drawings is always different.

Calleja’s drawings are raw and pure. He uses a technique of drawing by producing dots and lines without any preliminary designs.  This allows him to lose himself in the act of picture making, while retaining strict control over mark-making.

His spontaneous work has powerful emotional content expressed in symbolical language. It is a ‘self-discovery process’ with a unique approach to find his true identity.

His endless quest is to continue creating – whether drawing, painting, music or poetry.

In this personal art show at the Citadel in Victoria, Calleja will be showing his latest collection of works… images that find intimations of the abstract and symbolical of the most primal human creations.

All pictures are untitled so as to allow the viewer to express his own title.

Primitive Feelings will run until March 31.


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