A solo exhibition by artist Jeni Caruana has just opened at Gallery 23 in Balzan. Titled Skin, the collection shows her fascination with the human form and the “human condition”.

“I have loved figure drawing since my first encounter with a ‘life’ model during my foundation course at Hull College of Art back in the 1970s. Since then, I must have drawn thousands of models, besides habitually sketching people around me,” Caruana says.

“It’s a love affair with the human condition I suppose; a fascination with how humans move and breathe and interact.”

She explains that there is a delicate vulnerability involved with drawing the naked figure, “a sense of trust and cooperation between the seer and the seen”.

“The model is exposed to the artist’s scrutiny which goes beyond surface appearances of skin and form, deep into the almost mystical connections that are formed when we communicate beyond words. It becomes a conversation that appears through the hand of the artist in response to the engagement of all the senses. It goes beyond the sexual and even the sensual until it touches something visceral and raw,” she says.

The artworks on display were mostly created in the past two years through Zoom sessions. Caruana admits that her major concern about staying in when the COVID-19 shutdown started in March 2020 was that she would not be able to attend life drawing sessions, something which she used to do at least once a week. But, then, a few art schools in the UK moved their life sessions online through Zoom and she could not help but join in.

“It’s been an inspiring and strangely liberating journey which has resulted in many new works that have surprised and thrilled me.”

“At first, it was a bit shaky as we all grappled with the concept and the technology but it rapidly developed into the many sophisticated sessions that are run today,” Caruana says. 

“Artists across the globe are drawing together regularly, sharing work and inspiration. They are using these platforms to support and promote body awareness, gender fluidity and minority groups with their art.”

Caruana notes that she has never liked working from photographs, finding them “too static” and “lifeless”. With online sessions, however, it’s different. 

“There is still the sense of a real person breathing and slightly moving as they hold the pose and feel the pressure on different parts of their bodies,” she says. 

“These models are from all over the world, filming themselves from their own private spaces and often inventing imaginative and sophisticated sets. The connection has kept me inspired and able to reach out beyond the physical walls of my studio and the psychological walls of isolation.”

The artist concludes by saying that the last two years have been an “incredibly creative time for her” as is evident from the mixed-media exhibits adorning the townhouse-turned-gallery in Balzan. 

“It’s been an inspiring and strangely liberating journey which has resulted in many new works that have surprised and thrilled me.”

Skin runs until June 2 at Gallery 23, at 23, Idmejda Street, Balzan. The gallery is open on Thursdays from 6pm to 8pm and on Sundays from 11am to 1pm. For private viewings, call 9942 8272. Tomorrow, Friday, May 27, Caruana will hold a free life drawing class at the gallery from 11am to 1pm. Limited spaces are available.

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