Valentine’s Day is defined by the colour red, which symbolises passion in all its nuances and contexts. The image of an enterprising but almost pestilent winged putto-like Cupid is a staple in pop iconography associated with this feast that celebrates romantic love.

Cupid pierces red tumescent hearts with arrows from his bow, thus inflicting love on his unwitting victims. Classical mythology has provided the narrative and imagery that are part and parcel of February 14, which makes it a day less ordinary for lovers all over the world.

As last year, Joseph Agius has asked six contemporary Maltese artists for their take on the feast of love, via one example of their art, and to discuss in a few words the concept underlying the chosen work.

Johanna Barthet – The Dreamer

Love is what makes the world go round or so they say.

The girl stares longingly at the sky, dreaming and imagining what life will feel like when her soulmate finally makes an appearance.

She’s thinking of stolen kisses and late-night conversations, the desire to connect with someone on a physi­cal and emotional level.

The stars in the painting represent, magic and serendipity, the idea of letting destiny decide whom we’ll meet and when we will fall in love. The colour red on the girl’s dress represents the heart and the fiery emotions we experience in the early days of a relationship. This image also represents, young love, innocence and openheartedness.

For most artists, love is a central theme because emotions provide the necessary fuel for creativity. Without love there would be no art, no music and no compassion. Somehow, love should always be present in everything we do and say simply because it makes life worth living.

Carmel Bonello – Until I’m lost….

Love can have many layers, one of the most important being mutual comprehension. “I hear every word you say, where no one will hear your whisper” ‒ these words resonate with unconditional love and with a realisation that transcends all. This is a love letter, graphically expressed as a vortex of words and emotions, with the loved one at the centre of it all.

Vortices are symbols of the universe, of peace, balance, deep insight and a clear mind. 

Love can provide poetry to last forever. The words and verses are inscribed as a spiral poem expressing the delight of being overwhelmed by love – the emotion, the lust, the companionship, the beauty of it all. One can get lost in love.

St Valentine’s Day is not only about the winged Cupid with his quiver of arrows, ready to let fly to pierce the red heart of his victims. 

Hearts can also be pierced by words, by poetry, by expressing one’s emotions through the written word and through art.

Steve Bonello – Heavy Heart

The relationship between man and woman in all its variations and nuances has always been a recurring theme in my work. I’ve drawn older men madly in love, romancing women far too young for the men’s own good… I’ve drawn couples growing cosily old together… and others where boredom is the main ‘development’ in a relationship.

Heavy Heart dates from November 2016, and although visually one could say it is a continuation of the above theme (which it is I suppose), the inspiration was actually the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA. Although most world events sadden me with a numbing regularity, the election of Trump (same as Brexit earlier in the same year) shook me to the core.

I simply never believed it could happen. I never believed that a person with such plentiful and palpable reserves of anger and hate could be trusted with possibly the highest political office in the world.

Heavy Heart is my antidote to the election of Trump. At the time, I felt there was a huge, urgent need to go back to what makes us human – empathy and love in the widest sense of the world.

I felt that that was the only way to combat the toxicity of the Trump victory.

I know my imagery in Heavy Heart is simple – perhaps bordering on the naïve – but then again, most times I prefer simplicity over complex, perhaps pretentious, imagery.

Mario Cassar – Untitled XXIV

Untitled XXIV belongs to my series Sacred Rubbings, first exhibited at Desko Fine Art Space, Valletta, and later at the Exhibition Hall, Ministry of Gozo.  This piece, as well as others, was actually not exhibited at Desko for it was conceived and executed during an impromptu pop-up studio event organised on the premises of the Gozitan venue.

One of my main interests, as also investigated in my Valletta Creative Workshops of some time ago, concerns the whereabouts and the dynamics of the actual creative process. I carried this idea forward, whereby the Gozo exhibiting space evolved into my new studio space, beyond the four walls of my actual and physical studio.

Untitled XXIV, currently on view at Camilleri Paris Mode, Rabat, is a multi-dimensional expression in execution. It can be regarded as a fusion of video-chronicled action painting/performance art. Photographer Daniel Cilia documented the whole creative process.

This conceptual artwork refers to contemporary drawing, via the agency of frottage, (rubbing), while playfully investigating specified forms, in this case the heart, while making use of red markings that evoke maps. Thus, the heart itself is transformed into a symbolic and imaginary geographical map that takes the viewers on a personal trip, particular to each and every one of them. Quotes from French philosopher Michel Foucault, a staple throughout the series, act as pointers towards a measure of resolution.

Ryan Falzon – Poetry, part of We Can’t be Lovers Series, 2018

The 2018 monoprints series We Can’t Be Lovers is personal as much as political – it goes beyond depictions of intimate interiors, suggestive scenes and bold statements.

Dynamics of relationships are changing so fast that one barely has time to take in the changes and updates, let alone analyse the impact on our overall well-being.

We Can’t Be Lovers presents a universal insight of imagery which is relatable on a personal level, just as much as a Facebook wall is.

What was considered private is nowadays exposed and flaunted without much assessment, with Tinder operating as a meat market and Instagram as a 24/7 window shopping portal.

Looking back at this series, it remains a favourite from my series of works. After the difficult, strange times experienced in the past two years, going for a drive after a party with a friend, lover or anything in between feels like a bittersweet memory. As well, the way interactions developed during times of confinement made us rely heavily on social media for our social fulfilments, thus the love scenarios portrayed in this series are stronger than ever.

This series depicts several forms of love, from the platonic to unforgettable one-off flings. This reflects the rapid widening of the spectrum in terms of gender, sexuality and a general openness towards the subject within the internet generations. Yet the touch of nostalgia and melancholia gives tangibility to the works, reminding us of the sweet and sour.

Madeleine Gera – Portrait of Tulio (Florence 2010)

Quanto è bella Giovinezza che si fugge tuttavia! Chi vuole esser lieto, sia: di doman non c’è certezza.” ‒ Lorenzo de Medici

Youth is beautiful and fleeting, and if you want to be happy, do so, because tomorrow isn’t a given. These words were said centuries ago by Lorenzo de Medici, known as Lorenzo il Magnifico, Lorenzo the Magnificent. He was a writer, patron, poet and humanist, and embodied the idea of the humanist prince.

His words resonate today as we reflect on love in the midst of a plague. Would love have been associated with St Valentine in Lorenzo de Medici’s Florence? 

Probably this famous saint, an Italian doctor who later became a priest, was already known then but perhaps our obsession with instant gratification in all matters including love would have puzzled many before us.

What is love for Romeo and Juliet? Shakespeare focuses on romantic love, specifically the intense passion that springs up at first sight between them. In Romeo and Juliet, love is a violent, ecstatic, overpowering force that supersedes all other values, loyalties, and emotions.

Have we got anything in common with all that, our admiration for Shakespeare apart? Social conditions change everything…

Dante’s idea of love is courtly love (back to Florence again).  His was not in a physically passionate relationship. His love for Beatrice is more of an adoration that does not get consummated. How can love be one-sided, you ask?

It didn’t seem to stop Dante in his quest for love which brought forth his extraordinary Divine Comedy and where he also punished his political enemies in the dreaded malebolge, but enough of that.

Love was deeply spiritual for Dante and in his ascent through the heavenly spheres, he often looks to Beatrice, for understanding of God, as well as reassurance, until his vision is sufficiently strengthened to gaze on the divine directly.

So Valentine’s Day is upon us! We purchase a special gift for our loved one and enjoy dinner together sipping wine and looking into each other’s eyes. Some choose to celebrate in the company of friends. Others will stay at home with family and pets. Whatever and however you choose to spend this day let us show love to all living creatures. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day.

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