Both Albert Joseph Caruana and his daughter Doranne Alden Caruana confide how painting is their lifeblood, without which they are mute. They speak to Veronica Stivala about their art and the powerful role nature plays in it.
A young boy leaning over a stone ledge, fishing net in hand. It is evident he has just pulled it out of the sea as the droplets of water are glistening as they drip off the net. This is just one of a handful of vibrant paintings Doranne Alden Caruana is laying out for me on the mahogany dining room table of her parents’ house. She is just back from one of her painting trips to Sicily and is still clearly inspired and invigorated. Her father, artist Albert Joseph Caruana, praises her work, commenting on how beautiful her creations are.
Indeed, these paintings serve as an apt introduction to this father and daughter’s artistic œuvre. They have been painted plein air, which means outdoors and which also means that they have to be done quickly, before the light changes. This is a technique both of them enjoy and both are good at.
Needless to say, the technique requires great skill because you have to get it right, and fast. “Dad has a very natural hand,” notes Doranne, revealing how he has a knack for painting churches in just two minutes. This praising of each other’s work and constant easy dialogue between the two is a clear reflection of their good relationship and one which has definitely been enriched by their love for painting.
We meet to talk about this father and daughter’s art, which have recently been featured in the third volume of the APS series: Two Generations of Maltese Artistic Families, which takes the form of both a book as well as an exhibition that is running at the bank’s headquarters in Birkirkara.
“I paint because I love it,” says Albert in his soft-spoken voice. It started from childhood when his father would gather his sons around the table and they would copy things together. “I was immediately drawn to this,” recalls Albert, confiding how he found it useful because, being rather shy when he was very young, he found drawing as a method of communicating with his friends. “I liked depicting comic situations, which they found very amusing. It gave me some confidence,” he says.
Albert was, and still is, drawing. Whether it is doodles on copybooks at school or amusing caricatures on the white space he finds on the games page of the newspaper.
By the time he reached 12, Albert’s father encouraged his son to attend drawing lessons. It was when Albert was going to get married that his artistic career got another boost. Egged on by his wife, who suggested they have some paintings for the house, he started copying any pictures he could get his hands on, be they from the National Geographic magazine or old masters paintings.
Quaint and heart-warmingly nostalgic, the skill here definitely lies in his ability to have created an entire scene from his imagination
While Albert’s relationship with art had somewhat of a situational trend to it and he initially found himself painting as a result of others’ suggestions, for his daughter it was quite different, possibly though, precisely because her father was an artist. “I could not wait to start painting lessons,” Albert asserts with gusto, recalling how she had waited earnestly till she turned 14, which was when she had been told she could start lessons.
Following a period of illness for both, Albert and his daughter signed up for art classes at the School of Art in Valletta. Despite the fact that their artistic paths were now progressing in parallel, Doranne comments on how they “never imposed on each other”, adding how she “always admired (her) dad but each went (their) own way”. Albert is strikingly humble but he does confide that his teacher, distinguished abstract painter Harry Alden, had told him “I don’t need to teach you anything.”
Albert’s works are varied and in addition to his caricatures and watercolour landscapes, he has also been successful with his folklore prints, which depict local trades and customs. Having spent some years in Gozo, Albert notes how he “was inspired by the simple family life of the farmers”. Quaint and heart-warmingly nostalgic, the skill here definitely lies in his ability to have created an entire scene from his imagination as he had no reference for these traditions of yore.
But the powerful, unrestrainable nature most definitely has remained the strongest force in both artists’ lives. While the vibrant hues of the Mediterranean natural landscape invigorated Doranne, she found her colours slowly dying during her time in Germany when the landscape was of a more subdued colour.
The passion that art instils in these two artists is almost tangible and they both admit that without it they “mute and become dead”.
Speaking of them being naturally born artists, I find one anecdote from Albert heart-warming: one day, he was at Mensija painting a nearby chapel. Two boys came along and sat down next to him to see what he was doing. Once his painting had reached a particular stage, one of the boys couldn’t help but express: “Oh, you’re an artist!”
While there is much similarity between father and daughter, they differ when it comes to the driving force behind their work: “While dad is into expressions and symbolism, sketches and caricatures, I am all about the colour.”
Yet, perhaps, Doranne’s next comment can be applied to both artists for whom painting is not just a talent, but something essential, a way of living: “I love being alone on the beach. Seeing all those colours, I turn it into something spiritual.”
Two Generations of Maltese Artistic Families is on at the APS Bank Centre, Tower Street, Birkirkara until December 1.