Paintings by Tonio Mallia and Debbie Caruana Dingli have been selected for the fifth exhibition in a series organised by Malta’s Ambassador to France Mark Miggiani. The joint exhibition, entitled Double Exposure, inaugurates the cultural calendar of the embassy for 2012.

The works in question are silent commentaries on, and contemplative reflections of, the Maltese context- Charlene Vella

On the face of it, the artistic preoccupations of the two artists seem to be so very different that there appears to be little scope for a joint exhibition. Even the medium they use is different.

One uses watercolour, the other oils. What brings the two together is the good quality of their work and this is, in itself, a unifying factor.

The exhibition brings together a sombre aesthetic vs a moralising humour. Once again two very different approaches or aesthetic considerations.

Caruana Dingli’s choice of theme marks a departure from the comic streak we have grown to associate her with. She is, as a matter of fact, working towards a major exhibition titled 2012 End of the World?, which in a way reveals a more serious and sensitive artist; the same artist who gave us the Instant People – Just Add Water exhibition at St James Cavalier in 2008. Indeed, the Paris exhibition paintings are a taster of this apocalyptic and moralising theme.

Caruana Dingli’s exhibits depict related themes, such as …and Babies were Plucked from their Mothers’ Arms and Pestilence, and the moralising Affluence and Fat Bastard where the said man in wedding garb holds onto a mortified, much younger, unhealthily-thin, wife.

Caruana Dingli’s most curious and amusing exhibit is the unique Da Mejjet? The painting is a comical rendition of an event that Caruana Dingli witnessed herself in a veterinary waiting room.

It consists of an oversized man with bulging belly and eyes carrying a teeny birdcage, which is of approximately the same size as his hand.

This cage harbours a lifeless bird, and the ‘Da Mejjet?’ inscribed across the top of the painting manifests his realisation of the death of his bird, much to the horror of the ladies in the waiting room clinging to their pet cat or dog. Expression is omnipresent: from that imbued in each character portrayed, to the brushwork employed.

Mallia’s paintings are more straightforward, yet far from the clichéd paintings one may generally associate with watercolour land- or seascapes.

Mallia is overwhelmed by stormy seas and turbulent skies, as in The Wave.

The same atmosphere characterises Ancient Dwellings composed of a lavish wet-in-wet applied sky contrasting to the dry brush applied to the cliff-face that houses a habitable cave surrounded by built accretions.

His Fawwara is composed of a beautifully balanced colour arrangement in an asymmetrical composition.

The church of tal-Maqluba features prominently in a towering setting in another painting, where the stairs leading up to the church have been abstracted in such a way that the lower half of the composition could easily develop into a whole new painting, despite the similar brushwork and expression.

Notwithstanding their different points of departure and interpretation, the works in question are silent commentaries on and contemplative reflections of the Maltese context, one that is peopled (albeit by imaginative characters), and another that is void of human presence (although this is implied); one that may help you find humour in who we are and where we come from, and one that is more romantic in conception. Double Exposure is open until March 23 at the Maltese Embassy in France – 23, Rue d’Artois, 75008, Paris.

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