THE DEATH was announced yesterday of mural artist and fine art painter Frank Portelli, 81. His death leaves another void in the local art scene.
His remarkable career spanning over 60 years saw him distinguish himself not only as an artist but equally as an interior designer with works including hotels, nightspots, churches and private residences, as well as a designer of murals, postage stamps, posters, and floats and masks for Carnival.
His studies started at the age of 13 when he started attending the School of Art in Valletta, where he studied under the Caruana Dingli brothers, Edward and Robert.
During the war years he was drafted into the Royal Air Force and was stationed first at Luqa, then at Ta' Kandja. After the war he became involved in the drawing of topographical maps, which in the long run served as a basis for his fascination with contours.
In 1947 he distinguished himself among the top students in his course when he sat for his final examinations at the School of Art, earning himself a scholarship in the United Kingdom.
After his return from England he co-founded along with Jos. Muscat and Joseph Borg Xuereb, the Modern Art Circle and was elected as the first secretary in 1951. Their first public appearance as a body in an exhibition was held at Palazzo de la Salle in 1952.
Later in June 1952 he married Rosa, née Attard. They had three children, Henri (b. 1953), Simone (b. 1956) and Sharonne (b. 1958).
He was among the first six Maltese artists to exhibit in the Venice Biennale in 1958. It was only after 41 years that Malta participated again in the world-renowned exhibition.
His interior design career was consolidated around the late Sixties and these early works included the Whisky a Gogo in Sliema, the Dragut and Piali restaurants along with the Piper Club nightspot, the La Stella Band Club in Victoria, Gozo, the Collier's Tavern Restaurant at Pinto Stores, among others.
His artistic itinerary constantly evolved with his early years being tied to his first 'love-affair', Impressionism, which was shed in the early Fifties for his sympathies for cubism referred to by him as 'crystallised cubism' a mode of expression clearly and distinctly introduced by him.
His constructivist compositions in the following decade gave lead to his contour reliefs, which followed three distinctive directions.
In the late Seventies he was given the arduous task of taking in hand the entire decorative scheme for the sanctuary of St Therese of Lisieux at Birkirkara. By far his monumental work will remain the decorating of the dome and the pendentives of the Basilica of Senglea for which he will once again be remembered as having crossed the threshold of a new experience in religious art.
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