The paintings of Shaun Grech have elicited contrasting adjectives, from fascinating and honest to unconventional and brutal, yet as long as they stir an emotion the artist is happy.

"Art is about sharing something intimate and hoping to rouse an emotion in the viewer, even if it's one of disgust - the biggest offence would be indifference," he mused.

His paintings focus mostly on people with exaggerated expressions, particularly protruding eyes and amplified lips - an image that has become the artist's trademark.

"I have made these features my style and it defines what I'm doing at the moment. I like to call these my people - I give them life and what some viewers may describe as deformed, I find beauty in imperfection," he said hanging his work on a wall with flaking paint.

Mr Grech, 29, is putting up his first solo exhibition in a place which he feels provides the perfect backdrop for his creations - a 19th century house in Valletta.

His exhibition of 43 paintings - a selection of mixed media from oils and acrylics to pastels, pencils and ink, mounted on canvas paper, canvas panels or wood - opens on Friday at 88, Melita Street and runs until February 12.

This four-storey building is bare and stripped of furniture, providing the artist with stretches of bare walls to exhibit his work.

"It's a perfect marriage of rawness. I didn't want a clinical or typical setting for my work and this empty building has a bruised, scarred feel that I like and goes well with my paintings," he said, rubbing his heavy stubble in thought.

His art blends the funny, chaotic, political, sexual and painful, inspired by his quasi-obsessive penchant for observing and depicting people in their most fragile states.

One particular piece is called Sleepless Nights in Beslan, the artist's visualisation of grieving parents, who started the day on a joyous note and returned home without their children. The final product is what he calls "humble chronicles of real life, stripped of unnecessary beauty and gloss".

Mr Grech, who is a self-taught artist, admits that his work strays from technical art forms and he refuses to pigeonhole his pieces, preferring to allow people to form their own opinion.

So does he derive inspiration from, say, the disturbing and agonising work of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo?

"I admire great artists, but I'm quite 'iglooed' in my own way. Irrespective of who inspires me or not, people will still form their own opinion and compare, so I'll leave them free to do just that," he said.

"When I had my first joint exhibition I didn't know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions and it seems that people are looking for something different."

Practically all the paintings have been framed without a glass, giving viewers the chance to reach out and feel the texture.

"As a kid I loved touching paint, so I'm leaving the option open."

The opening hours of the exhibition will be on a day-to-day basis and those wishing to visit can check the artist's website. Private viewings are also possible.

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