“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
The title of Fabio Borg’s exhibition, Revisited Memories, suggests an exercise in remembering, a summoning of ghosts. Marcel Proust, in his famous novel Remembrance of Things Past , dwells on memories triggered by the most seemingly mundane of experiences, like the taste of a Madeleine cupcake or an unsteady, loose tile. For Borg, it is the occasional visits to places that have a connection with his childhood that jogs his memory and sends him down memory lane.
“This was the idea behind my sixth solo exhibition” he says. “Streets in the Sliema and Gżira area are no longer recognisable. In fact, the paintings, We are destroying our Heritage and Irregular Constructs, reflect mainly this by showing the ugliness of the concrete constructions created today.”
He fears that the Maltese countryside will soon be lost to rampant development which will alter it irrevocably. The Maltese landscape is most inspiring for the artist; he thinks that its beauty needs to be appreciated by one and all. “For this reason, I am trying to preserve some of it on canvas, in hope that this beauty becomes an inspiration for the Maltese to appreciate and protect the natural environment,” he hopes.
The landscapes demonstrate the artist’s evolution towards a new dreamy and atmospheric style, that somewhat evokes the work of German artist Gerhard Richter. One feels a pull towards the romantic aspect of the landscape’s inherent beauty that one finds in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. Richter concedes: “My landscapes have connections with Romanticism: at times I feel a real desire for, an attraction to, this period, and some of my pictures are a homage to Caspar David Friedrich.”
COVID-19 has redefined the cultural panorama all over the world and visual artists haven’t been immune to this
In the paintings Wied Fiddien, RTO NO ENTRY and Buskett , there is an overwhelming feeling of imminent loss, of foreboding that one finds in Joan Eardley’s atmospheric paintings of the Scottish landscape. Like the Scottish artist, Borg conveys the elemental balance in the seasonal transformations and the breathtaking beauty of the Maltese countryside when it is uncontaminated and magical. For centuries, it has served as the backdrop for our country’s legends, myths and traditions. These narratives are being lost to accommodate this 21st century Mordor, a devilish nightmare of towers and high-rises. Borg’s urban-themed work vibrates with the artist’s traditional shafts of light and shade, reminiscent of the work of Lyonel Feininger and Malta’s own Willie Apap. One might think that this marked stylistic and conceptual dichotomy between the urban and the rural could owe its origin to these pandemic times, through a soul-searching that is humbling and cathartic. The exhortation by the authorities not to tempt fate by staying indoors as much as possible has induced a sense of monastic safety, however coupled with a claustrophobic ache for the uncontaminated countryside and the great outdoors.
“The pandemic has left a huge impact on me. Fear and uncertainty have been also portrayed in my works – the chiaroscuro,” Borg insists. “This period has definitely helped because I managed to create and produce more work. Admittedly, my work, yes, is evolving towards a new style, which occurred naturally and without any effort from my side. Lately, I have been inspired by countryside and trees probably arising from the fear that these views will soon remain nothing more than a memory.”
There is sorrow in such a political affirmation that blames our impotent authorities for this blasphemous destruction of our natural habitats. This could be the springboard for the artistic awareness that is driving some Maltese contemporary landscape artists to reinterpret the genre through an en plein air approach that captures the nuances and atmosphere of paradises of natural beauty. Proust declared: “The true paradises are the paradises that we have lost,” which implies that the reality we are living in right now is a skewed one. Hell on earth acquires relevance that goes beyond the metaphorical. “In my case, it is a political statement. We need to protect and rethink our development,” Borg unequivocally declares. COVID-19 has redefined the cultural panorama all over the world and visual artists haven’t been immune to this. Some local artists have found solace in the cocoon of the studio and grew more introspective and reached within for inspiration. Others have thrown paranoia and caution to the wind and kept to their pre-COVID habits. Borg refers to a period of time at the start of the pandemic when his perspective was determined by his immediate surroundings.
“When I found myself locked inside, I started painting objects around me or the view from my window,” he says. “I do believe that art knows no limits, and nothing can stop it, not even this pestilence. Lack of inspiration was limited to only a few days which coincided with a self-analysis that was an artistic turning and re-evaluation, hence the change in style and approach.”
Some of the paintings in this collection display a disarming rationalisation of these abnormal times through the depiction of community life where clothes are still being washed and hung to dry, religious pageants are still enacted in some diluted and safe way, hideous buildings are still being constructed as the quality of life deteriorates at a pace which leaves us stunned and helpless.
Borg paints the urban fabric before it too becomes a revisited memory. “I paint this type of work as it documents realities that nowadays are becoming rarer. One can still find them in Valletta for the time being, but our culture is changing.”
The mist in Borg’s landscapes is a dream-like shroud and the vernacular architecture is refracted into its prismatic components, for crude present reality is not that wholesome: “I try to convey my deep-seated sadness in the acknowledgement that our landscape is at risk. One has only to look to realise what’s happening to it. Through these works, I hope to kindle awareness about the destruction that is happening around us, this phenomenon ‘which is not architecture but construction’, as Prof Richard England once stated.” We are maybe at a stage that requires forgetfulness, a denial. Nostalgia is such an irrational painful emotion; it pours salt on to the seeping wounds of what might have been had we really treasured and defended our countryside, our towns and villages from being so ruthlessly defaced. The undigested madeleine cupcake provokes the nausea of guilt, which can sometimes be too much of a stomachful to fathom.
Revisited Memories, hosted by Desko of St Lucy Street, Valletta and sponsored by GasanMamo, is no longer open due to the new COVID measures. The exhibits are on view at https://www.facebook.com/artbyfabioborg.
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