I've always had a fetish about boxes. I could stock an entire cat sanctuary with the collection I've got. Ranging from carved #Indian wooden boxes from the #MiddleEast to retro biscuit tins bought at a market in #London to plastic collapsible boxes from Ikea, they all serve a purpose. They give me a sense of order in my life. Maybe it's because I have spent so much time travelling since that first emotionally traumatic wrench from #EastAfrica when I was 9 years old. I can't remember it, but no doubt I was witness to my distraught mother supervising a hoard of local Kenyan packers as they nervously wrapped her precious possessions in sheets of newspaper and gently laid them side by side into a crate. I later learned about these repeated stressful occasions through my mother's accounts of them, usually laced with remarks like "No wonder I took to the bottle-25 house moves in as many years!" I think when we were living in a beachfront bungalow in #Dubai my dear Mama came very close to putting me up for adoption when I somehow managed to knock an exquisite ceramic cockerel off its carved perch on the dining room wall. It had been the surviving piece of a pair; the other was part of the list of her many prized possessions which didn't survive a shipment. I can recall my mother turning ashen and retiring to her room, not to be seen for days.
I think this box fetish has something to do with why I love reducing chaotic urban landscapes into box shapes. Sweeping vistas of fields and country lanes dont rock my boat much-I love to walk among them, and enjoy the moments of quiet reflection they offer me, but not to paint them. Give me a hillside of higglety pigglety houses squashed up together and my fingers itch to get out my drawing tools. The Three Cities in Malta where I live provides me with an endless array of such arrangements to draw. The whole area is total eye candy with its stunning harbour views, its inlets and creeks where lines of traditional Maltese fishing boats tug nonchalantly at their moorings whenever one of the many sleek yachts that cluster all along the seafront elegantly cruises by. But it's the houses, stacked up like kids' building blocks on the hilly terrain, that truly inspires me. There's no order to them; they have an air of complacent mayhem about them. Wooden gallerias (commonly called gossip boxes), windows with wrought iron railings, doorways ranging from the humble to the grandiose , all in varied shapes and sizes and colours, stuck onto the house facades, break up the bleached yellow stone buildings which, without them, would look hard and monotonous.
At different times of the day and the year, the #Maltese limestone changes its colour. During the rainy season, it acquires a deep yellow ochre tint; in the summer, it looks bleached and parched- a bit like my hair. At dawn, buildings are bathed in a pinkish hue. At sunset, they turn golden yellow. When I paint my urban landscape series, I tend to merge all those colours into one setting. I'm using my privilege card-it's called Artistic Licence.
So, onto the process: the first Urban Landscape of 2016 fresh off the easel. I begin by breaking down that intimidating white of canvas by chucking various washes of earth colours at it, usually a mix of burnt umber and red to give a warm undertone, and then lay a thin sheet of plastic over it.
When dry, I remove the plastic and have a textural foundation which often suggests shapes and arrangements for me to develop. I then get out my trusty black marker pen and slash lines horizontally and vertically, the more lopsided the better. Yes I can draw a straight line (as my detailed watercolours produced in the 90s while in the Middle East will testify), but my style is now in its gay period. I then try to define shapes that bear some semblance to the quirky facades in the #ThreeCities.The iconic red dome of a Maltese church always features in the composition because they are landmarks throughout the Three Cities and its circular shape. together with the arched doorways, provides a contrast to the boxy structures.
The 19th century German artist Paul Klee said "A drawing is simply a line taking a walk". I couldn't agree more, but his line walks like line dancers at a boot camp. I'm not knocking it; there's great skill and a visually satisfying balance in his arrangement of shapes and colours. But I am responding to a more organic environment, a suggestion of controlled chaos which I dare say manifests itself throughout Maltese culture. Traffic on Malta's roads springs to mind.
Turquoise blue is one of my favourite #colours and it's the first colour I apply to the painting to establish the light areas. Then loose strokes of ultramarine blue to suggest the long shadows cast by sunlight. I then start work on the variegated shades of stone. To complement the warm reddish undertones which i know will somehow peak through the layers, and playing on the complimentary colours scheme, I apply a variety of greenish patches, sometimes adding pinks into the mix to grey down the hues. Paintings that apply #acrylic primary colours directly from the tube can leave me with bloodshot eyeballs-they're loud and gaudy. I neutralise them by mixing complementaries. While my #art can generally be described as colourful, and I live in a colurful world both literally and figuratively, its actually the greys that I love to play with. That sounds a bit like what my psychiatrist might say about my state of mind.
Cafe pitstops are an essential part of my daily routine-they're much need shutdown time, a sort of mental detox exercise and the irony of it isnt lost on me as I top up my daily quota of caffeine and nicotine. #Cafes are scattered along the waterfronts that stretch from #Senglea point, through #DockOne and onto #Birgu marina. Many a well-intentioned long walk gets scuppered by the irresistible urge to stop at one of them and feed my cappucino addiction and soak in the splendid views. So, very often cafes feature in these #paintings. I love the way figures sitting under umbrellas pick up so much bounced light in their pool of shade.
And there you have it: URBAN LANDSCAPE 012016 Acrylic on deep edge canvas 40x80cm
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QUOTE for today: "Dont bend; dont water it down; dont try to make it logical; dont edit your soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly". #FranzKafka