– the art of colour and sound –
Gilbert has a special bond with his father, George Fenech, who has also been his lifelong mentor. Gilbert has spent a great part of his life in the company of his father. Since a toddler, he spent most of his childhood playing while watching his father at work at his canvas in the studio, situated a few meters away from home, or in the countryside so characteristic of Mellieha village area, where together with his brother, Conrad, and his mother, Doris, often accompanied George on his regular landscape-painting on the spot.
George is, in fact, not only one of Malta’s leading but also a prolific artists. His simple lifestyle and calm but eloquent speech betray his poetic nature and down to earth philosophy; his work is forceful and spontaneous as the air he breaths.
With this rich and solid artistic background, it is only natural that Gilbert’s work has a close affinity with that of his father, from whom he also inherited a love for Nature, Beauty and the Arts. Except for a small number of still-lifes, the works presented in this personal exhibition are a series of landscape that reflects Gilbert’s rich life-long artistic inheritance, which in turn testifies an affinity to his father.
The small number of still-lifes show Gilbert’s concerned with the representation of reality. The compositions and the palette are kept simple and harmonious.
The landscapes presented mostly concentrate on Mellieha village and the surviving beautiful surrounding landscape. It is an undeniable fact that George Fenech, with an extensive oeuvre of sixty years painting on the spot in this same area, has not left a single stone unpainted, and therefore obviously, the very subject matter represented in this exhibition, somehow, reminds the local art lover of the veteran artist. Notwithstanding, a closer look at the works presented, betrays Gilbert’s continuous search for a personal artistic idiom.
Though in Gilbert’s paintings the landscape around Mellieha retains its inherent characteristics, and the topography of the place is realistically represented, as in “Coastline” and “Castles in the Skies” yet the importance of the actual spot represented in the paintings is relegated to a secondary role, and primary importance lies in the aesthetic considerations that contribute to the creation of a work of art.
Gilbert is principally a plein-air artist and his landscapes are the fruit of direct observation. Notwithstanding, Gilbert often takes artistic liberty to modify and enhance his compositions; the re-direction of a rubble wall or a pathway, or the alteration of the shape or hue of a field is not an uncommon device used.
Gilbert’s landscapes make good use of a number of compositional devises dictated by artistic perception. His compositions are not restrained by any preconceived idea; each and every spot suggests a new possible view point. Thus Gilbert uses the hilly characteristics of the Island’s northern landscape to his best advantage. In some works as “Houses Across the Meadows” or “Ghajn Hadid” he observes the carpets of coloured fields, bounded by the characteristic rubble walls, from a high vantage point, to create a series of interesting abstract shapes, patterns and rhythm within the picture plane. In other compositions, such as “Tranquil Loneliness” the comparatively small man-made structure that constitutes the main subject of the painting, is represented from a very low view-point, so that a humble farmhouse, towering over the rest of the composition, attains dominance and a monumentality of its own.
The placing of the focal point and the balancing of shapes within the picture plane, are governed by abstract considerations. In “Coastline”, and “Edges” the area representing the cliffs and the sea, constitutes two large equal shapes that balance each other and dominate the composition. In “Morning Light” and “Morning Sky” the large dark green mass of the tree, placed in the middle ground, is balanced by the much larger, yet less dynamic, flat shapes of the surrounding and distant landscape.
Gilbert simplifies and reduces the complex tonal values found in nature to the bare essential. Contrasts of both hue and tonal values are reduced to a minimum, thus rendering the landscape such as “Afternoon Shadows” and “Country Roads” almost to a series of flat harmonious patches of broken colours.
The works in general attest to a steady artistic development, especially noticeable in the richer palette and more and painterly quality of the more recent landscapes.
2010 – ‘Harmonical Expressions – the art of colour and sound’, A Concert Exhibition, Art accompanied by musical interpretations composed by Mark Cachia Sammut, Sagrestia Vault, Valletta Waterfront
– the father, the son and the spirit of Art –
Art lovers who are familiar with landscapes painted by George Fenech could easily discern a certain affinity between George and Gilbert. It is not merely a blood bondage of father and son. From an early age, Gilbert often accompanied his father on his painting sprees. These sojourns seem to have left an indelible effect on the son. Like his father, Gilbert has savoured the mystique of the virgin land. His oeuvre attests to a similar interaction with Mother Nature. He has followed his father’s poetic treatment to the point of adulation, and the current exhibition is evident once again, of Gilbert’s close thematic and stylistic proximity.
George Fenech is an established veteran artist who has dedicated his life completely to art. Well into his eighties, he can look back with gratitude, pride and satisfaction in his heart. Although he has confined his inspiration to the environs of Mellieħa, within that limit his oeuvre is rich, varied and noteworthy. He has managed to bridge tradition with modernity, to intelligently merge the order, structure and solidity of traditional forms with the pictorial freedom, spontaneity, individual perception and chromatic freshness of contemporary art. His is a distinctive style in which harmony prevails, simple, ordinary forms are balanced and colours orchestrated to create a serene, unified, lyrical grandeur.
George is a plein air artist by natural inclination and definitely he has emerged as the interpreter of a rural contemporary Malta which is fast disappearing. Yet his artistic production has not been limited solely to the interpretation of his natural environment. He has tried his hand successfully at various genres of art. The current exhibition has been limited to retrospective examples from his treatment of figurative art.
George Fenech approaches his subjects with the same explorative eye as he displays in his landscapes. There is the same regard for volume, solidity, vigorous structural qualities, spacial relationships, contrapposti, rich vibrant patterns and chromatic and textural contrasts. A psychological concern permeates all. A self-portrait of 1962, a painting of his wife, Doris (1965) as well as that entitled Pawlu (1954) are studies in powerful simplification. Direct eye contact with the spectator may have been intentionally avoided and sitters are presented in an unassuming pensive mood. Typical of George Fenech, his sitters do not hail from the high echelons of society. Philip Reading (1957) and Jane Sipping Coffee (1964) are again ordinary characters presented in a natural, relaxing pose as if caught stealthily and unawares by the artist during a common everyday chore. Members of his family feature in his paintings, very often presented in a most unsophisticated way. Conrad in a Box (1975) and Gilbert (1979) are typical charming examples. These sketchy executions could be considered as reminiscences of cherished, intimate moments painted with a paternal love but also with the same concern of the explorative artist.
Two seated nudes in this exhibition hail from his study years at the Reggia Accademia di Belle Arti and at the Associazione Artistica Internazionale (Circolo Artistico), Rome, which included the nudo in its curriculum. Both paintings attest to Fenech’s concern with the relationship between form and space as well as with textural quality. However, the one entitled Antoinetta (1959) is more liberally executed and already displays a marked freedom from a certain academism still noticeable in Maria near the Stuffa (1957).
George Fenech’s oeuvre includes also some sporadic sacred themes inspired mainly by evangelical narratives. His large Deposition has been aptly described by Prof J.J. Cremona as “a moving pictorial elegy.” It has contributed significantly to a fresh contemporary approach to modern Maltese sacred art. This particular genre is currently represented by two paintings. St Paul and St Luke (2005) is executed in a most unconventional way in a local setting so typical of Fenech’s conception. A vivid palette and the inclusion of contemporary dress create an aura of warm assosiation. St Francis and Friends (1992) is an earlier work painted in a similar pictorial idiom of vertical stresses and warm chromatic tones.
It has often been hinted that the human figure rarely features in George Fenech’s landscapes as if the artist is adamnant to let any one to tread in the sacred domain of Nature. On the other hand, George has paralleled another genre of his art in which he gave a similar glorified treatment to rural characters who inhabit his environs. Joe the Gardener (1966) is a typical character who has captured the artist’s attention on various occasions. Fenech paints him with an economical brushwork, yet with rich textural qualities, bringing out his unassuming dignity as a genuine character who has experienced the hardships of an outdoor life. Other characters are treated collectively as representatives of various social groups. With the exception of Works Ahead (1990) which hints at a subtle satirical comment, the other paintings in this genre present “toil people” at their daily chores or else exhilarating in a folkloristic pastime.
Besides the usual concern for form, colour and structure, George Fenech seems to perceive and acknowledge these humble, dedicated workers as the preservers of our traditions, the epitomes of a hardworking, persevering people with a natural attachment to their environment. Sunset (1968) and Ġbid il-Luzzu (1987) are variations of the same theme with special emphasis on rhythmic forces. Sunrise (1968) is intelligently composed with opposite yet complementary dynamic forces. Sundown (1971) has an elegant, andulating and dignified rhythmic pattern. Silhouetted figures of toiling fishermen are slightly highlighted by a very expressive sun. Bell Ringers (1995) presents another aspect of communal life, showing the artist’s keen sense of observation and his natural instinct for composition.
Finally, I would like to refer to the concluding paragraph of my analysis for another exhibition by the same artist held in the same venue way back in 2004. George Fenech’s art “is a fusion of good draughtsmanship and artistic creativity, a technical competence and a liberal, distinctive style. Above all, his paintings breathe ‘a sense of life’. ‘I put my soul in my paintings… A painting without a soul or life is no art,’ declares George Fenech. As a result, his art is valid for all times. And like all great and genuine art, it is destined to endure.”
Definitely Gilbert Fenech’s 13 landscapes and 6 still lifes in the current exhibition mark a developmental progression in production since his last exhibition in this venue three years ago. Treatment has become freer, the palette luminous and better orchestrated, the composition more arresting since linear and aerial perspective are used to advantage with spaces of restful neutrals in-between. The overall general effect has become more lyrical. Yet, the father’s influence on his son cannot be denied and is still very evident. Father and son have been sharing too long the same interactive moments with nature.
Gilbert Fenech is also an open-air artist. His eyes and mind and heart meander along the open spaces, the country lanes and the deep valleys of the environs of Mellieħa to discover the beauty of form and colour. He seems to be enchanted by the majesty of primordial cliffs, the undulating skyline, the various shades of greenery which provide excellent complementaries to the rusty browns of newly-ploughed fields. He has developed a keen eye for the right approach to his subjects. Kamra fi Rdum il-Qawwi, Razzett fil-Miżieb u Rdumijiet are viewed from a high vantage point, giving the opportunity to the artist to have a soaring gaze and to be able to create a contrast between the flat rectangular shapes of farmhouses’ roofs and the irregular ones of hills and deep valleys. Others like the one entitled Trejqa lejn il-Palazz are captured from a lower point of view, thus letting the winding path lead the eye to the red tower in the background. A raised horizon joins another shade of sky blue to provide an ideal backdrop. Cloudy skies are another personal characteristic which features in Gilbert’s landscapes. Għad-dell tas-Siġar presents a frontal interesting composition while Agħżel Trieqtek may be the only landscape among the lot with a hidden expressive message.
Similar to his father, Nature perceived in its grand, poetic simplicity lies at the base of Gilbert’s art. He has learnt to waive elaboration, to synthesise his pictures to their bare essentials, rendering them into patches of harmonies or contrasting colours with breathing spaces. His limited modelling with colour to the extent of adopting the quasi-flat colour patch in certain instances is clearly indicative once again of Gilbert’s effort to unshackle himself of all past influences and to create his own particular artistic idiom. Light is another essential, unifying factor which saturates all, creating luminosity, changing tonalities and providing the sharp or soft shadows.
Gilbert’s paintings are not intended to be visual documents although the topography is easily recognizeable. Rather, they capture the fleeting, magical moments of happiness, periodic emotions of serenity and tranquility.
The still life is another form of art which provides a source of inspiration to Gilbert Fenech. Obviously, once again he is indebted to his father to the extent of making use of arrangements of similar motifs – utensils, bygones, shells, fishing tackle. Il-Bebbuxu tal-Baħar, Il-Kenur and Il-Mitħna tal-Kafè are competently composed with the same love for simplicity and purity of form and colour.
A marked distinctiveness is noticeable in other still life compositions, noteably the ones entitled Reflections and Il-Kitarra. These paintings mirror the artist’s concern for space, for exploring the relationship of objects and their respective influence on local colour as well as the effects of light and shade. Very often he takes a close-up view of the objects and arranges them in an interesting off-centre composition leaving certain sections out of the picture frame.
And the spirit of Art
The canvases on display are unpretentious pieces produced by two humble artists who work very close to nature. They do not try to imitate nature but rather to discover its mystique, to savour its monumental equilibrium, to create an empathy for the characters who have toiled the soil and tasted the salty sea. Both father and son accomplish all this with a complete dedication and a genuine love. And that is the spirit of art.
Joe Camilleri, Victoria – Gozo
2009 – ‘Tranquil Equilibrium – the father, the son and the spirit of art’, Exhibition Hall, St Francis Square, Victoria, Gozo
Homage to Nature
A Lyrical Trilogy
Gilbert Fenech is a Figlio d’arte, a budding painter whose close affinity to his father has left an undeniable imprint on his artistic production. From an early age, Gilbert used to accompany his father on his sojpurns and spent hours in his studio savouring his still lifes, sacred compositions and genre subjects. For the last two years, father and son have been going out together on painting sessions, sharing the same paint tubes, common attitudes and a similar perception. Obviously, George Fenech has left his thematic and stylistic influence on his son. In fact, Gilbert is treading in his father’s footsteps. Nature enchants him similar to his father, the Mellieha unspoilt areas trigger his imagination. He seems also to be trying to bridge tradition with a fresh spontaneity and economical brushwork. Like his father, his palette is limited, yet rich and intensely luminous. It is obvious that Gilbert Fenech is conscious of the importance of space through which a painting breathes.
The works on display have been painting in a span of two years. Yet the more recent paintings display a better-structured and balanced compostion, a richer chromatic orchestration and a freer hand. His discarding of non-essentials and his limited modelling with colour to the extent of adopting the quasi flat colour patch is indicative of Gilbert’s concern to move further away from his source of influence and try to create his own particular artistic idiom.
Another notable facet of Gilbert’s oeuvre is the still life, definitely another genre for which he is indebted to his father. An early still life with a tortoise skull is still loose though indicative of a certain competence. His better works, i.e. Still life with vases and Still life with bottles are better composed, more captivating and display a personal distinctiveness.
In these two particular paintings, Gilbert has taken a close-up view of the objects, thus creating a composition which is both pleasant and arresting. The painter displays a concern for space, relationship of objects and their respective influence on local colour, while he effectively conveys the effects of light and shade.
Joe Camilleri, Victoria – Gozo
2006 – ‘Homage to Nature- A Lyrical Trilogy’, Exhibition Hall, St Francis Square, Victoria, Gozo