A new exhibition, Carbonaro, at Victoria’s Il-Ħaġar Museum shows 60 works by one of Malta’s best-known landscape artists, Pawl Carbonaro, all of which are pieces from his private collection.
Carbonaro’s work is highly regarded with good reason, and this is an exciting opportunity to see paintings from the last 20 years with which he could not bear to part. The majority have rarely, if ever, been shown in public before.
Described as ‘visual poetry’ by the museum curator Joseph Farrugia, together they form a vivid pictorial diary or travel album of the places Carbonaro has spent time over the last two decades.
“Pawl, far from being provincially Maltese, identifies as aggressively Mediterranean. Carbonaro’s wanderlust has moved him widely – with his airways pass, but mostly within the panoramas of his mind. He has painted Malta and Gozo, Brittany and Spain, Ireland and Greece, Alsace and Italy,” writes Giovanni Bonello in his introduction to the exhibition in the accompanying catalogue.
Rendering minimally both the topography of unspoilt sky, land and sea and clusters of buildings, Carbonaro is interested in reproducing the aesthetics of a scene, and his expressive works that are keenly balanced between the figurative and the abstract.
Pawl, far from being provincially Maltese, identifies as aggressively Mediterranean. Carbonaro’s wanderlust has moved him widely– Giovanni Bonello
In a French harbour, as boats bob in a little harbour, you can almost hear the seagulls and in the Swiss Alps and the Alsace, triangular roofs populate several vibrant Northern European paintings. The clusters of buildings and patchwork rooftops in some of Carbonaro’s works are perhaps reminiscent of Esprit Barthet: this no surprise as Carbonaro studied with Barthet in secondary school, after being introduced to art in his childhood by his father Hugo (one of several influential artists credited with introducing modernism to Malta in the 1950s).
Although raised in Sliema, Carbonaro has lived in Gozo’s Żebbuġ for the last 30 years, seeking the same tranquillity that he finds in the landscapes that he most values further afield. These have a beauty, he comments, that is not spoilt by cranes and unsightly buildings, and he expresses deep concerns that even in Gozo, few spots remain undisturbed by development.
Now living in the quiet north-westerly village, Carbonaro’s local scenes are predominantly those closest to home. You’ll find Xwejni by day and night a striking pair alongside Cliffs (general) in bold blue and purple and the brooding Sanap Cliffs loom tall in subdued mauve and warm taupe, a wedge between mirrored stormy-denim sea and sky.
Żebbuġ appears three times in the show, each of which is increasingly abstract, and Żebbuġ and Żebbuġ Hilltop (both 2018) hand close together: comparing the latter pair, note how the prickly pear border of Żebbuġ becomes a scattering of green teardrop shapes that are still nonetheless instantly recognisable.
It’s a motif you’ll spot several times throughout the exhibition, in an evocative painting of Għasri – a favourite of mine – and a stunning depiction of The Blue Lagoon where the sea glints against bronzed land upon which the light dances. Although there’s little vegetation in the collection as a whole, bar the stripes of vines across the land in Burgundy and the dark trunks and spiky leaves of the occasional palm tree, the prickly pear is the only ‘botanical’ subject. It takes centre stage in two paintings, perhaps a visual metaphor for the relentless march of recalcitrant buildings on the edges of villages and fields.
Alongside Carbonaro’s oil paintings, this captivating show also includes nine monochrome etchings, recently reprinted from plates Carbonaro made 30 years ago.
Carbonaro runs until November 5. Il-Ħaġar – Heart of Gozo Museum, St George’s Square, Victoria, Gozo is open Monday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm. Entrance is free. This exhibition enjoys the support from numerous private and public institutions, including Gozo Action Group Foundation through the LEADER Programme. An accompanying book, Carbonaro, in the popular Il-Ħaġar GEMS series, is available at €20.