†Through abstraction man can see with his mind what he cannot physically see with his eyes– Arshile Gorky.
There was a time when abstraction in art, as Wassily Kandinsky understood it, was an expression of the spiritual, of that which goes beyond the solid representation. The symphony of color and form appealed to art as a prayer, as an incantation transcending reality, as a reflection of the inner spirit.
Anthony Spagnol’s oeuvre, since his first exhibition in the early 1990s, has always been about the spiritual, even from his first figurative paintings, thematically linked to biblical characters. The chromatic quality of these early paintings imbued the fabric of the painting with deep meaning and effective symbolism.
Spagnol then brought these qualities to the fore through abstraction; the genre lends itself more to expressions of the elusive, such as mysticism, faith and other extraterrestrial manifestations. Over the years, the duality of representation and abstraction has defined his oeuvre; Spagnol continued to explore the possibilities of both studies, without exclusion and preference for a single mode of expression.
“We live in a world where we can’t control everything; just think of COVID-19 and the Ukrainian war,” notes Spagnol. “These new developments have created insecurities of great magnitude in every aspect of our lives and our planet is still bleeding. The theme of uncertainty provided an opportunity to express myself, making my artistic process a mystery to predict. The process was like a quest because nothing was stable or secure in the beginning. As an artist, I strove to find the path to complete the process, until my inner soul suggested I had reached the end of it.”
Since the start of 2020, social media, news agencies and other sources have bombarded us with images of people, in various locations, showing the symptoms of COVID-19 and the terminal danger of this new plague.
Artists all over the world, stranded in their studios, searched the internet and media for images to interpret. The potent stench of death could be found in the photographs and images of hospital wards and corridors, among other locations. This provided an abundance of material for figurative artists who transformed their canvases or formed their sculptures into ‘stations’ of suffering, calling out laments and supplications to the divine.
Abstract artists, such as Spagnol, were clearly not immune to the visual onslaught. The choice of title for this exhibition has meaning, Mystery and process† This series of 20 canvases that Spagnol started working on in 2019, ie before the start of the pandemic, is an exercise in evaluating mystery and processing it.
Uncertainty provided an opportunity to express myself
Humanity is indeed in a state of flux, of change, for better or for worse has yet to be determined. The existential questions have become more unanswerable with each viral mutation and with each death in the face of the unnecessary Ukrainian invasion.
Spagnol’s abstracts are in full swing while shapes threaten to merge and dissolve again. Ultimate resolution is not what the artist is looking for, as the colors transition effortlessly into tones, texture and rhythm. Abstract art feeds on the subconscious.
The current state of affairs in the world is one of ambiguity and uncertainty, a leap into virgin territory where parameters change relentlessly. The artist, a consummate art conservator, intuitively knows how paint behaves and how the canvas reacts, a process that is unfathomable and influenced by various external factors, such as environmental factors. He uses this knowledge, this fruit of research, acquired through years of study, observation and dedication, and integrates it into his paintings. The vernacular of the art of bygone times indicates paths to a new language.
In the words of curator Joseph P. Cassar: “Spagnol’s work ranges from initial chaotic blobs of color to more calculated lines and other experimental processes, seeking deeper meaning in the process of bringing the entire composition into a cohesive whole. Each painting in this collection offers an intimate encounter and when all the works are experienced together, they form a life full of fears, doubts, hopes and joys.”
Embracing Uncertainty… Unexpected Opportunities
This subtitle, which reinforces the main title, is chosen by the artist to guide the audience and introduce viewers to the framework of the creative process. There is an intimate dialogue and interaction between artist and medium, a conversation that invites the public to reflect amid the brushstrokes, the indecision, the repentancethe reconfigurations.
Cassar emphasizes: “The exhibition is about the mystery of the creative process, how the artist concretizes his dreams and turns the ordinary into sublime.”
We are therefore invited to assess the whole creative process as an exercise in accessing the abstraction of the subconscious.
mystery and process, curated by Joseph P. Cassar and hosted at the Art Galleries of the Malta Society of Arts (MSA) in Valletta, it is open until July 14. Entrance is free. For opening hours and more information, visit www.artsmalta.org or www.facebook.com/maltasocietyofarts.
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