Ħarbaħolma – Silvio John Camilleri

January – February 2020

Palazzo de Piro - Art Exhibition - Silvio John Camilleri

Silvio John Camilleri started attending the Malta Government School of Art in the late 1990s and following a break of some years while reading for a doctoral degree in finance, he resumed classes at the Malta Society of Arts in 2007. He studied human figure drawing under Eman Grima, Jesmond Vassallo and Dione Borg, printing techniques with Lino Borg, and followed other courses under the direction of Noel Azzopardi, Roderick Camilleri, Joseph L. Mallia, Joseph Mark Micallef, and Tony Sciberras.

Silvio John is intrigued by urban landscapes and commonplace objects, since he considers that their depiction helps in analysing and interpreting the mundane environment. He is particularly keen on re-interpreting his renditions of any particular subject, since he finds that when doing this the emphasis shifts on the inquisitive artistic process rather than on the subject itself. Camilleri uses various media such as acrylics and inks, in addition to pencils and ordinary ballpoint pens which he considers as the most practical media to sketch whilst ‘on the go’.

‘Ħarbaħolma – Images of a Wistful Escape’ is Silvio John’s first solo exhibition, following his participation in various collective initiatives. The exhibition focuses on different landscape interpretations by the artist, where the technique varies from vigorous renditions with prominent brushstroke marks to more traditionally-inspired works. In the artist’s words:

“My immediate surroundings catch my interest and I find that their interpretation helps in assimilating the mundane environment while creating a personal visual diary.

This series of works started with some smaller-sized ones which were meant as relatively quick interpretations, while pondering about the influence which our surroundings exert on our daily life. Probably there is no particular reason why I chose to focus on the particular locations, other than being somewhat familiar with them.

Despite that I consider them as ordinary settings, these landscapes are strikingly different from the urban context which we are persistently surrounded by. In this sense, such works may be interpreted as escapist – hence the title of the exhibition. Using high-sounding terminology one may possibly label this series of works as a form of liberation or a catharsis from contemporary routine.

Whilst acknowledging the public connotations of these places (some of them serving as ‘postcard sites’) I also think of them in terms of my personal presence when nearby. For instance, the memories of being close to the location for a short while when commuting linger in my mind – and make me eager to take a closer look each time I re-visit. In case of particular man-made structures shown in these paintings such as the fireworks factories, the gunpost, and the chapel at the former Luqa airport, I have never actually set foot on the inside, and they remain recorded as enigmatic outer façades in my thoughts.

Apart from the reminiscences of the locations themselves, these works conjure up memories of the process of their execution. Some of them were painted in a relatively short time whilst others entailed multiple sessions of refinements or re-workings. The act of laying brushstrokes on canvas while consciously or subconsciously thinking about the resulting imagery may be considered as a form of meditation, and it is also this labour of love which I would like to share with the viewer.”

‘Ħarbaħolma – Images of a Wistful Escape’ is being curated by the art historian Dr. Christian Attard. The following is the Curator’s introduction to this series of works:

“In this collection of images, Silvio John finds nurturing solace in the representation of either time-forgotten nooks, or else, conversely, in places overlooked because of over-familiarity. There is a quest for a simple beauty, for a nature unspoilt in these images that one might start wondering whether this is solely the result of an aching nostalgia rather than the result of hard, factual observation. As a matter of fact, these images record places that do exist, and even if one might think otherwise, they reassure us that if we were to stop and look close enough, with open hearts and minds, there are still localities of immense poetical beauty on these admittedly overbuilt islands.

In most of these images Silvio John chooses to pull our eyes right into the picture. We are led, typically through some receding pathway that loses itself in the distance, towards the sea beyond. Thus, while the artist meditates upon the singular beauty of the ragged rocks or the wild flora present in the foreground he still stretches his sight towards the sea. I feel that, for the artist, the sea is a metaphor of escape; of the thrill of possible lands and alternate existences that might lie just beyond one’s reach”.

Silvio John’s choice of Palazzo de Piro as a venue for this exhibition relies on the Palazzo’s combination of art and delicious gourmet offered in a relaxing ambience with breathtaking views. In addition, the extension of the Mdina Cathedral Museum within Palazzo de Piro, has furthered the prestigious connotations of the place.

‘Ħarbaħolma – Images of a Wistful Escape’ will be on at Palazzo de Piro from the 4th till the 28th February 2020.