Sophistikós at ARThALL Victoria Gozo
November 12, 2019
Karin Grech, https://www.facebook.com/bwiseaftertheevent
A lively gallery scene has developed in Gozo over the last few years. New exhibition spaces are springing up all over the island and every weekend sees at least one or two exhibition openings. One of the privately run venues is Arthall, a bright gallery space in the centre of Victoria.
Arthall specialises in contemporary and modern art, and ‘Sophistikós’, the current show, ties in nicely with its aim to present innovative and provocative art. The exhibition brings together three artists who present their take on sophistication in quite diverging ways.
All three artists reside in Gozo but have very different international backgrounds. The male in the group is Tomas Hed from Sweden. He brings with him a refreshing Scandinavian frankness that is quite rare to find in this Southern Mediterranean climate. I encountered his work before at Arthall and it intrigued me how deep his insights into local society are, and how he is able to express them in an uncluttered, straightforward way in his work.
Tomas is versatile in his output; apart from paintings, ‘Sophistikós’ contains one of his installations: a shower of “Facebook likes” pelting down onto a black umbrella. This, to me, calls into question the existence of sophistication in this age of social media addictions.
His versatility shows also in the paintings he exhibits here. They are very different in expression, yet always executed with confident brushstrokes. Tomas uses a more muted colour palette (particularly in contrast with the other two painters in this show) and strong contour lines. This outlining of figures with bold dark lines reminds me of works by Gauguin. His colours are also strong, with little gradation. His figures are stylized and he doesn’t express sophistication by details and embellishment, but through clarity of line and the poise of his subjects.
S J Fuerst, one of the two female artists in the exhibition, also expresses sophistication through the poise of her subjects, but her painterly realism is quite a contrast to Tomas’ abstracted figures.
Fuerst was born in the US where she studied painting and her academic background shows very clearly in her work. In ‘Circe’ the subject figure is framed by classical columns, yet the rest of the composition is of a surrealistic quality. Circe thrones on what looks like an umpire’s chair, with a herd of inflatable pigs below. The pigs, like the tiger in the background, look so real, yet so fake at the same time. And beautiful Circe herself fixes you with her blue-eyed stare and seems ready to step off her throne and out of the painting to admonish you.
The panel titled ‘Saraswati’ is another great example of Fuerst’s ability to merge classical landscapes with pop art in a distinctly realistic style. Here, a sophisticated Hindu goddess plays an inflatable musical instrument sitting on what can best be described as a pool float in the form of a swan. This setting of cultural sophistication and refinement in a rather common, almost primitive environment fulfills very well Arthall’s aim to present the viewing public with provocative art. Fuerst’s are the kind of paintings that stop you in your tracks and make you look, and then go back and look some more.
Competing for attention by evoking the same feelings in the viewer are the works of Fox Daniels, the second female artist in the show. Fox is half Belgian, half Berber and also lives and works in Gozo.
She is a free spirit and an energetic personality and her work mirrors that. There are only strong colours in her palette, but she combines them masterfully in her vivid and vibrant compositions. All her works in this exhibition feature women. At first glance they seem strong and confident power women. It is Fox’s colour palette and bold, near cartoonish figuration that exude power and vigor, indeed, a certain brashness. There is elegance not only in the lines and marks on the canvas, but also in the subjects. Their poses are those taken by the wealthy, the influential, the self-confident women of society.
Yet, if you get closer, zoom in on the facial expressions and start reading the wall texts supplied by the artist, you realize that there is a deeper, darker layer to these works. The pressures of society and the fear of aging are tangible. The world these women inhabit is a brittle one.
The best example for this is my personal favourite, a large panel titled ‘The Last Supper’. Drawing inspiration from its religious progenitor this is not the depiction of a merry dinner party but a scene of impending betrayal. Sophistication is only unifying the women at the table at the top most layer, what lies beneath indicates the price that will have to be paid – rivalry and solitude. The seat at the top is, as always, a lonely place.
Sophistikós runs till November 17 at ARThALL, 8 Triq Agius De Soldanis, Victoria, Gozo.
Photos below have been supplied by ARThALL except where otherwise indicated