The Road Less Travelled

Introspections
(Apr 2010)
Abstractions from the Unconscious
(Apr 2010)
His Light Materials
(Apr 2010)
Virtual Confinement
(Feb 2009)
Virtual Confinement
(Nov 2008)
Black is Beautiful
(Sep 2008)
A Concept in Art
(Aug 2008)
The Road Less Travelled
(Jan 2007)
The Time Quotient in Abstraction
(Nov 2006)
Of Time and Timelessness
(Oct 2006)
Christopher Saliba, the Traveller of Time and Timelessness
(Oct 2006)
An Islander's Perspective
(Sep 2004)
At the Sea's Border
(Sep 2004)
Transcending the Ordinary
(Oct 2004)

Selected Publications

Caratteri Millenovecentonovantanove,
Accademia di Belle Arti,
Perugia 1999

 

Caratteri della Memoria,
Accademia di Belle Arti,
Perugia 2000

 

Giovani e Anziani:
Progetto per un'esperienza artistica,
Accademia di Belle Arti,
Perugia 2001

 

Generazioni, Gramma,
Perugia 2002

 

Of Time and Timelessness, artist's publication,
JDB Printing Press, 2006

 

Cross-Currents, edited by Raphael Vella,
Allied Publications 2008

 

Introspections, artist's publication,
JDB Printing Press, 2010

 

 

Art is a journey of self-discovery, says Gozitan artist Christopher Saliba, and needs to be pursued even if it takes you down less familiar paths. Here he talks about the need to keep questioning, be truthful - and the constant search for the new


Christopher Saliba is late. I look at my watch again. In fact, 15 minutes late. I cast another look around Nadur square, with its late morning light and Saturday morning bustle of activity when the young artist arrives, looking rushed and apologetic. So I follow him through the town’s winding streets, further and further away from the centre, until the light seems to get brighter, sounds seem to fade and the atmosphere becomes more peaceful and serene.


Chris explains the reason for his delay - he was painting when he looked at the watch, which indicated that there was still half an hour to go before our designated meeting time. When he looked again, he was already five minutes late. Young, intense and full of a nervous charge, this sense of complete absorption seems typical of the young artist. As we enter his studio, his paintings, with their vibrant colours and careful compositions, seem to leave no doubt as to his complete raptness when working on them. They pulse and vibrate within their frames, demanding nothing less than complete attention.


“As you can see,” smiles Chris, “the notion of the painter working on a single painting with an easel and palette is a myth.” Large and colourful abstracts rest against the walls, propped up against tables, or lie on the ground. Swirls and colours run through them, indicating a kinship between the paintings. Smudges of paint are everywhere, while open jars and bottles give a sense of immediacy. It is simply not possible for these paintings to have been done slowly. “I never work on one painting at any one time,” says Chris. “While one layer is drying I am working on another, which is why colours and themes will run through a set.”


This working method might lie behind the young artist’s prolificness which is remarkable by any standards. In the years since he has started exhibiting for the public, in fact, the young artist has held an exhibition a year. Currently, aside from working on the abstracts, he is also holding an exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta, entitled Roots of an Island.


At the time of our conversation the paintings for this are hanging in the house’s upper floor, which the young artist uses as an art gallery of sorts. We scan one painting after another, as he explains the various locations and techniques used for each one. The series is composed of a set of semi-abstract paintings, showing typical locations in Malta, Gozo and Comino. But none of the paintings is transparently representative: vibrant colours reflect feelings and states of mind and the artist’s experimentation with texture suggests the paintings’ depth and layers.


“Texture became my language in my previous exhibition,” says Chris, “and I have taken this further in this exhibition.” The paintings in fact include grains of sand to indicate roughness or even pieces of sack which are painted over and incorporated into the paintings. Reds, deep purples, oranges and pinks abound, creating rich and beautiful contrasts, and transforming the paintings’ language.


“I am not after the creation of a replica,” says the young artist. “My state of mind, mood or feelings always intervene between a scene and my painting of it.”


The most important thing for an artist, he says, is not to create a faithful representation but to be true to himself, without pandering after an audience. “I never paint with an audience in mind,” he says, “I simply work, and then the audience follows.”


Fortunately his occupation as a teacher provides him the financial freedom to embark on any artistic experiments he is interested in, he says. His recent forays into installations, for instance, were never intended as commercial products, but as stages in a process of self-discovery which never ends. “Art is a journey of self-discovery,” says the young artist, “and because a true artist must never stop questioning his own truths, it is everlasting.”


It was during his studies at the Accademic di Belle Arti in Perugia, Italy, that his artistic journey began in earnest, he says. There he started developing his own personal idiom which immediately found a following when he returned to Gozo.


Recently, he has embarked on a new path on this artistic journey, he says, with a project of video art carried out in collaboration with his brother Victor John Saliba, an IT University student. The two brothers have produced a three-minute piece of video art which explores the relations between identity and technology.


In the video, a computer keyboard, other computer accessories and handprints are incorporated in a massive and heavily textured white surfaced wooden panel. Next to the installation, a TFT panel shows a cyclical projection of a hand pressing against the screen. Delicate and gentle movements done with the palm of the hand alternate with images of the hand clenching itself into a fist, and beating violently against the screen, as if to break out.


The installation attempts to highlight the conflict generated by modern technology, says Chris. And there is a further dimension to it, he says. For although the hand appears real it is in fact computer-generated, questioning the boundaries between the virtual and the real which seem to blur on the internet.


This is a far cry from his early serene landscapes, I point out, does it represent a new departure? “Well, it is important for an artist to exploit the potential of newer media,” says Chris, “since, depending on what he is trying to say, they can convey stronger or subtler messages.” Painting is not the only interesting and powerful artistic medium, he points out.


Installation art is becoming more widespread in Gozo, he says, but is still not widely appreciated, often giving way to a predilection for traditional representational paintings which tend to feed on the same formulae. “Sometimes the most important thing in a work of art is the idea,” says Chris. Artists should always be open to these, he says, and sometimes even accidents can be pathways to discovery.


Of course as his prolificness shows, he is never short of ideas. Meanwhile, he takes his art seriously and earnestly, producing only works of the highest level of honesty. “Often I will work till late or wake up very early to finish works in time for a commission or an exhibition,” he says, looking determined. “One should never shy away from a challenge.”

Sandra Aquilina, in "Let's Gozo", Issue No. 10, 2007