Having seen Rigby Graham’s paintings over a long period of years it seems hard to beleive that there are still many surprises. Work seen in the artist’s studio in Leicester – his entire home has gradually been taken over by his painting and printmaking activities – generally shows British and Irish subjects ; the work he has done in places such as Corsica, Slovenia or Malta is usually underrepresented or not shown at all in the many exhibitions he has had in England and Ireland. So one comes upon the present collection of watercolours of Malta with a sense of surprise. The style is unmistakable, and so is the choice of subjects: building, often seen across a tangle of brushwood and abandoned objects; landscape littered with rubble and boulders and, preferably, a series of telegraph poles. But it is the colours that surprise anuone familiar with Graham’s work, but less so with the Mediterranean. The blue skies have a brilliance not to often seen in his English or Irish watercolours, yet they have received as much attention and show an endless variety of colours. the wals are pale brown and yellow, but the manages to show the cracks and crevices; the vegetation is equally pale but shrubs and trees are often shown as blobs of colours, so characteristic of the artist’s approach. Gradually the eye adjusts to his view of the Maltese landscape, gradually one realises that these seemingly unfamiliar subjects have long been part of the painter’s work. And of course, we have seen some of his early Maltese drawings, printed in small collections of verse such as Charles Flores’ A voice from Kalkara, where they appeared in black or a single colour. The oil painting of Fort at Kalkara is among the first of Graham’s paintings I have seen. The canvas is very large compared to most of the painters’s oil paintings, and the bare pale brown walls of the fort take up most of it. At first sight it is a subject that could only appeal to those who know the place intimately, while others might dismiss it, as I did, as an uninteresting view of an old building. But the interest of these paintings lies not in the view of bare walls, but in the details recorded here: the Rooftop at San Gwann with its gas cylinders and water pipes coming down from the roofs the mass of colours blocking out the kastell Zamitello; the wires and rusty gates of Fort Benghisa; and generally the mix of vegetation and rubble filling the foreground. In more recent years we have seen a series of drawingd and woodcuts of the old city of Mdina, shown here in a number of watercolour paintings. Some of them were used in small publications to illustrate several editions of Vitor Fenech’s poeme let now Mdina Sleep. Other watercolours also returned as woodcuts, to be printed in vry small editions. It is hard to point out favourites in this collection; seen together we might even begin to understand how Graham’s view of Malta has evolved over the years.
By: Rigby Graham
No of pages: 128
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