Sometimes you have to be conventional and start with examining the title - an approach that suited me as it stirred the linguist in me.
The title of the exhibition is VO/ERACITY: a fusion of two words with the possible following synonyms: 'voracity' as in greed and 'veracity' as in truthfulness. Merging the two words and making it the title of their collaborative exhibition, Paul and Thomas Scerri, a father and son artist duo, are tackling quite a few issues with their works exhibited at Lazuli Art Gallery in Gozo.
Several months ago I had started this blog with a piece about an exhibition of works sparked by the ongoing destruction of our heritage. Since then I have noticed that many artists are trying to make their voices heard in this context. We see more and more art that is intended as social commentary, and Paul and Thomas are no exception to this.
Let’s look at the artworks on display but stick with the titles for a moment, shall we? Paul’s contribution to the exhibition is twofold, one part of his trademark ceramic sculptures bears titles like ‘Avarice’, ‘Greed’, ‘Apathy’ and ‘Indifference’, and there is also a very moving piece called ‘The Dead Bird’. The sculptures in the second part deal with the issue of blindness, inspired by his involvement in art workshops with visually impaired people.
Thomas, who created amazing sculptures in wood and metal, gave them names like ‘Hafnuhom’ (they seized them), ‘Keffnuhom’ (they shrouded them) and ‘Difnuhom’ (they buried them).
The pieces and their titles speak for themselves so I will follow Mark Rothko’s advice who once said that “there is more power in telling little than in telling all” and refrain from social commentary myself and instead concentrate on the art itself.
Paul, who is a master ceramicist, with the passion for his art coming through in every word when he talks about his studies, his techniques and his processes, has a keen following on the islands. Seeing his work close up makes it very clear why. His figures are sublime; they are emotional; they are daring and eccentric. They are displayed here, perched on the edge of chairs or stands, seemingly frail, but this impression belies their strength. They can take being handled; and although they represent the vices of their titles they are at the same time calling out to you to defy those very sentiments.
They are magnificently expressive despite the simplicity of their features and at times remind me of the work of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, a German born artist who worked in Vienna in the 18th century. Paul manages to convey the emotions of his figures by the simple curvature of lips, the lines around closed eyes, or even the addition of perforation across a figure’s face or neck. The expressiveness though is not limited to the facial features. A limply hanging wrist, the way hands are folded or a golden choker around a neck clearly communicate what Paul wants us to understand. The figures dealing with blindness are almost shocking in their directness and we can detect an artist’s eternal fear of losing the ability to see.
Paul chooses the tones of his glazes carefully, matte earthy colours are complemented by subtle but shiny shades to create a visual harmony in the finished pieces that will instantly be recognised as "Paul Scerri's work".
His son Thomas works with wood. Remnants of fallen trees to be precise. And although he started off with pieces of trees that had died “a natural death”, recently he just went around the island picking up what was left of trees that had to make way for all sorts of development and “progress”.
At first glimpse the works evoke some of the same sentiments that we associate with their titles: sadness and sorrow. But then you go closer and have a good look at the sculptures and all of a sudden your sorrow gets replaced by a feeling of joy - these pieces aren’t defeated or dead, they are ready for battle. They are armoured and armed. Carefully welded sheets of metal are protecting these arboreal bodies and they look set to fight back. They seem to be equipped with precision prostheses to replace the parts that got chopped off. Thomas sometimes adds heavy metal parts as a support but they could just as easily be used as a weapon. The “trees” now appear stronger than before - victorious in defeat. And we suspect that underneath all that armour the trunk might just be sending out new shoots.
Thomas is a masterful welder who carefully joins his seams and makes the transition from wood to metal smooth and fluent. At the same time there is a strong presence of a highly artistic approach to proportion, composition and balance.
In fact, if I had to point out one thing that father and son have in common it is this wonderful harmony that their pieces exude. They may be powerful, even brutally honest sometimes, in what they convey, but they are nonetheless pleasing to artistic sensibility.
Paul and Thomas' works are better experienced first-hand so do go and see the exhibition at Lazuli Art Gallery in Palm Street, Victoria, Gozo and enjoy them in the round. VO/ERACITY is running till the 9th of December.
If you have been taken in by these two artists' work (as much as I have) follow them on Facebook here and here or enjoy more fantastic photos of their amazing works on Paul's and Thomas' Instagram accounts.
For a better look at the photographs please click on them, you will also find additional information in the captions.