An exhibition of 10 sketches and 25 oil paintings titled The Gold of Malta by French-Maltese artist Martine Rigaud-Busuttil opens today Thursday 18 August at the Malta Society of Arts’ seat Palazzo de La Salle in Valletta. The works were produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the artist spent time with lace-makers who were working at Palazzo de La Salle, sketching, drawing and getting to know them and their art.
“In these last couple of years, we have all been affected by this unanticipated pandemic,” comments Rigaud-Busuttil about the raison d’être behind the exhibition “We had to face several difficulties in order to survive, and for some of us an artistic activity helped us stand up and be a bit stronger… I didn’t plan to create works for an exhibition – it was more of an unconscious feeling that I had to do it.”
“I first came to Palazzo de La Salle out of curiosity,” adds Rigaud-Busuttil. “Then I started coming regularly, and the lace-makers allowed me to sketch them during their activity. After several months, I had created around 120 different sketches with sanguine (red coloured) pencils. They allowed me to be a witness to their art with complete confidence, sharing their magic secrets as they worked away.”
The sketches and paintings depict masked and non-masked faces, working hands, concentrated looks, finished and unfinished bits of lace, wooden bobbins (known as ċombini), colourful needles on cushions and other tools. It’s a fascinating collection which immortalises moments of contentedness and satisfaction brought by the little material things in life, in a period when the pandemic made all else fraught with unknowns.
Rigaud-Busuttil describes how she went from the observation phase to painting in oils – she first observed the lace-makers at work to figure out the best and most interesting points of view, and then studied the proportions to be able to build the shapes in a coherent form. “For the oil paintings that I created in my studio, I started drawing with light strokes, using burnt amber diluted with turpentine. In my process, I often correct with a cloth and my fingers, as I find that hands and fingers are our best tools. After a few days, when the layer of paint dries, I start refining the existing shades and colours,” she explains.
“My challenge this time was to use only the three primary colours: ultramarine blue, magenta red and cadmium yellow, however I also used burnt amber and white at times. I never used black, preferring a mixture of ultramarine blue with burnt amber,” concludes Rigaud-Busuttil. The result is a consistent colour palette that’s warm and soft, communicating a sense of comfort that was much-needed in the tough times when these works were conceived.
The Gold of Malta, an exhibition of sketches and oil paintings by Martine Rigaud-Busuttil, opens today Thursday 18 August 2022 at Palazzo de La Salle in Valletta. Entrance is free. For more details about the exhibition please visit www.artsmalta.org or www.facebook.com/maltasocietyofarts.