First published in The Sunday Times, Malta, February 19, 1995.
Reprinted here with the kind permission of Chev. Emmanuel Fiorentino.

Powerful miniatures

by E. Fiorentino

Returning migrants to Malta do not simply serve to bring back with them changes in demographic statistics. On the positive side they occasionally introduce to the island such distinct qualities that they would have developed away from their native country and would be eventually more than welcome as a contribution to the country's cultural enrichment.

Carmen Pizzuto fits perfectly in this category of people. She was born in Birkirkara in 1957, but in 1977 she emigrated to Australia where she settled in Melbourne until she returned to Malta in 1993. During her long stay in the southern hemisphere she sought to develop her artistic talents that had already been manifest while she was still a student in Malta. She enrolled at Scott's College in Melbourne where she obtained her diploma in Complete Commercial and Graphic Art Design in 1981.

While in Australia, Pizzuto joined a group of artists called Exhibit Twelve, who regularly put up exhibitions in the state of Victoria. She was also a member of the Victorian Artists Society [Carmen Pizzuto correction: The Glenroy Art Group] under whose aegis she used to participate on a regular basis in collective exhibitions. Works by her appeared at The Galleria at State Bank, Victoria, and at Portsea Galleries, Portsea, a suburb of Melbourne.

Even when she returned to Malta two years ago, it was in one of the few private galleries which we have on the island—Gallery Annelise in Valletta—where she first introduced herself to the local art public. Her second personal exhibition can now be viewed at the Contemporary Room of the Fine Arts Museum, and visitors are in for some unusual work.

In the first place, except for one large exhibit (in effect in 'triptych' format) entitled Ġol-Ġnien tas-Sultan the remaining 21 works are relatively tiny, many of them hardly big enough to cover the palm of a child's hand. Still, within these miniature dimensions, the artist has managed to transmit an impression of amplitude of space, especially in those instances, like many of the examples belonging to the Boat Series, which are evidently tied to scenery-related themes.

But Pizzuto definitely keeps away from any conventionally illustrative approach. Hers is a vibrant idiom of expressionism which can only remotely be linked to mere depiction. Many of her subjects seem submerged beneath the longing to get to the essence of things, beyond what she calls “the merely visible message”. At times they can hardly be made out, even with the help of individual titles like Hanging Rock, Victoria or St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne.

This should confirm that what she is after is the intensity of the impact on her spirit more than anything else. And it could not be otherwise since the feeling can be equally shared with the observer disposed to notice at least the freedom with which she can handle a variety of media.

These include wet and dry pastels, ink, as well as varnishes that give an effect almost akin to enamelling or ceramic glazing, brilliantly brought out in that small gem called Still life and rain. In addition a close look at these paintings reveals that several are carefully built from irregularly shaped strips of paper and that, not simply for the sake of creating a collage, but because each separate piece can produce, through the different painterly treatment, interesting visual contrasts even in the regions of the dividing lines.

The apparent paradox with these paintings lies in their adventurously broad expanses and gestural executions, qualities that are normally associated with larger-scale works.

I have my doubts in fact if, taking the only large painting present as a kind of monitor to visualise how each of there miniatures would look if expanded hundredfold, the exercise would work. They would, I think, lose much of their concentrated intensity, and so I prefer to preserve my admiration for them at their undersized scale, even at the expense of once again overhearing some caustic comments like that of a visitor who exclaimed that it all looked like an exhibition of postage stamps.

After all, I would not have minded had the exhibits featured as stamps, if only for the fact that stamps serve to send messages. In this case messages emanate from the artist and are addressed only to those attuned to receive them.

[ Image: MALTESE VILLAGE, a mixed media miniature by Carmen Pizzuto ]