Patrick Dalli – Nudes

NUDES is the artist’s second personal exhibition, an exhibition that shows how the artist has refined his artistic concerns and channelled his art further through the path initiated in his earlier show THE HUMAN FIGURE (2002).  This exhibition presents important new developments, ideas that have improved and crystallized through a disciplined approach to the human figure.  The artist has now developed a personal style that is essentially realist and primarily based on a conscientious analysis of the human body.

The exhibition, at the Gallerija Liberta’ in Valletta, presents 17 pictures painted between 2002 and 2004; they are united by the theme of the show in that they depict nudes, largely female.

In his art Patrick Dalli essentially pursues naturalism, his pursues the figurative and keeps it as his overriding concern.  This interest largely comes from his informed admiration for the vibrant Realism of Lucian Freud (b.1922), an admiration which does not however ultimately succumb to mimic the great master’s disquiet work.  Dalli’s unobtrusive subjects and muted compositions obviously do not pursue Freud’s unconventional and startling vibrancy.  Freud’s work sees him as the leading protagonist who has dept the Figurative tradition so brilliantly alive in Contemporary Art.

Patrick Dalli’s work was always concerned with Realism, a realism that underscores Freud’s declarations on his own artistic concerns: ‘I am only interested in painting the actual person; in doing a painting of them, not in using them to some ulterior end of art.  For me, to use someone doing something not native to them would be wrong’ (Freud in Hughes 1987).  Dalli is only interested in painting his models and not in using the models to go beyond the reality of them.  His models are not an excuse to set off fantasies, to create abstraction or distortion, but they are there to be painted directly head-on.  Through the first-hand study of Freud’s work, Patrick Dalli has made painting the texture of the flesh a major concern, as also that of capturing its massiveness of structure and slenderness of skin.  Flesh thus occupies much of the picture space.  The artist has made the naked human body the preferred subject of his work.

Patrick Dalli’s disciplined approach to the human figure owes much to his formal training with Anton Calleja (b.1955), one of Malta’s foremost Figurative artists.  Calleja has left a profound impact on the way Dalli perceives the human figure, even if stylistically his art has significantly departed from an earlier attachment to that of Calleja.  This exhibition is clear evidence that his style is markedly independent.

The paintings on show in PATRICK DALLI – NUDES are not studies, they are not narratives, but they are finished pictures of his models.  The artist’s intent is to capture the boredom and disinterest of his sitter who sits for the long pose, repeatedly taking up the same pose in numerous sessions.  They are rarely doing things, just contemplating time passing by as the artist is at work.  Their mouth is shut, their eyes fixed in silence.  The models are integral part of the act of painting, they are working with the artist for its successful completion.  There is, however, a detached intimacy between artist and model, such that the model’s name seems to go lost.  In three NUDES, the models are looking straight into the painter’s eyes, establishing a contact with the spectator that animates the tour of the exhibition.

The paintings all show single figures represented in internal spaces; they stand, sit, recline, lie back, or crouch.  Patrick Dalli’s poses are in between the studio pose and the ‘domestic’ pose, greatly capturing respect towards the nude and always within the parameters of ‘decorum’.  This is an intimate capture of human stillness, almost a test of the models’ ability to withstand movement, to take full control of a relaxed muscle structure.  The picture space is occupied by the human body, by the profound interest in the depiction of flesh.

Patrick Dalli invariably sets his models within a nudity of context, a context that is reduced to a chair, a bed, or pillows, and only occasionally accompanied by still life.  The rooms that they inhabit are common and nondescript.  On the background, or thrown on the floor, Dalli sometimes inserts paintings of his many drawings, to purposely underscore how important the many hours of figure drawing are.  Compositionally, the NUDES are largely direct and frontal, at eye level or seen from a high view point.

technically, there is a strong relationship between brushwork and the tactile quality of the flesh, the reality of the body that is captured in pigment.  The brush moves with direct strokes, animated with interesting dialogues between thick and thin applications of pigment.  His pigments for flesh are clearly identified through his strokes: his preferred colours are Yellow ochre, Cadmium red light, Alizanin crimson, Cadmium yellow light, Titanium white, Viridian/ Cerulean blue, and Cobalt blue.  For dark shades, the palette includes Yellow ochre, Cadmium red light, and cerulean blue, whilst for darker skin shades the artist adds Prussian blue.

The drawing is strong and sometimes accentuated; further denoting the artist’s capabilities in the act of drawing itself.  Patrick Dalli’s hundreds of drawings are done with a sparkle of rapid movements, with a sure quality of line, vibrant in the way that his drawing hand touches a leaves the drawing paper.

There is a progression in his exhibited works, dating between 2002 and 2004.  The paintings of 2002 have a more polished brushwork, which gets visibly more manifest and spontaneous in the later works.  The paintings, moreover, grow in size with the figures becoming occasionally of life size proportions.

PATRICK DALLI – NUDES is not an exhibition of individual works, but one where progression and coherence is clearly shown.  It is obvious that the artist prepared his work with this exhibition in mind, working on the paintings in groups of closely knit works; some are bound together not only by model, but also by context.

 Dr. Keith Sciberras Ph.D