Of splendiferous Mediterranean scapes

With bright works that impart joy upon the beholder, this exhibition by Kenneth Zammit Tabona showcases the artist‘s love for nature. Words: Charlene Vella

Delightful paintings of lush gardens are the subject of a new series of paintings by seasoned artist Kenneth Zammit Tabona. They are being presented in a solo exhibition this December at The Phoenicia Malta, titled Mediterranean Gardens.

Executed with flair in pen and ink watercolour, these paintings have evolved naturally from his last two exhibitions that presented paintings of a dreamt up world across the Mediterranean, and aptly titled, Mediterranean Dreams I and Mediterranean Dreams II.

As this exhibition title suggests, the main inspiration for the current exhibition is similarly the Mediterranean, which the Maltese islands are surrounded by, along with a host of other islands and territories that border it. Yet this time, the artist has turned primarily to the land, and not the sea. And, as we’ve come to expect of Kenneth’s paintings, his art comes out of a fondness for anything decorous and beautiful.

What he is presenting this December are landscapes of gardens that, while being largely imaginative, he himself has explored and been immersed in throughout his life and through his many travels. In fact, each painting is executed from memory and relies on personal experiences of such bountiful gardens, and are therefore testament to his vivid imagination. One can safely say that this exhibition showcases Kenneth’s idea of the most perfect Mediterranean gardens. Splendiferous ones, even, to use his own words.

Moreover, this collection of ‘gardenscapes’ is not only masterfully executed, but they are also evocative of Kenneth’s love for nature. 

One cannot help but feel a sense of calm when looking at each of these paintings. They portray bounteous gardens that many living on the Maltese islands feel are being lost to construction that has become unnerving.

This exhibition, however, brings about positivity. The lavish display of flowers and trees is presented alongside an equally formidable spectacle of flower pots, and ornate urns, where even an ancient amphora is used as a flower pot.

There is so much for our senses to enjoy and discover, and this exhibition is sure to slake everyone’s curiosity. One can immerse themselves in this myriad of gardens, be they rustic or better curated.

While some objects jump out at you and demand your attention right away, some objects lurk in the background, waiting to be discovered by the viewer. This is because each composition is replete with detail; one can, in fact, often sense what in art-historical terms is called an ‘horror vacui’, where each scene is full to the brim with objects, and yet, nothing is superfluous.

Executed with a confidence that is testament to decades of experience working with the medium, one can see diaphanous strokes of watercolour that contrast with bolder tones, the result of an extraordinary ability at manipulating the medium. To these painted layers, details are then added in pen, swiftly, with a calligraphic approach. The latter gives the impression that each object is meticulously portrayed, yet the whole composition has a freshness to it at the same time.

The palette is bright and bold with a predominant use of purples and pinks in this collection that brilliantly complement the omnipresent cool greens of the plants and trees. In a Kenneth Zammit Tabona artwork, everything possesses meaning. Each plant and flower, each bust, as well as the choice of colour.

The colour purple, for instance, is historically linked with royalty. Gardens have their own significance too, where in art history they are a symbol of life, love and passion, and also fecundity. Moreover, flowers are included in art for the symbolic meaning that they impart. The lily, for instance, is a symbol of purity and innocence, often associated with the Virgin Mary.

And when one thinks of gardens in art history, Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ would certainly come to mind, a painting that was produced to denigrate Bosch’s contemporaries and society. Yet, in Kenneth’s compositions, we do not see anything ominous. Quite the opposite; delights abound.

Among the vast array plants and trees portrayed, one can recognise geraniums, magnolias, canna lilies, dahlias, cacti, aloes among, palm trees, and orange and lemon trees. They are surrounded by ponds and fountains, koi fish, jovially-painted garden walls, portrait busts, obelisks, balustrades, chequered tiles and even birds and lemons. While one can note the absence of human life, these gardens are made for humankind enjoyment.

Among the myriad of serene, fantasy gardenscapes satiated with thriving vegetation, one of the exhibits stands out. While all of the compositions feature idyllic gardens on clear days bathed in sunlight or even moonlight, Le Jardin Sous La Pluie portrays what one can call adverse weather conditions. It portrays a windswept garden under the rain. It provides an unprecedented mood and atmosphere, and it is a tour de force in its execution.

It is a marvel to look at, like the rest of the paintings. Kenneth’s paintings effortlessly impart joy to all those who view them. That is the main reason for his artistic production, and no less, the joy that he feels when producing these paintings.

Charlene Vella is the curator of Mediterranean Gardens. The exhibition is open throughout December in the Palm Court Lounge at The Phoenicia Malta.

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