PATRICK DALLI – PAINTING THE HUMAN FIGURE

When I contacted painter Patrick Dalli about this interview, he opted to meet me in his new private studio, where I was lucky enough to view so many of his works in all their glory. ‘Home’ is what Mr Dalli called the studio when I phoned him up for directions, and upon viewing the masterpiece that is said studio, I had to agree with his choice of word.

105

Above: Patrick Dalli – Self-portrait

 

Walking inside, I expected the usual stark gallery, price tags and titles beneath each painting and tell-tale red dots here and there. Instead, I entered a realm of the most wonderful pieces of art, both belonging to the artist and others he’s bought, as he’s also a collector. They hang and they lie against the wall, in what looks more like an open plan living space, complete with antique furniture and Persian rugs. A businessman by profession, Patrick concedes that he gets shivers of anticipation whenever he enters the sanctuary that is his studio.

We sit facing some favourite works, though he emphasises, “I couldn’t choose one because no one is better over the rest, they are different with different qualities.” He speaks of his paintings as though they are friends. There are quite a few he’d never part with, he proudly states. In fact, he doesn’t like parting with any of the oil paintings and it’s been fifteen years since he last sold one. There are very few of his pieces hanging in homes outside of his own, and these include a portrait of President Emeritus George Abela.

2

Above: Oil Painting by Patrick Dalli

 

“I hate the word ‘hobby’,” he’s quick to tell me when I suggest that in favouring to keep the majority of the paintings instead of selling them off, he’s indulging in a pastime. Then what is it?

Art is a part of Patrick, a part that may remain innate for weeks and then spring into action to produce some of the most precise contours of the human body that I’ve ever seen.

Earthy colours are predominant in his paintings, and naked figures make up most of his works. He paints the human figure “because it is the most difficult thing to draw and I love that challenge.” Patrick tells me he draws mostly flesh, something that requires an attention to detail if it is to be made realistic. He looks at his own art as through the eyes of a stranger, appreciating and criticising, viewing from afar. It’s even literally true that his works are best viewed from afar, for when the eye can’t discern the detailed bold and sure thick brush strokes, his figures seem to come to life.

3

Above: Oil Painting by Patrick Dalli

 

There’s no questioning that his paintings are anatomically correct, yet there’s nothing gaudy about his human figures, even when they are in the nude. It comes as no surprise when he mentions Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Egon Schiele as his favourite artists, all of which studied and painted the human figure themselves.

Gianluca Marziani, artistic director of Palazzo Collicola in Spoleto in Italy, writes of Dalli’s human figure that “he can experience each one of its hidden angles, expressive details, emotional spaces.” It was Marziani’s idea to set up an exhibition of Patrick’s works at Palazzo Collicola, and this was soon followed by another at the Galleria D’arte San Marino in Palazzo Arzilli, San Marino. Meanwhile, he was refused in Malta the chance of exhibiting at St James Cavalier by the chairman of Fondazzjoni Ċentru għall-Kreattivita’, when he was politely asked to find an alternate gallery to showcase his works.

4

Above: Oil Painting by Patrick Dalli

 

He stresses that Maltese artists are being refused proper recognition, and worries that if young artists are treated the way he was when trying to exhibit their works, they’ll be discouraged from continuing with their efforts in anything creative and artistic. This disappointment in the Maltese scene has led him to continue his relationship with galleries abroad and hopes to soon put up an exhibition in Central Rome. It is a pity, he says, that the Maltese public in general will not get a chance to view the paintings.

My time with Patrick is unfortunately up and we find ourselves standing up and walking towards the entrance and then outside. The sun is high in the sky and I blink. It feels like getting up from a dream yet not quite wanting to. The paintings are in front of me no longer and yet I know, that they’ll live forever in my heart.