Obituary | Isabelle Borg, artist, 1959-2010

Isabelle Borg, known to be one of Malta’s best female artists, died on Thursday morning.

Borg, whose works are among prestigious private and public collections, had made a name for herself internationally.
News about her death has shocked the arts community. The Malta Council for Culture and the Arts (MCCA) expressed “the deepest sorrow” at her passing, and claimed that she was an artist who “over the past three decades left an indelible mark on the history of Maltese art as well as its teaching.”

Painter and fellow teacher Ceasar Attard was deeply saddened by her death. “Her death is great loss to the entire art department… she was a great colleague who welcomed collaboration where others would perhaps shun it.”

Painter Robert Zahra, who was taught by Borg at the University, remembers her for her dynamism as a teacher. “What had especially impressed me about her at first was her willingness to use her house as a studio, since there wasn’t one on campus. She always treated us very well, she had a very dynamic approach towards teaching, based on direct observation.”

Borg lived in London (her birthplace, 1959) and Malta, as well as spending periods in Berlin, and West Cork, Ireland. She studied painting at the Camberwell School of Art, London, graduating BA (Hons) in 1986. Since gaining an MA (History of Art) in 1994, she taught art full-time at the University of Malta.

Since 1985, she had regularly held solo exhibitions of her paintings, and often been asked to participate in-group shows. Her work is found in a number of public and private collections.

One painting in particular, Lovers in the Bull (1984), has left a strong impression. The MCCA described it as “a milestone in Maltese twentieth century art,” which “quickly asserted itself as one of the foremost works by a Maltese artist inspired by the imagery of Malta’s prehistoric past.” Photographer Patrick Fenech, who knew Borg since her University days in England, said that her primitivist and fauvist style developed from an initial fascination with the works of Jackson Pollock. “There is a great luminousness to her works. In her landscapes of Malta in particular, I think this helps to accurately reproduce Maltese heat – the hot, baking stones…”

Fenech, a “proud owner” of two Borg paintings, also commented on her strong character. “She was definitely more Mars than Venus!”
Malta’s ambassador to Tunisia Vicky-Anne Cremona, who was known to be a very close friend, described Isabelle Borg as a “person who loved life so much and embraced it in all its aspects.”

Artist Jeni Caruana stressed that Isabelle Borg will be “sadly missed”. “Isabelle was always good fun to be with – never afraid to say what she thought and to stick up for what she believed in. I loved her paintings too; those great sweeping vistas of rich colour summed up her character and her joie de vivre. I admired not only her sheer talent but also her integrity and professionalism when it came to her art. She will be sadly missed by her friends, family and colleagues The whole art community will mourn her passing.”

Borg’s early solo landscape exhibitions Marine and Maritime Paintings (1991) and Bastions and Harbours (1992) concentrated on Malta’s constructed coastline. Later, Two Islands (2004, with photographer Graham Cooper, who was also her partner) and Maltese Landscape (2006) were inspired by natural scenery and atmospheric conditions. Much of this change came from time spent painting the Irish landscape since 2000, whilst based in Clonakilty, West Cork. Her most recent exhibition Strange Cargo (National Museum of Fine Arts, Malta, 2008) explored the effect of this series of journeys and homecomings, and re-defines an earlier interest in figurative art.

Monique Cauchi
What a sad loss to Malta and the art world in general.