Ebba von Fersen Balzan’s retrospective exhibition at the Chamber of Commerce

The Ebba von Fersen Balzan retrospective will include more than 80 creations involving abstract art, landscapes, linographs, Neolithic temples and nudes, apart from other styles

The three cities, diptych 1994
The three cities, diptych 1994

A week-long retrospective exhibition of the works of the late Ebba von Fersen Balzan will be held from the 17 March at the Chamber of Commerce in Valletta. This exhibition marks 10 years since her demise. Von Fersen Balzan’s life was all about layers; of experiences and historical perspectives.

Ebba grew up in Darmstadt, in what was then West Germany, with middle-class friends some of whom were politically charged and others who were even associated with left-wing militancy. Germany then was not a very happy place for liberal minds.

Ebba von Fersen Balzan; she passed away 10 years ago, leaving a diverse artistic legacy
Ebba von Fersen Balzan; she passed away 10 years ago, leaving a diverse artistic legacy

Neither was Malta which experienced a year of turmoil in 1986. That year was the year when Ebba arrived in Malta. She lived here for 22 years until her death.

Most of her works would be discussed with her soul mate Katrin Bartling. They were old school friends, and Katrin, an accomplished artist who still visits Malta, would phone her regularly from her home in Darmstadt and they would talk for hours on the phone until the early hours of the morning.

… her works include abstract creations, landscapes, linographs, Neolithic temples and nudes, apart from other styles

One of her first artist companions in Malta was the late Isabelle Borg; they shared many personal moments and they worked together on themes which would also surface in many of Borg’s works. But her more important artistic periods developed through her long relationships with artists Jeni Caruana, Julie Apap and Olaug Vethal.  Borg, Apap, Caruana and Vethal were not Maltese, but had either married Maltese or lived in Malta for a long time.

For ten years the female trio; Caruana, Vethal and Ebba, would paint live during the Jazz concert at Ta’ Liesse in Floriana and they would also be granted special permission to paint the Hypogeum; the underground Neolithic temple complex in Tarxien, before it was restricted to the general public.

They would also hold painting sessions with male and female models apart from travelling together on art projects.

Ebba always had special words for Vethal, who passed away two years before she herself did. She described her as the most talented and ingenious artist she had come across in Malta.

Mollusca in bright light 1992
Mollusca in bright light 1992

Meanwhile Ebba experimented and tried out new ventures, conscious that she had to change and try new styles. Ebba’s creations included pottery and sculptures in wood and stone. She went into intense periods with sinking ships at il-Menqa, stray cats, landscapes, nudes and animals and Jazz paintings. And she turned to all kinds of mixed media: charcoal, inks, oils, water. However, her unique theme involved her linographs; she created around 300 different motives from lizards to dolphins to brown bears to cheese plants and fronds of ferns. The application of different oil colours would leave the undesired effect to the impatient and untrained eye but her final product would be exhilarating and pleasant.

It is this technique, marked by her appreciation of the Neolithic temples and spirals, and married with her interest in the cycle of life that stands out as her unique trait.

This served as the focus for her major works and perhaps a deeper study is needed to understand the metamorphosis of such creations where she would apply layer upon layer of lino prints to form an array of layers on top of each other.

The Neolithic temples in Malta were a pleasant coincidence to the temple structures in Brittany which served as her second home. Brittany also offered a special light, megalithic structures and a singular and rare beauty marred only by long bouts of rain and greyness.

In Brittany, she also opened her own private gallery: ‘Galerie 22320’ where she held various exhibitions.

Not ashamed (undated)
Not ashamed (undated)

Throughout her work in the studio, her animals: cats and the kelb tal-fenek (Pharaoh Hound) would be in attendance and accompany her at all times. But all nature and animals were important for her. The plants and animals in the garden would also turn up in her sketches.  In a lighter vein she published cartoons of her animals and their exploits. She also wrote poetry.

Ebba left an artistic heritage which lives on in the paintings, numerous sketchbooks and artefacts found in private homes and institutions in Malta and abroad.

One particular painting of Mnajdra is at the Chancellery in Berlin. It was presented to Chancellor Angela Merkel by the Maltese government when she visited Malta. Merkel is a woman Ebba admired even though Ebba was an avowed left winger.

The collection of works on display from the 17 March, 2018 at the Chamber of Commerce will include more than 80 creations involving abstract art, landscapes, linographs, Neolithic temples and nudes, apart from other styles.

A special book has been published for the occasion and a limited collection of prints will also be on sale.

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