Updated | Malta’s master of ceramics, Gabriel Caruana, dies at 89

Gabriel Caruana leaves behind a legacy of work that defined the modern art movement in Malta • Tributes flood in remembering Caruana's life and work

Gabriel Caruana in his studio seated next to a portrait by Lawrence Buttigieg.
Gabriel Caruana in his studio seated next to a portrait by Lawrence Buttigieg.

The renowned Maltese artist Gabriel Caruana passed away on Monday at the age of 89.

He was one of Malta’s foremost and most accomplished artists, a pioneer in the modern art scene

The ceramist and sculptor had exhibited his work in various countries including Great Britain, USA, Germany, Holland and Italy.

He studied in Malta, Italy and the USA, also under the British artist Victor Pasmore.

In 1999 he was honoured by the Maltese nation with the Medal for Artistic Achievement.

Pasmore had described Caruana as a “wonderful artist”.

“A wonderful artist cannot be classified and described with academic formulas. Caruana’s art is always fresh and free, always alive and bold: it possesses the same verve that gave birth to the modern independence in painting and sculpture.”

Richard England, the architect and artist, had described Caruana as the “example of all truth in art… [an] eternal seeker of myth and magic.”

Caruana was born in Balzan, Malta in 1929. Early in his artistic career he showed a marked preference for the international modern art movement and as a result the traditional element has never been part of his work.

He worked in a variety of media, exploiting their possibilities to the fullest extent but he excelled in the medium of ceramics. He was among the pioneers of modern art in Malta and his works found recognition both in Malta and abroad.

The Old Mill, Birkirkara, originally a flour mill built in the time of the Knights Of Malta, was run by Gabriel Caruana as the Culture & Crafts Centre to exhibit both his own work and that of visiting artists from around the world.

He held solo exhibitions in Malta, England, Italy and Switzerland and in group exhibitions in Osaka, Detroit, Munich, Tripoli, London, Israel, Melbourne, and several times in Malta. He participated several times in the International Competition of Artistic Ceramics in Faenza, Italy and his works can be found at the International Museum of Ceramics of Faenza, at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, at City of Manchester Art Gallery, and, at the National Museum of Fine Arts Malta. He has a studio in Rome and another one in Malta.

Tributes flood in remembering Caruana's life and work

Both Party leaders took to Twitter to commemorate Caruana. PN leader Adrian Delia said Malta lost one of its fine artists, while prime minister Joseph Muscat said that he was saddened by his death. 

President Marie Louise Colerio Preca also took to Twitter, saying she salutes the legacy and the memory of Caruana. 

Valletta 2018 Foundation called Caruana a “giant in Malta's Modern art”.

In a statement following his death, the foundation said that it was deeply saddened by the news. It sent condolences to his family and friends and said his legacy as a pioneer in the arts sector will continue on. 

Other tributes included Malta Society of Arts, Kite Group, and many artists.