Making room for Maltese artists

If the Maltese Central Bank as well as Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti are so genuinely concerned with promoting the Maltese heritage they should have promoted the Maltese artists who devoted their entire career to Maltese art and their citizens

Paul Camilleri
Paul Camilleri

As many already know the Polverista at the annex in Valletta has been converted into an art gallery, a permanent space set up exclusively for the promotion of British artist Victor Pasmore.

Those responsible claim that VP represents Maltese heritage though neither do we possess a collection of his work nor does his work represent any Maltese aspect. All the works are on loan, partially by the Marlborough Gallery and the rest by the family. Therefore there is neither heritage nor patrimony.

Some keep insisting that during his residency in Malta VP had a kind of open house for artists to gather and discuss art. This is false. Victor Pasmore lived a secluded life in Malta with his wife Wendy where he had the occasional meeting with a couple of local friends, most often at the British Hotel in Valletta.

Pasmore came to Malta at the age of retirement when Malta was a popular destination for many British expats. Malta offered many convenient reasons then: low cost of living, inexpensive property, good weather and the English language. VP chose Gudja for various reasons, amongst them the proximity to the airport since Pasmore needed to travel out to see to his concerns outside Malta, mainly the Marlborough Gallery and the 2RC workshops in Rome. When Pasmore was asked by a British journalist if Malta had any influence on his art he invariably answered without hesitation that Malta had no influence at all on his art. Such statements are well documented.

Pasmore’s works do not belong to a specific place or time. He was not concerned with the local history or local themes. His abstract compositions explicitly defy locations and tangible themes. When one says that his works have Maltese connotations one shows incompetence. It is simply an offence to the artist’s intentions.

In 2012 the VP Foundation was set up and like any foundation it was supposed to promote and support the art programmes, however no such activity ever took place until it was taken over by the Central Bank and later by Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti (FPM). Much effort and money has been dedicated to promote the works of VP. The Marlborough gallery as well as the Pasmore family are benefitting gratuitously. It is hard to believe that the first time that the Malta Central Bank has set up a contemporary art gallery, it is entirely and exclusively dedicated to a British artist.

If the Maltese Central Bank as well as Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti are so genuinely concerned with promoting the Maltese heritage they should have promoted the Maltese artists who devoted their entire career to Maltese art and their citizens. These artists have dedicated their lives to teaching while contributing to the local art scene despite the limitations. Their art stems from our heritage and history. A prime example is Antoine Camilleri, a generous artist, a champion whose expression is unique, revealing to us the multifaceted aspects of Maltese life. Others come to mind: Frank Portelli, Anton Agius, Emvin Cremona.

Do these Maltese artists deserve the privilege to occupy the space at the annex gallery of the Central Bank of Malta? 

Paul Camilleri, Shropshire, UK 

Planning decisions that ignore aesthetics

Your Sunday correspondent Dr Robert Musumeci on 2 July, gave out the salient points of a Planning Commission decision as well as that of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. Both decisions referred to an application to convert an existing window on house façade to become a garage door, as well as to change the use of the sitting room to serve as the garage. The application referred to premises at St. Trophimus Street, Sliema, which for the benefit of readers is a long street which includes the Sacro Cuor Church.

We the owners of the house were not pleased with the decision, that rejected our appeal. We are pointing out the basis of the decision taken by the Commissioner as well as those of the Tribunal.

At a first instance, the Commission pointed out that the façade of the house was scheduled as a “Category B elevation” and so the proposed designs were incompatible with the urban design and environmental characteristics of an urban conservation area and that such designs would not maintain the visual integrity of the area.

We argued on appeal, that our property is not graded, therefore a garage can be allowed. We also argued that the garage, if granted, would lead to symmetry with adjacent development and still retain the architectural features of the existing townhouse. The Heritage Advisory Committee gave its non-objection to our proposal. Had we got the garage, we would have increased the provision of “off street” parking in the locality.

The case officer disagreed with our arguments and said that the premises is “located immediately opposite the Church” which is a grade 1 building, and our town house forms part of a short stretch of town houses having identical architectural features and if we were allowed the garage we would disrupt the rhythm of a streetscape. The Tribunal agreed with the case officer, as if were our garage opening to be granted then the aesthetics of an otherwise “untouched” streetscape would be disrupted.

Had the case officer, or the Commissioner of the Tribunal bothered to have a browse on “google maps” to identify the area before concluding on architectural features, streetscape and what lies opposite the site where the garage application has been made, they would surely have seen how baseless their conclusions are.

For a start, on the same streetscape, one can find: An industrial printing press; two blocks of flats with four storeys each; a house of character that, not long ago, was granted permission to remove a window, together with the architectural feature, and have a garage; a ground floor premises changed from a shop to residence; a lotto office; and a band club with a stone balcony.

On the other side of the road of the streetscape one can visually identify townhouses with aluminum apertures, doors and windows as well as another townhouse with a garage and also a warehouse. Additionally the siting of the garage application is opposite a town house, corner with Church Street and not opposite the Sacro Cuor Church.

To conclude, your readers may wish to note that the aesthetics of the streetscape, concluded by the Commission, Tribunal and case officer to be “untouched” is purely imaginative. If one can classify an industrial building, flats, commercial, townhouses with garage and band club as being “untouched” and so as built, then this measuring scale was used from when our application was registered.

The measuring yarn of desktop decisions ignores actual aesthetics of a place. Would our garage have disrupted the rhythm of the streetscape? Correct a rhythm which is of a mixed use area where symmetry is not part of the hymn sheet. But maybe, it will be applied from now onward. Only time will tell.

F. Jaccarini and E. Muscat, Joint owners