Even in the field of art, few artists were so daring to use black exclusively in their works. Artists like Kasimir Malevich, Franz Kline and Pierre Soulages made a name for themselves for reckoning black as the absolute colour. The work of such impressive artists came to my mind when viewing Christopher Saliba’s latest exhibition held last July at Le Meridien Hotel, St. Julians. The collection of abstract works, entitled “Defining Confines”, consisted of 14 etchings printed with black ink. Like his colourful and vibrant abstract paintings, Saliba’s etchings are marked by the configuration of basic geometrical shapes and structures with an expressionist idiom. The complexity of his work lies in the meticulously monitored process of each image that has simultaneously the same sense of dynamism, looseness and spontaneity of his abstract paintings.Saliba’s etchings stand out black, powerful and compelling. Each work is a build-up of lines which are violently chiselled out on the surface of the copper or zinc plate. Thick lines are scratched forcefully and repeatedly within the areas that delineate the basic structures of each composition. From a distance, the eye of the spectator embraces the forms in their totality. At a closer range, the spectator realises that forms are not simply dense washes of black colour but rather a conglomeration of an infinite number of lines. The mastery of the technique lies in the artist’s ability to create different depths and tones of shapes with the controlled and varied force exerted by the steel point. Subtle grey tones made from faint and thin lines contrast beautifully with dark, black and deep cuts, the accumulation of which surprisingly gives shape to distinct and dramatic forms. Saliba’s etchings reveal light and darkness as absolute values and they prove that light appears with its greatest density and meaning when it relates with black. The source of light comes from the bare, white paper behind the imposing black signs. Some of the light areas appear lighter because of the different tonalities of black – even though the actual ink colour never changes.
Saliba first showed interest in printmaking in 1997. He worked with master printers during his studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti, Pietro Vannucci, in Perugia, Italy. He also worked with German master printer, Eduard Schmid. Though printmaking enables artists to reproduce their work in limited multiples, known as “editions”, Saliba prefers to restrict his production to just one print for each plate produced. In fact, the artist is more interested in the technique employed rather than the benefit of creating multiple copies of his works. In doing so, Saliba affirms the uniqueness and distinctiveness of each work.
Conceptually, Christopher Saliba’s concern is that of defining or questioning the idea of confines and boundaries. Though the black forms created stand out authoritatively and solemnly against pale grey backgrounds, their boundaries always appear undefined and barbed, adding to the intense and dramatic character of each work. The repetitive and accumulative process itself implies the artist’s intent of exasperating the idea of finiteness of form, matter and space. This concept consorts with the ideology behind other works created by Saliba, particularly his installations. Among other things, he is interested in expressing symbolically the spatial and psychological limitations that people living on an island have to cope with. Surpassing confines and borders and looking beyond the horizon are common themes recurrent in Saliba’s works.
Natasha Mifsud, in Design & Décor, Autumn 2008 issue.