Originally conceived in the mid sixties, this was one of many projects which have been abandoned for a lapse of over four decades. In October 2008, these works were taken up again and took the shape according to the original plans. However their completion was the end result of months of very hard work, in which a riot of colours were orchestrated. None of these works is abstract, but all pivot on the multi layered overlay of the human creative process, using paper, the very fragile and light material. The idea of exhibiting these works, in addition to a website germinated in 2012.
Coordinated by John Paul Azzopardi
Supported by the Malta Arts Fund
Sponsored by Palazzo de Piro The Xara Palace
Laurent Perrier provided by Francis Busuttil & Sons (Marketing) Ltd.
The institutional snapshot
‘Art is, amongst many other things, continuity, and unthinkable without it’
Clement Greenberg - Modernist Painting, 1961
My encounters with Ray Pitre brought me in touch with the world of a Maltese artist who may well qualify as atypical. His works are deeply personal, evocative of an inner soul, yet suggesting a strange dichotomy. One can read the artist’s personal experiences and character in his forms. His earlier works also betray a close encounter with widely-recognised classic art forms. His journey to where he stands today is nonetheless much more complex, winding its way through the chosen institutional platform to which one of his key works now belongs.
Pitre’s debut with three one-man shows in two years (1976-78) took many by surprise back then. The National Museum of Fine Arts, then recently set up two years before at Admiralty House in Valletta, was the chosen venue for all three of them. This choice of site may be devoid of any particular meaning to many. Very few exhibiting artists have ever gone on record to knowingly and deliberately relate to the museum’s permanent display or the values which it enshrines. Less than a decade before Pitre’s series of shows, the museum had acquired the first truly Maltese modern works for its permanent collection.
Guerriero I – 1993
In doing so, the museum had established a narrative that links the old masters in the collection to the works of modern Maltese artists. Pitre’s works would have unknowingly compared to this narrative of display, traditional and conservative at core, but recently broadened to include by then established Maltese modern artists. The artist whose earlier interface with the establishment in the 1960 Pauline exhibition had been unceremoniously rejected, unknowingly contributes to the efforts towards renewal in the arts which were now reaching the establishment in more effective ways.
The old masters, most of which are usually associated with museums and cultural institutions, were nonetheless instantly recognized as Pitre’s conceptual backdrop. Indeed, he must have reviewed most of them with a contemplative spirit as his comments to the press then confirmed. The Renaissance masters are immediately singled out, followed by Caravaggio and Rembrandt; Callot, Picasso and Duchamp follow. Bosch’s metaphysical appeal, in particular, is singled out by the artist as worthy of emulation to transpose into the contemporary. Pitre’s interests in music and literature would have also complemented his readings of this varied corpus of artworks from which the artist would have eventually drawn. In spite of this chosen approach to the art of the past, reminiscent of Clement Greenberg’s commentaries on modern painting, Pitre did not enslave his spirit to a given formula easily summarized as a benchmark of good taste. Peter Mayo’s description of Pitre’s art holds true
‘Many an onlooker would be mesmerized by the manner in which a rather unknown 20th century artist epitomises all that is worth recalling from the annals of history and conveys such characteristics in a style compatible with contemporary trends’.
It is therefore the artist, his self and the unique set of values which he embraces, and as shaped by experience, which are mirrored in his works. His experience with prisoners who underwent medical treatment in hospital and his frequent visits to Mt Carmel Hospital brought his declared insecurity in direct contact with pure suffering oftentimes incomprehensible and complex for society to understand and react to. Pain, incomprehension, neglect, emargination or complete rejection, transform his art into the product of a spiritual lay-existentialist.
With this in mind, Pitre’s sense of insecurity may ironically qualify as one of his strongest values. Indeed, he oftentimes clearly states that his doubts are perennial to such an extent as to consider that what is right today can be doubtful tomorrow. The endless question of doubt, the endless search for the umptieth answer to his doubt, has provided the brick and mortar to build a world of his own from which he now rarely emerges to exhibit and show. The mere fact of exhibiting such personal works must have weighed even more heavily on his creative soul than we can imagine. Indeed, Pitre comes across as a reflective person whose works stand for his painful labour of communicating.
The message which Pitre communicates from his innermost self has grown louder by time, beyond simplistic and more traditional aesthetics, to take over the raw material itself, moulded and shaped into the doubts and answers to his never ending questions. What was a scream in pigment and form becomes turbulent violence. The references to formulate his questions and the personal struggle to find the answers to his doubts remain rooted in the values which the past has encapsulated for generations to follow. But rather than react to the old masters as representing an institutional construct, he draws from them the answers and doubts which come across his way. His reaction to these artworks is contemporary, certainly nothing to do with the values of a consumable art form which has made museums and academic institutions on one side and the art market on the other, interdependent. This is the true nature of Pitre, epitomized in his constant search which lies at the heart of each and every doubt which comes his way.
It is with this broad narrative of understanding that we can approach Pitre’s latest attempt at exhibiting his works. His repertoire now has a past not only rooted in the old masters but in the journey which the artist embarked on way back when holding his first triad of exhibitions to become one of the leading figures of Maltese contemporary art. Rather than a dichotomy this, indeed, is a continuity between past and present. His works are now also part and parcel of the same narrative with which his first exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts engaged with albeit perhaps unconsciously.
National Museum of Fine Arts