The Summing Up

The Summing Up – Retrospective Exhibition by Richard Saliba

Posted on

‘THE SUMMING UP’ is a retrospective exhibition of works from 1975 to 2020 by Richard Saliba which was held at the Malta Society of Arts, Valletta between 25th September – 15th October 2020.

The exhibition is a representative selection of works executed by Maltese artist Richard Saliba from 1975, the year when he first exhibited his work at the National Museum of Fine Arts, up to this date, culminating in the present retrospective exhibition at the Art Galleries of Palazzo de La Salle in Malta’s capital Valletta.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there will not be an official opening. However, the artist will be present at the Galleries at certain times. If you’d like to meet the artist, please send us a message.

Dates: 25 September – 15 October 2020
Venue: Art Galleries, Malta Society of Arts, Palazzo de La Salle, 219, Republic Street, Valletta

Opening Hours
Monday to Friday 10.00hrs – 17.00hrs

Saturday 10.00hrs – 13.00hrs

Curated by Roderick Camilleri
Entrance is free
As regards Safety Measures, the following will apply:

  1. Visitors will be obliged to wear a mask inside the premises
  2. MSA personnel will check visitors’ temperatures before being allowed to proceed into the Palazzo
  3. The personnel will be advising visitors to use hand sanitizers upon arrival
  4. Personnel at the front desk will take visitors’ contact details
  5. No gatherings will be allowed inside the building
  6. Visitors will be obliged to respect the social distancing instructions.

We thank everyone for their cooperation!
See you at the Malta Society of Arts!

Link to Facebook Event

The Times review Sept. 2020

The Summing Up – a Richard Saliba retrospective (Times Article – 26th September 2020)

Posted on

In the opinion of British contemporary artist Damien Hirst, a retrospective is a scary enterprise as an artist looks back on his creative output, tries to uncover the major steps in his artistic journey and fixes them as official defining moments.  Richard Saliba’s position as one of Malta’s finest contemporary artists is not restricted by the landscape genre of which he is certainly a major protagonist.  He is a mentor to a bevy of young and not so young contemporary Maltese landscape artists who have thankfully breathed new life into the genre.

The title of Saliba’s retrospective, The Summing Up, hosted in the upper halls of the Malta Society of Arts captures succinctly the ethos of this exhibition that celebrates over 45 years of flourishing artistic activity.  Saliba’s versatility across all genres flows effortlessly as this comprehensive collection of paintings demonstrates the Maltese artist’s sensitivity, nuanced and honed by the decades of experience, originating from his years as a student at the Malta School of Art under the watchful eyes of such tutors as Esprit Barthet, Vincent Apap and George Borg.

Saliba’s mastery of colour, immersive perspective and composition in his landscapes show the influence of Barthet.  However, the technical discipline as professed by his two sculptor-tutors Apap and Borg was not lost on the young student.  Saliba’s path evolves from the cubist, chromatic style of Barthet and softens the severe ‘hard-edge’ that characterises the Maltese terraced fields.  He fields are in latent flux and flow.

Like George Fenech, Saliba favours a pantheistic balmy sensitivity but in contrast with Fenech, who documented Mellieħa and its environs in all its seasonal manifestations, Saliba thematically strays away from such geographical restrictions.   Sliema, his hometown, figures in just a small number of townscapes.  Barthet’s eponymous rooftops are evoked in the cubist re-arrangement of architectural elements.  Saliba seeks resolution and geographical identity through the defining urban features in View from my roof.  The Valletta Carmelite church dome and the title ascribed by the artist to the work establishes this without any doubt.  The Mediterranean sun mercilessly beating down is effectively captured by the artist – an incident sun that constructs cubist perspective out of stark light and diffused shadows.

Saliba very effectively translates the brilliant thermal intensity of the sun at its zenith by gradually liquifying the cubist components of the buildings into a homogenous mass that stretches from Sliema right up to Valletta.  In his Tunisian paintings, especially View of Kairouan, 1914, Paul Klee similarly represents this elemental strength that tricks the human eye and chimerically transforms one state of matter into another.

In his landscapes of rural life, Saliba thirsts for a simple arcadian past in which the church, even if at times ethereal, is the focus of the composition.  Its misty silhouette overlooks the incandescent fields which are tilled by the farmers to bear the fruit of Mother Earth. Generally, the artist refrains from the actual precise representation of actual villages.

Thus, he effectively steers away from the dialectics of local village parochialism and delivers a universal message that encompasses all towns and villages of this archipelago. He intentionally stereotypes them as a sum of general factors common to all.  The pregnant fields radiate away from the central church which is silhouetted against the vast expanse of the sky.

Some of Saliba’s work evokes Italian artist Mario Schifano’s famous Campi di Pane, landscapes in which the only identifying features are the sheaves of wheat, the staple diet of the masses.  Schifano, a staunch communist, epitomised wheat sheaves as “fields of bread” to feed the proletariat, thereby completing a cycle of life. For Saliba, the cycle completes itself through a belief in the Church and God.  The wheat is crushed into flour, water is added, and the sourdough is kneaded and baked. Flour is also used to prepare the thin wafers that is transubstantiated into the body of Christ during Mass.  Saliba’s rural landscapes are paeans to the loss of a way of life.   The spiritual no longer sustains us as we have assigned new gods to determine our fate.

Saliba furthered his studies in painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Perugia in 1975, followed by other courses at the same academy in 1976 and 1978.  In 1980, he pursued a short course in etching and lithography at the Istituto Statale d’Arte in Urbino.  His tutors at the Accademia, Bruno Orfei and Romeo Mancini introduced him to the works of Renato Guttuso and Felice Casorati.

Both Casorati and Guttuso were inspired by the ideals of the Italian Renaissance and movement in repose.  The expressions on the face of Casorati’s nudes exude a mood of metaphysical well-being, reflected as well in the relaxed pose.  Saliba’s nudes exhibit this trait towards introspection that filters out the erotic component and celebrates femininity.

The Bathers hints at the vulnerable primitivity of Gauguin’s Tahiti nudes; however, Saliba also refers to Cezanne’s numerous paintings of bathers as regards composition.  Each female figure in this exceptional painting by Saliba is lost to the world at large and there appears to be no interaction whatsoever between the six protagonists.  Each one of them occupies her own niche of space.   This augments the silence and solitude that are the essential ingredients of this painting.

Saliba captures this existential loneliness more eloquently in his paintings of the Sole Bather and in his pensive Standing Nude.  The sun strikes blindingly at the bather’s body.   Life, unreal and out of focus, happens as a muffled backdrop.  Although the nude somewhat evokes Paul Gaugin’s Aha oe feii? (What! Are You Jealous?), she is all alone, voluptuous body luxuriating under the stark sun.  The darkness of self-doubt is represented by the nude’s head in shadow, harking back to Willie Apap’s representations of lowly characters in the throes of self-pity and ostracisation in his signature shafts of light and shadow.

In his portraits, Saliba is not only after capturing a true likeness of the sitter.  His self-portrait Richard( 24th )May 2020 demonstrates the artist’s superb ability at capturing the soul of the sitter, this time himself.  Doubt, introspection and the fear of the COVID-19 pandemic are weaved into the autobiographical narrative.   The flimsy vest and the stubble on his chin demonstrate his renunciation of all material comforts.  The cross, the universal icon of Christianity, dangles on its chain around his neck, keeping evil at bay.  He diffidently looks directly out towards the viewer, his piercing glance unhindered by the spectacles perched on the bridge of his nose.

One can draw comparisons with Lucian Freud’s Self-portrait: Reflection (2002).   This is a late self-portrait in which the once-proud artist finds himself staring at a mirror which savagely exposes the ravages of time on the human body.   A landscape of wrinkles furrow the artist’s crestfallen face.   The heavy bags under his eyes, the bushy eyebrows and the sagging eyelids conceal the windows to his soul.  He holds on to a noose-like scarf; no cross on a golden chain offers spiritual relief and hope.  Saliba’s self-portrait is a challenge laced with hope in the face of unforeseen circumstances, Freud’s is a Wildean desperate cry for youth that is no more.

Saliba’s mastery at handling colour and composition is evident in his non-representational work.  He indulged in abstraction for a number of years.  He favoured a non-geometrical technique that flows into well-balanced compositions that suggest the works of Helen Frankenthaler.  One can perhaps regard these abstracts as organic developments to his landscape genre.

The Summing Up cannot be missed by the Maltese art-loving public.  It is not often that there is the opportunity to assess the development of an artist like Richard Saliba who, in more than 45 years of artistic activity, has evolved into one of Malta’s seminal artists across all genres.

The Summing Up is curated by Roderick Camilleri and hosted by the Malta Society of Arts, Republic Street, Valletta and is open till Thursday October 15.  Entrance is free.


Joseph Agius
22nd September, 2020

A Day in the Country

Posted on

The exhibition to be held at Gallery ArtE in Victoria, Gozo between the 22nd February and the 22nd March, 2019 presents a small collection of landscapes by Richard Saliba that have been executed during the past few years and represent the rich and diverse characteristics of the Maltese landscape and in particular of vistas of the Gozitan countryside in various settings that range from the atmosphere felt in the early rising sun to that of the setting sun, from the arid and parched land of the hot Mediterranean summer to the blooming and colourful spring, and from the wet autumns to the mildly cold winters.

Mgarr 3rd December, 2018

Marsovin 1919

Posted on

MarsovinRichard Saliba was chosen as the artist for the 2014 vintage Marsovin 1919 wine label. The 1919 labels carry two different paintings every year that the wine is produced. These paintings are commissioned on a yearly basis for each vintage produced, the artist is given a brief to paint two paintings based on ‘The Culture of Wine’.

Marsovin first started producing 1919 in 2005, from grapes harvested from family owned vineyards in Malta. For this 2014 vintage the white has been made from a reputable blend of Maltese grown Chardonnay grapes and indigenous white grape vatiety, Girgentina; whereas the red is produced from selected grapes of the indigenous Gellewza red variety. The harvested Gellewza bunches were laid down to dry in the sun for a number of days before being vinified resulting in a concentration of the Gellewza grape’s natural sugars, acidity and colour  The production of this wine is strictly limited and each and every bottle is numbered which adds even further value to the wine.

Exhibition Opening at Auberge d’Italie

Posted on

Introduction by Nicholas Depiro

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Richard Saliba is too well known for me to start off by saying that he is younger than I am, and that as long ago as in 1960 he was being trained as an artist. If you wish to read his impressive C.V. with its international flavour, you have it in your brochure. I just need to comment on those last three lines: “The works presented at this exhibition attempt to bring to the attention of the public the charm of the Maltese landscape.” Now listen to this, “…and the need to protect this in the face of increasing threats largely motivated by an insatiable greed for profit.”

Do you hear it? You can see it. We have here, right here, the heartbeat of an angry young man and the wisdom of a mature, sensitive and caring thinker (a little bit older!). He is not splashing his paints in anger – he is focused, very focused, on what he loves. If he is in pain, I like what I see – I empathise, I agree.  Richard is reminding us, he is pointing at what should be. He is stimulating our love – he helps us to feel, to be nostalgic, to want Malta to stay beautiful.


The view was there when I was young

The little farmhouse on the hill

We used to walk up to the top

Along the winding path



One day the view became a blot

I can remember other times

And see a Malta gone for good

Where everything was picturesque

I promise you that this is true

I could

I miss my Malta such a lot.


His picture of Attard Village with his typical fields in reds and pinks and brown and orange gives me an emotional shock. It is as good as eating oysters! No, it is as good as seeing somebody you have missed and really wanted to meet again. And the light in one of the Buskett pictures is so cruelly and successfully brooding that, if I saw it in somebody’s sitting room abroad after I had been away from Malta for too long, I would probably break down in a fit of nostalgia.

The Citadel of Victoria – this is my kind of picture, my kind of artist. Dwejra – I’m feeling giddy – I almost want to eat it! Fawwara – I’m going to cry. But what right have I to pin-point my favourites? Richard Saliba is eminently recognisable – sometimes. Richard Saliba is also moving on, and he is doing it well. I don’t really want him to move away from what moves me, but, he is an artist, and an artist is an artist. He is forever searching. An artist’s gotta do what an artist’s gotta do!


Our world moves on at so much speed

Nobody now takes any heed

Soon Malta’s style will not exist

And we had better know it

You’ll only dream it if you’re pissed

Or a sentimental poet

I’ve looked for it in Paceville

At St Paul’s Bay my heart stood still

I recall towns and all those lands

Our fathers worked with their bare hands

I’ve smelled the scents; I’ve tasted all

I’ve heard and seen and cried: “St Paul

We are so blind, you’re Heaven sent

It was right here and then it went

Bring back our old environment

St Paul please, please, I am,

I am Maltese.”


Ladies and gentlemen, I dedicate those lines to Richard Saliba. We should all be proud of him. It gives me pleasure to declare his exhibition open.


Photos of Exhibition Opening Night

The Journey – Exhibition opening at St. James Cavalier – October 2006

Posted on

Speech delivered by Chief Justice Emeritus, Professor JJ Cremona  – 20th October 2006

This is not the first time that I have had the pleasure of opening an exhibition of works by Richard Saliba. In fact I have always closely followed his distinguished artistic career, and have opened practically all his numerous art exhibitions over the years. But I must say at once that, of all his exhibitions, I regard the present one as the most important and indeed the most exciting, because it opens new and unbounded horizons.

The last of his art exhibitions took place only a year ago, and it was dedicated exclusively to a genre in which he has truly excelled – landscape. His landscapes have in fact achieved both distinction and distinctiveness because, as we all know, they are indeed so easily recognizable.

Because of the strong visual and intellectual appeal of his landscapes, many have come to regard him as principally a good landscape painter – and that he certainly is – which probably also means that to many the present exhibition comes as a surprise. But, as I shall explain, not so to me.
In presenting Saliba’s last exhibition a year ago I concluded by saying this: “In his pictorial language Saliba combines economy of means with a delicate chromatic sensitivity. The general effect is one of harmonious balance, so pronounced also (and perhaps especially) in his new abstracts, which we can expect to view in another exhibition shortly.” And of course shortly in that context means today and now, when we have the opportunity to admire this remarkable display around us here.

One interesting thing was clearly discernible in Saliba’s last exhibition, and that is that there was a welcome evolutionary process at work. His more recent landscapes were becoming bolder, with richer contrasts, and his pictorial language was becoming more expressively concise and vividly stimulating. Indeed a few of those exhibits could also be described as semi-abstracts.

The path to a purely non-representational art are various. Rarely does an artist go straight to such an art-form. More often the path is through landscape. Both Ernst Wilhelm Nay and Vassily Kandinsky in fact started with landscape, which has also been generally regarded as the most lyrical of art manifestations.

Ladies and gentlemen, when you look round, you will see that what impresses most here is the chromatic element. Colour is laid on with all its richness in a burst of spontaneity. And there is also impact. We are very far here from the idyllic serenity of the landscapes. The viewer is here struck by the expressive force of contrasting colours as well as by the rhythm of the colour structure. These paintings are not the result of a calculated effort but of a deeply felt emotion.
Look at the yellows and blues in the painting on the catalogue cover. It is not just an arranged juxtaposition of pigments; the encounter becomes a dramatic experience.

The artist (and all artists have their own preferences) chose it because it is indeed an excellent painting. But it is not the only one. You will see many of its calibre as you move from room to room. And when you come to the last one at the end, stop for a while in front of the triptych in splendid isolation on one of the walls. It is a remarkable example of the artist’s more recent phase, accompanied by others of the same phase on the other wall on the right – paintings with large masses of colour, enriched by multiple superimposed glazes (the Italian velatura). And, by way of a pleasant contrast, look then at the paintings on the left wall, which belong to an earlier but certainly not less interesting phase. They are different in texture and structure, where the forms are more compact and the rhythm more dynamic.

Here, ladies and gentlemen, we have a remarkable collection, which will certainly find a warm response in the mind and heart of every true art-lover in our country.

Continuity and Innovation – October 2006

by Peter Serracino Inglott – Professor of Philosophy

A landscape artist usually spends a lot of time looking at the world around him. Out of the tremendous confusion of persons and things which he sees pullulating about, eventually he finds some kind of a mode, a pattern or maybe even a system which somehow pulls together all of the frightening diversity. He does it through the arrangement of lines and colours and shapes. Somehow it happens that in discovering an order in the outside world, he has the sensation of gaining some degree of freedom in his inner world. Almost inevitably sooner or later he will come to feel that what has been achieved through colours and shapes is much more significant than any kind of material resemblance which the image that he has made has to any set of physical objects to which it may have been originally related. There is much more meaning in the network of inter-relationships between colours and shapes and metaphysics.

When it does happen that an artist instead of presenting images that can be easily characterized as landscapes or still-lifes or portraits or some other conventional genre produces images that are usually called abstract, there will always be some people who will ask what the work is meant to say. But of course if what the artwork said could be put into words, the need for it would no longer be felt. Most people, however, are not indifferent to the ways in which shapes and colours behave towards each other. People’s deep sense of the metaphysical suggestions inherent in complex or at times quite simple configurations of colours and shapes has always been the prime factor in their reactions to landscapes, other people, or objects, but there are clearly greater demands put on their capacity for the collaborative exercise of their imagination if allusions to the normal appearances of people and things are dropped. A more profound inter-subjectivity has to be brought into play for communication to occur in however unavoidably flawed or imperfect a way.

The new phase in the art of Richard Saliba transcends the differences between the three main trends of ‘abstract’ painting. Most obviously it falls squarely within the tradition of so-called ‘lyrical’ abstractions, in which objective representation has yielded place to an ever freer expression of subjective perceptions; however, Saliba goes probably further than even such serenely festive artists as Marc and Delaunay in the lightness of his chromaticism and unhurriedness of his rhythms. In spite of this lack of frenzy in output, ‘abstract expressionism’ is recalled through the images evidently taking shape as projections of inner experience, often to bring a sense of sudden release from the rat race. The achievements of ‘geometrical abstraction’ are assumed in the manifest care and precision with which images are developed without trace of aggressivity or sloppiness. Thus it happens that quality white at one level will blend with red and yellow becoming orangish-pink at another level as if suggesting an inceptive process of reconciliation, a distant anticipation of elusive happiness.

It is almost a century since Kandinsky first conveyed to Schoenberg his initial theory about abstractionism as the rediscovery of spirituality in art and about half a century since it became accessible to my generation in Malta. Yet the new language after so many years of intense life has clearly not yet had its possibilities exhausted and gives scope for artists whose ambition is not to shock to keep finding original harmonies proportionate to their personality. Despite all the noise to the contrary, painting as such is still alive and doing well.

Norbert Ellul Vincenti

I look upon your best pictures as a moving experience, and ‘moving’ in different senses. The paint does not stay still, both by the power of colour and by the interplay of colour and design. You feel you stand before an invitation to take a psychedelic trip inside the frame, to wander and discover the space inside and around and into and even behind areas, like an adventurous foray into a fragrant jungle of sentiments and moods. The beholder is really on a endless freedom trip into an enormous aesthetic space.