An affirmation of a prime watercolourist in the making – Sarah Calleja’s Exhibition HARBOURED

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For SARAH CALLEJA, being an artist means having the ability to appreciate beauty in the simplest of things. “Painting a beautiful image of an industrial scene is challenging, but equally challenging is being in the Three Cities and not painting a postcard,” she claims.

We caught up with Sarah as she is about to host HARBOURED, a collection of 20 new works most of which in watercolours and completed over a span of the past three years – a collection that represents the artist’s exploration and developed affinity with the Grand Harbour and its environs.

Sarah recalls how the start of her artistic journey goes back to when she was 6 years old when she was initiated in summer art classes with Alfred C. Camilleri.

“As I grew older, I developed a deeper love for art to the extent that I wanted to study it at university level but given that there were no options available at the time, I opted for architecture. However, painting has now become part of my life and an extension of who I am.”

Indeed, her works do betray the dexterity of a very firm hand and an acquired draughtsmanship – qualities that are mostly evident in the excellent linearity, form, and unmistakeable perspective achieved in paintings such as Fuq il-Moll tal-Pont, Ras Ħanżir, Rinella Bay and Senglea.

Although Sarah’s works seem sketchy at times, she explains that there is a very lengthy process behind their completion.

“My first step in any painting, irrespective of subject, is composition. I assess composition with smaller sketches which allow me to do a number of variants until the right composition is set. After selecting my colour palette which is usually limited to around five colours, I test out variants to understand which colours work best together and towards the finished works.”

“It is not about copying a subject but painting a painting. If I am painting on location, I spend the first half hour looking for the subject, and the next half hour trying composition and colour sketches. Following this the hardest part is to keep the subject loose and to follow the initial intent. Sometimes it is easier to copy exactly what you are seeing than what is in your head. I feel like a ball of energy through my wrist, and I tried to keep it flowing without too much overthinking.”

The vast majority of the works in this exhibition are in watercolour but in this exhibition, it is very evident that Sarah has managed to push her medium further, often with staggering results, notwithstanding a limited palette.

“Half of the works in this exhibition are nearly monochrome or just using black. I am very drawn to a darker palette, and I am learning how to create new effects in watercolour. Creating an image with one colour is a challenge, but the result is somewhat stronger.”

Sarah describes this exhibition as “an attempt to capture various aspects of the beauty in the cities, industrial areas, creeks and shorelines that surround the grand harbour”.

“When I choose my locations, I do so with the end painting in mind. I do not really have a preference from industrial to urban views. An industrial scene can still be a beautiful image to paint but it is certainly more challenging. But equally challenging is being in the Three Cities and not paint a postcard! But every painting is a personal journey and even if it is not considered ‘picturesque’ it can still result in an interesting painting.”

The exhibition has been themed ‘Harboured’.

“Although the theme of the Grand Harbour was somewhat obvious, it was hard deciding on the actual naming of the exhibition. Then Melanie Erixon who is curating the exhibition, provided me with a list of names and options and the word Harboured stood out. I knew it was the right one because it suggested my journey and the feelings I had captured and harboured within the Grand Harbour.”

Sarah’s favourite three pieces in this show?

Although each painting comes with its own special story, I would say that my three favourite ones are ‘Birgu’, a painting in black watercolour, ‘Marsa Creek’, in which I felt satisfied by the watermarks and granulation in watercolour and ‘Fuq il-Moll tal-Pont where using large water spray has allowed the pigment in the colour to separate and create a very interesting effect.”

Notwithstanding her being very happy with this body of works, Sarah still wonders how the works will be received.

“I’m always asking myself whether I have done enough or what could I have done more. But all in all, I am confident that those visiting my exhibition will notice how my work has evolved over the past few years. Most of all I hope to convey the message that we can all come to appreciate that beauty is sometimes found in the most unexpected of places,” concluded Sarah.

HARBOURED opens on Friday the 15th of July at Il-Kamra ta’ Fuq in Mqabba and remains open to the public for a month until the 15th of August.

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