An art gathering is no longer something to be sought out underground, in the lanky alleyways and drunken gloom of Bohemia. While some readers, still young at heart, as young as they never were, will regret this fact others will embrace art’s promotion into overground light, and unashamedly embrace its nouveau riche glitter. Chloe Waterfield’s art exhibition in the heart of 5-star luxury is one such occasion.
The opening night of Waterfield’s The Living World solo exhibition was the clairvoyant, meaningful date of the 4th July. An irrelevant date here in Malta, perhaps, but across the pond, in America, it signifies the largest Independence Day celebrations anywhere across the world. And Waterfield’s exhibition, in its own right, is a kind of independence, art coming out of the darkness, liberating itself, and conquering the very churches of the bourgeois it once so pointlessly fought against.
And it is a triumph.
Chloe Waterfield’s art is pregnant with colour. And the backdrop couldn’t be more suited. Alongside the panorama of rich, summery Balluta Bay hung vivid images of speed-hungry animals and peace-craving peoples on the edge of extinction. The different sections of the exhibition space – the Meridien’s lobby – was dedicated to different breeds of paintings.
For those already familiar with Waterfield’s art they will be pleased to see her trademark style – the futurist, bright, dynamic ‘Solutrean’ style – return, utilized to depict rare and wondrous animals in a manner our (her) cave-painting, Lascaux-immersed ancestors would have been proud. The 21st century has also looked upon Waterfield’s youthful, energetic style most kindly – this being the third solo exhibition in which these ‘Solutrean’ paintings have appeared, and they are becoming as recognizable around Malta’s art world as pseudo-Impressionist watercolours of luzzus and farmers.
But Waterfield, by her own admission, does not like to remain static – unsurprisingly, considering her flowing, bouncy colours and brushstrokes. The highlight of this latest exhibition – the set that garnered most attention during Waterfield’s own inaugral speech – are the series of paintings she calls ‘The Endangered Peoples‘.
As passionate a conservationist as she is an artist, Waterfield decided to briefly look away from the animals being brought to the brink of extinction by man, and turned her attention to our fellow man, fellow tribes, who share our planet, but are being forced to abandon their lands and cultures by the behemoth of progress and civilization. The paintings never cease to ask questions. One of them, the most haunting of the set, ‘Children of the Amazon’ is a powerful portrait of a child, from the threatened tribe of the Nukak, looking straight out of the canvas into the eyes of those brave enough to return the stare. A child whose face is decorated by traditional, blood-red lines almost like wounds, looks at us and asks us, “is this what you want?”.
Depictions of Africa, much beloved by the artist, are not lacking in this series. Two iconic, semi-abstract portraits hang proudly; one, ‘The Spiritual Cosmos’, depicts a faceless San Bushman dancing in a whirlpool of earth colours, the other, ‘Olomayio (Lion Hunt)’, shows a Masai warrior crashing in warm blues and tropical red, accompanied by a vague lion, neither friend nor (no longer) foe. These semi-abstracts seem to be missing links between the ‘Solutrean’ style paintings and the more earthed portraits/landscapes of the new series.
And no painting in this exhibition is more ‘earthed’ than the landscape, ‘Maternal Planet.’ A heartwarming, cold-warm depiction of the Nenets people, a group of reindeer herders that live in the Russian Arctic. There is a gentleness and sobriety in this painting that Waterfield never matches. The Nenets girl, a kind of Arctic Madonna, lies her head, happily, tenderly, on a reindeer who, in turn, watches its own fledgling fawn. It is a menagerie of maternal compassion against a cold, lonesome, haunting landscape, that seems to say, yes, kindness is possible even at the edge of the world. For an artist so obsessed by animals this painting is remarkably human.
And that human touch, that touch of the real, is what makes the marriage between Waterfield’s art and the overground so inevitable. Waterfield has foregone the brooding, surreal, introspective nature of the artist who looked inward for inspiration. She, instead, is looking outward, to the beauty of the world we inhabit, the dangers it faces and the wonders it has to offer. She has something to say, clearly, and judging by this latest, 5-star exhibition, people are willing to listen.