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Mouth Agape

A world that is devoid of colour...

Literally and visually, lips are meant to be the most sensuous of facial features. Models and sitters are often asked to bite or wet their lips, and to part them, ever so slightly, when posing – perhaps in an attempt at making them look more plump, inviting and luscious. Better still, to mimic a sigh or a gentle moan, or even to allude to the possibility of pausing, mid sentence, hence denoting an inherent motion of sorts. A suspended moment, perhaps. The connotation, decidedly sexual. 

“His work is deliciously and carefully orchestrated; yet it is done in a surreptitious, rather than overtly discernible manner.”

This is precisely the stance in which most CO-MA’s women are portrayed. Each of his paintings exclusively features the fairer sex – a term which has been intentionally selected, despite its outdatedness, as it inexplicably encapsulates the appearance of the maidens inhabiting his seemingly impenetrable voids. Because, despite the subject matter, that is precisely how his women are represented – fair, uncommonly attractive, beautiful even. And yet there is a naturalism within their skin-deep perfection, giving the sitters a warm glow; an aspect which is most pleasant, and almost a necessity, when considering the contradictory context at play amidst the religious overtones, the symbolism, the dark or even perverse elements that overcome the figurative subjects in his works. 

CO-MA is the artist’s alter ego or persona, one may say – a persona which he seems to have been honing and harbouring in secret for years. Having never exhibited his work, not even collectively, makes this dark series of interconnected works particularly impressive; kudos must here be given to Lily Agius in recognition of his bravura. His exhibition, titled Black Clouds of Smoke Made the White Clouds Look Dark, will feature 12 works, chiefly in charcoal. Entirely figurative, several works are merely “Untitled”, which is deceivingly abstract in choice yet also clever, as this allows the viewer to impart a very personal meaning to the images before them, rather than glean any underlying conceptual foundation through the title imparted by the author.


The mouth and the lips also take on an added importance, seeing as the artist often chooses to mask the eyes. Obstacles and props are presented in an attempt to displace the identity of the sitter, or at the very least, blur it. Winged creatures often inhabit his paintings; they are strewn, overlaid and outrightly juxtapose the female form, whether across the face or body – not entirely unlike Magritte’s Son of Man in intention, yet completely different in execution. Concerning the referenced seminal work, Magritte said; “everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of quite an intense feeling, a sort of conflict… between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present”. So much so, that CO-MA’s figures are often ‘ripped apart’, dissected, sliced – almost as though he were a surgeon attempting to deconstruct the body and surgically remove the layers of untruth that encase the spirit, which might again explain the reason behind the shielding of the eyes, at least pictorially. The eyes reveal too much vulnerability; the eyes also create an unprecedented contact and connection with the viewer – a connection that is purposely broken and disrupted on several occasions.


Despite the open interpretation of several works, CO-MA’s creations inhabit a world that is devoid of colour. By his own confession, the artist favours a world of black and white – hence, no unnecessary distractions, just plays of light and shadow, which he uses to his advantage, almost effortlessly, to portray textures, surfaces, a healthy, vis-à-vis a decaying or rotting body. Also surprising are the plentiful references to the Old Masters, or to the occupational or psychological portraits as propagated by the Northern Renaissance artists. 

The Fall
Death & The Maiden

Mouth agape. Literally. This was more of a personal reaction, rather than a description of all his female bodies. CO-MA’s command of his chosen and preferred medium is quite astonishing; details deserve inspection, scrutiny. He has the ability of the most seasoned of artists at understanding how and where the light hits, and where highlights need to be applied; whether this be on a tuft of hair, on a glistening areola, or on the tip of a nose. His work is deliciously and carefully orchestrated; yet it is done in a surreptitious, rather than overtly discernible manner. And his statement is clear – the body, irrespective of its outwardly beauty, is merely an object, and empty vessel. You can paint it, manipulate it, mask it. But it remains just that. 

Black Clouds of Smoke Made the White Clouds Look Dark | Lily Agius Gallery | 11 November – 4 December 2021

Photo of the gallerist (on the left) and artist CO-MA (right) from the opening event of the exhibition, 11.11.21, by Justine.
Photo from the closing event of the exhibition, by Ines Bahr. 04.12.21

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