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Return Island

For the past ten years Maltese born painter Dominique Ciancio (b. 1983) has worked as a freelance artist between Malta and Norway. Like many during the recent flight restrictions, he found himself unusually bound to the island. This time, however, has allowed for precious moments of reflection. The memories of growing up on a Mediterranean island with its temperament and traditions intertwined with present realities of urbanization, human relationships and a constant flow of sagas.

Return Island started taking shape in his Floriana studio, which overlooks the narrow streetscapes, countless rooftops and overlapping towns. From the balcony, local expressions were heard, such asAw King!” or Għorrief hawn kemm trid…” [The wise and learned are plenty]. Despite its small scale, Malta’s somewhat intense vivacity, through thick and thin, has always provided a magnitude of inspiration for Ciancio. During this situation, the artist adopted a new mode of travel, mainly through observation and imagination. Compositions began to form, and actors took to a new stage. The backdrop of the island, with its intense light and character, has heightened the sense of drama and human condition. This new body of work portrays many individual stories, but it also suggests shared experiences – at times appearing simultaneously entertaining and disquieting.

Malta is statistically the most densely populated country in the EU and ranks as one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Its inhabitants are surrounded with countless signs of civilization, landmarks and human interventions. Ciancio recalls how as a student of the late Isabelle Borg he was challenged to see spaces with a fresh set of eyes.

After moving to Scandinavia in his early twenties, he was particularly struck by the vastness of land and the rawness of its natural wilderness. This evidently has a bearing on his work whenever he now revisits life on the island. The presence of intense blue skies and the glowing sun on its subjects is a tangible presence of nature, but many of the paintings convey a lack of greenery by its absence. Could this huddle lead to mental and emotional congestion? The artist’s protagonists recurrently bear something around their heads – often a paper crown; a fabricated headdress that attempts to keep their heads together. Some are exerting themselves while perhaps others are being consumed by their own frailty, pride or pretense.

Dominique Ciancio describes his latest body of work as ‘fictional realism’. Fiction and realism are two words that may seem diametrically opposed, however both come across through a passion to convey the artist’s surroundings. The visual narrative brings forth an element of fiction while the aspect of realism is intrinsic to the storytelling. In its contemporary narrative, people and objects jostle for attention in settings that may seem bizarre, humorous and tragic all at once. Could such feelings perhaps occur after witnessing a rather surreal experience in an everyday setting? It may be anything from encountering a dramatic argument on the streets to reading someone’s absurd internet comment that leaves you with the question – ‘wait, what did I just see, read or hear?’. The viewers are invited to form interpretations and develop stories of their own.

Return Islandpresents a journey that gives rise to a number of questions: how many of our experiences are actually shared? How much can we relate to people from different backgrounds? And how far do our surroundings shape our personal decisions?

At the time of writing this solo exhibition of paintings is scheduled to run from the 6 – 27 May 2021 at the Malta Society of Arts, Palazzo De La Salle, Valletta. A virtual format of the exhibition will also be available online. For updates follow:

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