It was a surprise to me on my return from my first trip to the Mediterranean to find myself painting townscapes. Before I went I had thought about painting the coast and the countryside, but it was the towns which captured my imagination. The ancient cities, built to protect their inhabitants from constant invasions, had an air of mystery and permanence which the dusty countryside, desperate for water and under pressure from development could not match at the end of a long hot summer.
Walks in the countryside were marred by the daily presence of hunters shooting at every migrant bird which had the misfortune to seek landfall on Malta. We were shocked by the extent of this and the way in which the hunters seemed able to ignore the law against killing birds of prey with impunity.
We learned from our Maltese friends that this is a hugely controversial and political topic in Malta at present. Birdlife Malta is an organisation which opposes the hunting at considerable personal risk to its members and supporters.
In this view of Valletta from Sliema seafront, I loved the solid bastions, the buildings piled up together, the glorious dome of the church in contrast to the steeple of the English cathedral, the terracotta domes and the unifying effect of the warm Maltese stone. I found I could achieve a degree of realism without too much detail by painting on a textured surface with a palette knife, as I do in many of my British landscapes.
The Cittadella on Gozo is a medieval fortified township which rises serene and beautiful above the modern town of Rabat (Victoria.)
I painted it from a viewpoint at Ta Cenc looking across the cultivated fields. In this painting I wanted to reflect not only the grandeur and beauty of the ancient citadel, but also the force of my emotions about the chaos and disorder of the surrounding countryside.
I approached the painting using the same techniques and colour palette as the Valletta picture, but with a much freer approach to the foreground. It was a challenge to combine the figurative image of the buildings with the abstract foreground. However, it seemed to work if I gradually reduced the focus of the buildings in the town. The red paint in the foreground was applied with a palette knife straight from the tube.
I do hope to paint more townscapes in the future, but for the time being I am enjoying a return to more familiar territory in the hills of the English Lake district. Still serene, seemingly impregnable and beautiful, but definitely not dry and dusty!
10% of the sale price of paintings of Malta will be donated to Birdlife Malta.