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June 20, 2019 – Published in Design & Decor Summer 2019 issue

Colours, tone and texture – Vickie Tonna

One of my favourite quotes about art is by Van Gogh who wrote – “If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” This was my experience before I actually put palette knife to canvas. I always loved art and decided to test my artistic talent at a post university age.


I had many friends at university who loved art and influenced me in a positive way and I learnt to always seek out local artistic talent, even to merely observe how artists expressed their view of Maltese culture and landscape. Art, in my student years, was a subject I discussed with my peers and many a time they would speak of recent artistic acquisitions they had made at prices they could afford. Dennis Vella, the past museum curator, was an expert at this. His tireless contribution to the promotion of modern and contemporary works had its roots in the late 70s and his interest in art, together with that of my husband David, were a major influence in my own journey.


I was initially interested in the art of ceramics and pottery which I explored under Gabriel Caruana’s guidance. Thanks to the many experiments with glazes and underglazes and the amazingly spontaneous designs that would result after firing, I began to acquire a love for colour and spontaneity. Clay has a way of drawing one’s soul in and drowning it in creative euphoria. Gabriel called it ‘l’arte dei pazzi’ because of this. I was soon to discover that oil paints would have the same effect on me.


What appealed to me most about painting in oil was the brightness and richness of its colours and its adaptability to any whims.  My interest in Maltese landscape was further developed with much help and inspiration from Tonio Mallia. My love for nature, especially for the sea and mountains is most evident in my paintings.


The sea in all its conditions and moods is a prevalent theme in my work; it is depicted as calm and gentle against a backdrop of limestone cliffs or as rough and menacing during a storm. It can also be seen as a cradle which carries immigrants across and away to a more hopeful future.


The palette knife is my main tool because it helps me achieve a variety of effects, from the sweeping strokes associated with impasto to fairly refined detail.


The workshops in portraiture which I followed with Debbie Caruana Dingli were an inspiration as well. Perhaps the best example of freedom which expresses deep emotion, is my rendition of Christ the Redeemer. This painting was born out of much prayer for my suffering friend who was undergoing treatment for cancer.


In 2017, I had a joint exhibition with Jackie Magri at The Corinthia Palace Hotel entitled ‘Take Two’ and in 2018 I had my first solo exhibition at the launch of Marsovin’s 1919 and this was in collaboration with Form Ltd. Two of my paintings were chosen for the labels of the 2018 vintage. At present I am working towards the  next exhibition, be it joint or solo.


I believe that art can be seen as an infusion of inner feelings and thoughts executed in an original style and my style  has been described as ‘bold and dramatic’. I also feel that art has a certain power to extract essence and life from common things. The artist’s feelings come together with this extraction and the rest happens. Captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, the artist can only aspire to transform them into something new, a work of inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation.

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