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January 29, 2024 – Published in Design & Decor Autumn-Winter 2023 issue

Seeking to make Malta green – with artist and architect, Rune Bo Jakobsen

Photography: Matthew Mirabelli

These days, one recurring topic among Maltese residents is the lack of green spaces on the island, with many bemoaning the destructive side of overdevelopment that is taking over the land. 

Nevertheless, this situation has never deterred Rune Bo Jakobsen from persevering in his mission to revive the local natural environment, while hoping to inspire a shift in local mentality towards a more optimistic outlook.

Having lived in Malta for the past 20 years, the Danish painter, sculptor, and architect reflected on |how he uses his art to draw attention to the areas where greenery can still be found in Malta. “For years, just like everyone else, I’ve been upset about the urban environment and increasing pollution here in Malta. But, rather than looking at the negative, I wish to highlight the positive in the hope that it will catch on.”

In fact, the first topic he elaborated on was his dream to turn Malta into a connected network of walkways for ramblers and cyclists.

“Malta is approximately the size of Aarhus, my hometown in Denmark,” Rune mused, “with pretty much the same number of inhabitants. So, in reality, we need to think of the island as if it was one town instead of individual villages doing their own thing. The main issue here is that we are a society based on cars – we do not walk enough! But if paths are opened up to connect villages, especially along the coast, people would be able to walk or cycle safely and directly from A to B without cars speeding next to them. It would really boost our health, help reduce the amount of vehicles, and improve the quality of the air around us. Well,” he smiled wistfully, “that’s the first thing I would do if I was ever elected prime minister.”

When he first came to Malta as an architecture student, Rune combined his artistic talents with his ambitions to create and build, and he has collaborated on a number of prestigious local projects, among them the Valletta Waterfront and the Cottonera Regeneration Project at Dock N.1. He soon discovered that planting trees felt more fulfilling than working in construction or sketching design projects. He explained that, without the benefit of trees providing shade, places suffer from the heat island effect – something which, unfortunately, is becoming more and more common in Malta.

The charismatic Dane has always ensured his architectural plans include a green space, even if it is within a high-rise building.

“Constructing cities is not the problem,” Rune declared. “We just need to work on projects that change Malta for the better. For example, at Dock N.1, we added trees and grassy lawns for people to sit on and have a picnic or enjoy the view.”

“I have been drawing all my life, and I have now gone full circle and returned to painting. With art, you have full control over what you’re doing. You don’t need permits! I’m always on the lookout for unusual compositions. I especially like how light is reflected here in Malta. The sun is really powerful, and the hidden colours in the shade change depending on the surfaces. Limestone turns to gold, and shadows appear purple. It fascinates me!”

Rune loves using colour in his art, and his recent solo exhibition, Green City: From Floriana to Mdina – which was on display at The Phoenicia Malta during the month of August – is a feast of bold and bright hues and strong, layered brushstrokes, creating energy within the paintings which is then transferred to the viewer. Rune opts for acrylic paint, which offers the best characteristics of both oil and watercolour. His architectural background comes out in the pencil drawings or text which he occasionally adds to a painting.

“Since the exhibition was at The Phoenicia, I wanted to portray its location, Floriana, in different ways. I like street spaces, and a few of the paintings show the arcades of this town, while hinting that the area could become even greener. 

At times, I include the people inhabiting the space, like actors in the theatre, such as a group of friends having a conversation around a table. I also portray the emotion and energy around me at the time. This could be from the music I’m listening to or the man from a nearby bar, shouting at his friend to come and see what I’m painting. I actually make all sorts of friends in this way,” Rune smiled. 

The art exhibited at The Phoenicia Malta aimed to accentuate the beautiful places that still exist on the Maltese islands, in spite of being more difficult to find as time passes. Apart from the 34 paintings Rune contributed, a 2.8-metre-high sculpture adorned the lush hotel gardens. Constructed out of recycled industrial materials, including PVC and concrete, the aptly named Green Heart represents growth and positivity.

Rune’s message remains clear: “We can choose to make Malta green!”

“We need to fight for it!” he urged. “Yes, it’s changing, but we need to do something now. Our time on this Earth is short, so we should keep searching for ways to enhance the environment we live in. Through my art, I try to create beauty – and hope that people see this beauty and try to create more of it. If we stop thinking negatively and move towards a more positive direction, we would be able to identify the potential Malta still has to become more green. We can do this!” 

Rune Bo Jakobsen – Artist, Sculptor, and Architect

Art Studio & Gallery, Rockefeller Court, No. 1, Tower Road, Birkirkara, Malta

For studio / gallery viewings: +356 99208004;

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