The streak has definitely been one of the highlights of the month, a retrospective exhibition showcasing over 89 works by the late Isabelle Borg. Isabelle was known for her vivid colour, bold brush strokes and strong character. Organised by Creative Director Maria Galea under the Isabelle Borg collection managed by Marie Gallery5, and curated by Lisa Gwen. Two women representing one of Malta’s most iconic female artist definitely adds a bold statement to what the exhibition represents. Maria and Lisa state that The Streak is far more than an exhibition, it’s a celebration of life. In the interview below Lisa and Maria explain the narratives, work involved and what’s next in line.
What was the main concept that has tied all the themes throughout the exhibition together?
I’m not sure I would call it a concept – because from the onset, I knew that the narrative had to be thematic rather than an outdated chronological display of her paintings. And Isabelle’s body of work, lends itself perfectly to a thematic presentation. Her bouts and spurts of creativity, her need to exhaust subjects, or scrutinize / interpret them further, made ‘my job’ fairly simple. Otherwise, what I had conceived, envisioned, was simply reliant on aesthetic, colour, texture… all aspects which undoubtedly run consistently and concurrently throughout her immense oeuvre. The all was then enhanced by a few personal elements which touched directly upon her life – such as the pink wall on which the Lovers in the Bull hangs, or the photograph of the alcove in her old Floriana studio, coupled with one of the chairs which were used by her sitters. I needed to include elements from her life, I needed the exhibition to feel intimate, personal; I wanted visitors to get emotional, to feel ‘her presence’ whether or not they had had the pleasure of knowing her.
Why did you decide to organize this retrospective now?
‘The Streak’ was meant to happen in 2020 to commemorate Isabelle’s 10th anniversary since her passing. However, due to covid, we had to postpone, hoping that the situation and regulations would improve by 2021. Instead, we launched a campaign to commemorate Isabelle online and posted documented highlights from he career as an artist. The Isabelle Borg collection had held a smaller retrospective in Valletta in 2017, where we had showcased around 25 works. As a representative of the artist’s private collection, we are responsible for keeping Isabelle’s legacy alive and having her work accessible to the public. This retrospective is one of the milestones within this vision. An extraordinary milestone, I must say, bringing over 89 pieces together in one place, some of which have been in private collections much before Isabelle’s passing, was something that gave a sense of magnitude and statement highlighting how prolific, bold and ambitious Isabelle was as an artist and person.
The exhibition narrates Isabelle Borg's life as an artist with personal touches, how does her artistic and personal life come together in this retrospective?
As I’ve mentioned above – the personal and the professional so to say, come together in a very subtle way, yet one which adds a distinct dynamic to the exhibition. Personal elements are included in most spaces – with sketchbooks, old exhibition posters, newspaper headlines, the makeshift palette she used and assorted quirky items interspersed amongst the suitcases.
What does it take to organize such a retrospective?
Planning a retrospective of someone who has passed away at such a young age and not so long ago can be quite a sensitive subject. Memories and emotions are still very vivid in those who knew and were close to Isabelle. Therefore we wanted it to be a personal experience of remembrance and surprise. Exhibiting over 89 works with over 28 loaned from a private collections takes a lot of logistical and communication planning. The research and documentation phase is also an exciting and intense part of organizing a retrospective like this; in-depth research in locating specific works, documentation, discoveries of new pieces, writings, publications and one to one interviews are elements that brought it all together. The curation has tied all of the above together; Lisa has given the exhibition that personal experience we were after. Having been both Isabelle’s friend and curated her previous show, ‘Strange Cargo’ has definitely made her the right curator to curate this long-awaited retrospective, which I must stay turned out beautifully.
Why is Isabelle's work so relevant and important in today's day and age?
Isabelle was a painter, through and through. And she was one of the foremost female painters during the two decades plus in which she was consistently active and highly prolific. yet she was also an academic – so she had the background to inform her work. Moreover, she traveled, she saw, she questioned, interpreted and transcended it all into what she produced. The subjects that consumed her, refer to context – such as her primitive works, which are directly related to Malta’s prehistoric temple culture. But also her landscapes – which was hardly postcard perfect pictures – but which refer to her ever-changing surroundings and conditions. Moreover, she was bold in her technique and in the palette she chose – her paintings reveal a highly performative, gestural and quasi ritualistic process. Her work is seminal when understanding and framing the stylistic language(s) which characterized the development of ‘modern’ and contemporary art in Malta.
What's next in plan for The Isabelle Borg Collection?
Our next priority as a gallery representing such an iconic artist is far more than just exhibiting or selling her work. It’s a long term vision, next milestone is to make the collection more accessible to the public throughout the year; the basis of this planstands on on three important pillars; education, awareness, and value. Each comes through different projects and collaborations for which discussions and research have already been ongoing for a while. It is vital that Isabelle lives beyond the collection, lives in memory and admiration for several many years to come.
A publication is also available online, showcasing the collection together with a number of write ups and essays written throughout the years about Isabelle and her work.
The Streak ends this Sunday 16th January 2021. Open to the public from 9.30 am till 9pm at Spazju Kreattiv, SPACE C. Supported by APS BANK