My journalistic investigation into Patrick Dalli’s exhibition published in Lovin Malta raises questions about the Valletta Cultural Agency (VCA), particularly its CEO Catherine Tabone, but it does not delve into the quality of Dalli’s nude paintings. It is not the scope of that journalistic investigation to do so.
As for quality, which is what this analysis is about, the VCA referred to Dalli as The Master of the Nude in one of its videos.
Is he? How masterly are Dalli’s nudes?
The point of nude paintings is not nudity itself – that would be little more than gaudy titillation – the point of nude paintings is to show something of the human condition.
In this sense, nude paintings are disarming because they show the state of being exposed to the world in unadulterated imperfection.
The idea of nudity – or naturism, as it is euphemistically known by people who make it a way of life and philosophy – is to bare ourselves without the makeover of clothes and makeup, or grooming if you are a man. This is why in the philosophy of naturism, mostly practiced in nude beaches, the state of being nude is supposed to be liberating. It is said that naturism allows us to reveal our true selves, even our soul. That is an idea that goes back in philosophy to decades if not centuries.
There are even writers of fiction, women particularly, who famously write in the nude.
Dalli understands this, and he captures a state of bareness with all of his subjects’ flaws. He even emphasizes the flaws with play of light and shadow. He captures the flabbiness and sagginess, the heavy eyes, the asymmetry as buttocks or breasts sag unevenly with the passage of time. His subjects often look preoccupied or pensive. You can see the toll of life in their bodies and their eyes.
And in this sense the nude paintings are disarming. The subjects are disarmed – in many of the paintings the subjects stare at the viewer in this disarmed state – and the viewer also feels a sense of being disarmed by the pitifulness of the human condition.
But I do not feel that Dalli’s nudes reach a level of distinctiveness and originality and provocativeness that can be described as masterly.
We speak of a masterly painting when we see a painting that troubles us or stays with us, something that endures in our imagination.
I believe that Dalli is a competent artist, but he has yet to make the leap from competent to masterly.