Half the Truth
Curmi’s paintings only ever tell us half the truth. Cloaked figures – predominantly female –emerge from the mist or dissipate, reminiscent of raindrops in a cloud. Gazing outwards their melancholic faces peer into the endless distance, subdued and suspended in time.
Amidst the stillness lingers a pervading sense of anticipation, or perhaps it is expectation, steady and unwavering. Here these sombre creatures remain, cast upon the canvas like shadows, caught between twilight and daybreak.
For those so still, it is strange that movement features quite so prominently in Curmi’s titles, whether they are physical journeys Coming Home, Touching Down, The Higher you Climb, or philosophical transitions Moving On, Misplaced and Departure. They are suggestive and rich in narrative, imbuing the work with a literary after-life, perhaps the result of an imagination originally realised through illustration.
But these figures don’t have voices. The works are silent. Characters blow through them like tumbleweed, dry and diasporic, detached from their earthly roots. Or if they do speak it is in whispers, ghostly utterings, caught in a dusty cobweb. Shhh.
Curmi’s characters are not ‘characters’ in the usual sense. Almost without exception her work features either the wisened faces of old men (their facades faded with time) or young women with a sad yet youthful pallor. Seen as a body of work they create a gendered timeline, polarities embalmed in pigment. Familiar features reappear throughout the work, blowing in and out so that you begin to wonder if they have indeed been ‘misplaced’.
But if so, where did they come from and where will they go? There are no buildings, nor indeed landscapes or locales, with which to tether their tale. There is nowhere to hide.
Occasionally an interloper stops by, calling at a withered hem or resting on an outstretched hand. If Curmi’s figures lack stability these animal vagrants are yet more fragile, delicately clinging to the canvas as if one small breath were all it took to loosen their grip.
For where paint historically conceals – stratified as if to hide – there is a delicacy about Curmi’s work that transcends the medium. Oil is dried out, thinned and applied like a shallow wash so that it either floats above the surface or bleeds into the background. Often described as uncluttered or minimalist, this does not do justice to the immense potential of these empty backdrops. Laced with nostalgia colours smudge and fade. Nebulous as a cloud they are heavy with promise, wistful and faltering, littered with half-told tales, half-truths. Words unspoken, songs unsung.
Image Credit: The Higher You Climb, Serena Curmi, oil on canvas, 2014. Photo © Serena Curmi.