Featured image by Nikki Schinas
From our beginnings as children learning of lands far, far away in fairytales, to the equivalent found in an indulgent Netflix series as adults, the human condition has always sought out a change of scenery through storytelling. This escape from reality can be accessed through means of literature, cinema, music, theatre or of course art, and Johanna Barthet’s second solo exhibition of abstract paintings does exactly this.
‘Dreamscapes’ is a collection of thirty-six works currently on show at Desko art gallery at Studio 104 in Valletta, which will be open for public viewing until the 23rd of July. The works provide a respite from reality filled with day to day stressors.
To view this body of work is to glimpse into the imagination of the artist – the “dreamscapes” have no geographic location, nor are they set in any point in time.
You cannot visit these locations, just as one cannot return to a dream. Like a dream, the locations seem familiar, yet warped.
At times, these abstract quasi-landscapes appear to resemble the familiar rolling hills of Malta and Gozo, but the sloping roofs dotted within the scenery suggest they’re unfitting with our climes, deeming them realms of fantasy.
Barthet, b.1967, has already made a prominent mark on the Maltese art circuit. ‘Dreamscapes’, whilst being only her second solo exhibition, has been met with an excitement from art lovers keen to witness this unusual direction from Barthet, a painter known for her portraits of shy, stylish, often coquettish-looking young women.
Just as each of her “girls” come with their own story- left up to the curiosity of the viewer, each abstract painting in ‘Dreamscapes’ posesses that same mystery. Where is this place? What is it like there? What happened at this place?
The works are the product of a spur of creative activity harnessed in late 2019 and throughout 2020’s initial lockdown, which seemed to continually flow out of the artist in her home studio. Barthet explains that her Dreamscapes phase cannot be returned to, and on completion of the capsule collection, the artists returned to impressionist portraiture.
“Dreamscapes was a phase where I became very productive, resulting in these landscapes. They almost happened on their own, like magic. Hopefully that magic will find me again in the future, hopefully not too far away.” she tells Indulge.
Notable in Dreamscapes is the artist’s grasp of colour. Her earthy palette is inkeeping with realistic landscapes, although the physical locations are whimsical. Colours reminiscent of natural beauty spots play out amongst the works in oil on board- deep teals and turquoises of crystal pools to dive right into, rambling emerald pastures and luxe lava reds of volcanic springs. The artist’s flair for colour extends to her love for decor and fashion, and her ‘Dreamscapes’ paintings wouldn’t look out of place in any glossy coffee table travel magazine. The jewel-like tones in Barthet’s Dreamscapes – from ruby to sapphire and amber – render them tasteful interiors pieces, like jewellery for the home.
Painting in her Dreamscapes phase was a means of escapism from the over-constructed environment that surrounded the artist in her urban hometown. These dream localities conjured up at the end of Barthet’s paintbrush are paradise destinations, indecipherable, yet each Dreamscape’s particular palette hints at as to their hypothetical wherabouts.
Deep blues are reminiscent of our own shores, and that of other Mediterannean getaways. One might imagine Barthet’s more bluesy “‘scapes” to be dreamt up off the coast of Saint Tropez, or Greece’s Santorini, with its azure markmaking and steps leading down to the sea. In a show-stopping purple, the amethyst tones in ‘Scape XIV’ could be lifted from the maze-like Medina of Marrakesh, where souks sell soft leather slippers and glass lamps in mirroring mystical tones.
The beauty of the exhibition lies in the opportunity it offers the art lover to leave the weight of the world at the gallery door to revel in the escapist nature of the paintings- something we could all do with in these testing times. It is the exhibition equivalent to a summer getaway without the plane ticket.
‘Dreamscapes – A Solo Exhibition by Johanna Barthet’ runs until Friday 23rd July at DESKO art gallery @ Studio 104, 104 St Lucia Street, Valletta. Gallery hours are Tuesday – Friday 11:30am – 2pm & 4pm – 7pm.