The Artisan District of Victoria

October 10, 2019

If you’ve a passion for authentic, original arts and crafts and enjoy watching talented craftspeople at work, then wandering through the Artisan District of Gozo’s capital city Victoria won’t disappoint. There, the narrow lanes of our old city open up to reveal contemporary art spaces, galleries and workshops with artisans plying their trade, and, more importantly, with many of their unique designs available to buy. 

Outside Prickly Pear Studio D’Art – Triq San Gorg, Victoria

The last time VisitGozo counted, a 15-minute meander through Victoria’s arts district included over 5 galleries and a fascinating array of workshop/studios with artists happy to chat to visitors as they paint, carve, shape or mould.  So, this week VisitGozo blog went to meet a few of the artists bringing colour to our capital.

Artist, Bob Cardona

Bob Cardona is a familiar name in the Gozo arts community.  The painter, works out of his Prickly Pear Studio D’Art – just up from St George’s Basilica.

Although Bob is Maltese, he grew up in the UK studying art and interior design before embarking on a 40-year career as a designer; designing everything from furniture and retail interiors through to products.  Bob says it’s taken 38 years and a semi-retirement out to Gozo to get him back to painting art again, which he now does every Monday to Saturday from 10 until 2.00pm in his workshop/studio.

Anyone entering Bob’s workspace on the corner of Triq San Gorg is met with a riot of colour.  With such a diverse artistic background, it’s no surprise his paintings are bright, bold and attention grabbing. Whether it’s his dynamic impressionistic Gozitan landscapes, portraits or his bold realistic close ups magnifying the characterful colour of everyday life on the island.

Bob says: “My style is varied and in development, I just paint what inspires me as I’m learning and developing my style.  I can paint realism but want to loosen up and become more impressionistic.

He continues: “You can’t help but get inspired by Gozo’s dramatic landscape and amazing light, the skies here are bluer than anywhere I’ve ever seen.  You get beautiful huge cloud formations and amazing sunsets, which are stunning to watch but a challenge to paint.  The contrast of the light and shade here is amazing, especially at the end of the afternoon when you get the long shadows, everything is tinged with orange and our limestone really picks that up.”

Artist, Maria Cassar founded the Art E, Gallery in Library Street back in 2005 and says at the time they were one of Gozo’s first private galleries.  With exhibitions changing every 4 weeks, over the years, her gallery has shown work by many notable Gozitan and Maltese artists, as well as some international names too. 

Artist and Art E Gallery Founder, Maria Cassar

Maria says:  Artists will always be drawn to Gozo.  We have the sun, the weather, the light and when artists see the blue sky, if you are painting a landscape the reflections become so much more vivid because of the sun.   For us as a gallery, we enjoy the benefits of being part of Victoria’s Artisan District.  The public can walk straight into our exhibition and see what we are showing, and yet just a few streets away walk into another one and view very different art on display.  So, it is a great opportunity for tourists to experience art”.  

Art E gallery are nearing the end of their ‘Oħloq Inċizjoni’ exhibition, showcasing the workmanship and talent of students from Gozo’s Visual and Performing Arts School with a selection of their etchings made with the guidance of Justin Falzon. 

And from students to grand masters, Maria is already excited about her next exhibition, opening on 19th October and offering a rare chance for art lovers in Gozo to see artworks by renowned Maltese master artist, Carmelo Mangion.  Mangion, was one of Malta’s most interesting modern artists, but lived a very private life and rarely ever showed his paintings in public.  Since his death in 1997, his daughters have released selected artworks by Mangion for public viewing.

Sarah Maturin-Baird is a painter & mixed-media artist working with recycled materials, based out of Studio 38 (inside the Upstairs Gallery) on Triq is Suq in the heart of the Artists Quarter.

Sarah Maturin-Baird at work.

Sarah uses naturally sourced found material for her art, which she describes as ‘connected to the earth’, appealing to Sarah’s spirituality and her love for the island.  Sarah is passionate about Gozo’s magnificent healing energies, as well as the Goddesses and the ancient Neolithic history of Gozo.  

Originally from the UK, Sarah moved to Gozo seven years ago, after falling in love with the island while visiting on a daytrip.  In her Studio 38 workspace and gallery she displays an array of pieces; from dramatic murals painted onto driftwood, through to beautiful amulet jewellery made from beach-combed shells and healing Gozo crystal, gathered from our hillsides. 

Sarah says: “My degree was in textiles, so I love texture and the look of the crumbly stone in Gozo’s historic buildings, our light, the architecture, it’s really important to me.  My artworks with landmarks painted onto driftwood are popular and I think the aged texture of the wood adds to the character of these pieces, that’s why working with recycled materials is so rewarding.”

Sarah loves the camaraderie  of working out of the artisan district and says: “What with Art Hall Gallery at the bottom end, and Art E Gallery and Gallery 9 at the top of the other end, it’s creating a really interesting walk for visitors who like art and who want to see the making process, watching artists at work.  Considering Gozo is such a small island, we as artists are all very different – we are inspired by similar things and yet we all come at it from completely different angles.”

Wood Carver, Mark Tudose

Meet,Romanian craftsman Mark Tudose a wood carver who’s never happier than when inside his shop – chiseling away creating intricate wooden carvings.  Known locally and professionally as ‘Spoonman’ a visit to his shop next to St. George’s Basilica in Saint George Square is rather like stepping inside a welcoming Slavic fairytale, which is fitting as Mark believes the only way for a craft to survive is when it comes with a story behind it.

The art of spoon carving

He says: “It’s important for me being based in the Arts Quarter and having other artists close by and it’s great for visitors because in just a short distance they get to see so many different crafts.  I think of myself that I’m selling stories not objects – the guy who enters into my little shop, he has no idea that he will buy a carved wooden spoon for his mother, and this is actually what I like. because I help people discover what they are looking for”. 

‘Spoonman’s Shop’, opened in December 2018 and  is a testament to Mark’s talents with a chisel and paintbrush, from carved wooden bowls with brightly coloured inlays, detailed carved tables and stools, folksy fairytale houses to religious saints reverse painted using oil paints on glass and encased in beautiful beechwood frames –  not forgetting of course his wooden spoons.  

Inside Spoonman’s Shop

Mark started carving his intricate symbolic spoons after a Welsh friend asked him to make a lovespoon for a wedding (in Wales in the UK, it’s traditional for brides to be gifted a ‘love-spoon on their wedding day).  

Mark’s beautifully carved wooden spoons

Afterwards, Mark began carving elaborate designs using lime tree or plum tree wood and incorporating symbolic imagery.  He says:  My carved spoon featuring the rooster is called ‘the hope’ because he announces a fresh day every morning, and my owl spoon signifies ‘wisdom’ as she sees where people are not able to see and I also have the lovers spoon featuring two birds.  The dragon spoon is inspired by Chinese mythology, where dragons are seen as a protectors of their citadels, and so the carved dragon is a protector of the home carved underneath.  And of my little shop, I believe that any art without a story is unfinished and so every time I carve something I try to include symbols.”

Mark’s Grandfather taught him the craft of woodcarving and Mark believes working with wood is in his DNA.  Today he enjoys using his grandfather’s tools to continue this family tradition and is looking forwards to incorporating a teashop into the business, so customers can sit next to his carved wooden tables, sip tea and soak up the wonderful surroundings.

With thanks to:  Bob Cardona, Maria Cassar, Sarah Maturin-Baird and Mark Tudose.