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Gabriel Caruana - Demise of a pioneer of modern art in Malta
18 Jul 2018

Gabriel Caruana, a pioneer of modern art in Malta passed away on the 17th July 2018 at the age of 89. He was the protagonist of the BOV Retrospective Exhibition in 2001, which had been curated by Richard England.

Born in 1929, Gabriel Caruana is considered as one of Malta’s most inventive artists. HIS original approach to the art of ceramics has earned him high esteem on the international scene. Caruana remains, however, an artist whose creations are derived from the spirit of place of his native land. Utilising metaphor and memory to delve deep into the roots of his island home, his works echo the vast panorama of the layers of Malta’s particularly rich iconography throughout the ages. His inspiration is drawn from a combination of both popular art traditions and the architectural built-form of the land.

Foreward to the Catalogue of the BOV Retrospective Exhibition 2001

“The art of Gabriel Caruana is remarkable for its complete subjective spontaneity and for its enduring rebellious spirit of non-conformity. In his hands, the malleable clay assumes shapes to be found soley in his imagination, that yet manages to register and echo impression of his own native landscape and cultural environment. More than a proper solid form, it embodies a captured moment of visible fluidity that at times has been described as a rococo effervescensce – an unmistakable personal trait that has made Gabriel Caruana a truly unique artist.”

Joseph F.X. Zahra
Ex-Chairman – Bank of Valletta

Pioneer of modern art dies

Times of Malta – 18th July 2018

Renowned artist and ceramist Gabriel Caruana, who passed away on Monday, aged 89, was described by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as one of Malta’s “greatest artists of all time”.

Mr Caruana, known primarily for his ceramics and sculptures, was one of the country’s most accomplished artists and a pioneer in the modern art scene.

Last December, the title of Master of Letters – Honoris Causa was bestowed upon Mr Caruana in absentia by the University of Malta. In his oration, Richard England said: “All too often, artists spend much of their time constructing intellectual barriers between their art product and the public at large.

“Not so Caruana. His works stand for what they are... even if they evoke mystical metaphors. Whatever the evocations, the final work always echoes an ancestral Mediterranean tillage pregnant with all its mystical legends and myths.”

Throughout his long artistic career, Mr Caruana held solo exhibitions across Europe and had works exhibited in shows around the globe.

His early training in Malta was followed by travel and studies in Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Early in his career, Mr Caruana showed a marked preference for the international modern art movement and became one of the pioneers of modern art, expressing himself in innovative sculptures in wood, papier mâché, objets trouvés, paintings and ceramic.

He was a driving force to convert the old mill on Naxxar Road, Birkirkara, into a modern art centre. He was the founding member of a foundation, bearing his name, which seeks to promote local artists. Over the years, he received a number of awards and achievements, including a national medal for artistic achievement in 1999. He received the Premju Għarfien Kulturali from the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts in 2003.

Further recognition came from the Malta Society for Arts in 2014, when he was given a gold medal for his contributions as an artist and art educator.

Art enthusiasts and aficionadas took to social media to pay tribute to Mr Caruana. Writing on Twitter, Culture Minister Owen Bonnici  said Mr Caruana had “achieved greatness through his distinct courage to challenge the status quo”.

The Valletta 2018 Foundation described him as “a giant of modern art of the 20th century and one of the best ceramists”.


A humble ceramicist

Malta has lost an important ceramicist. I do hope Gabriel Caruana will be honoured in the manner he deserves. I knew him from the 1970s, having first met him on a flight to Italy while I was on my way to Florence for an art exhibition. He always encouraged me in my work and appreciated my enthusiasm.

When I founded the art club Ngħinu Bl-Arti in Valletta, he was named Artist of the Year.

His many works can be found both in Malta and overseas. Yet he was a humble artist, with long experience, even in teaching. He never resorted to self-publicity notwithstanding his evident artistic talent.

I can only write these few lines but I am certain his students will write more about his great talent, which was acknowledged internationally. Let us thank God for giving us an artist who used his talent to boost art.

Philippe Agius


A mythical cartographer

With the demise of Gabriel Caruana, Malta has lost its most iconic contemporary artist, an institutional master ceramicist and sculptor. Caruana was an avant-garde, inspirational, innovative, mercurial giant, the last survivor of a group of artists of the likes of the Apap brothers, Cremona, Camilleri, Portelli, Chircop, Mangion, Barthet, Preca and Kalleja, who initiated and pioneered Malta’s Modern Art scene in the renaissance period of the middle of the last century.

He will be remembered as a perennial, everactive, mythical cartographer, who reinvented himself with each work, and for his prodigious and gargantuan outpouring. Above all, one will recall the luminosity of his character, his enthusiasm and generosity, all characterised by an overwhelming mantle of humility.

The nation has lost an illustrious and eminent personality and I, a dear and much-loved friend. To his wife, Mary Rose, and daughters, Raffaella and Gabriella, I offer my sincere and deepest condolences. He is gone, but his memory will live on in the legacy of his works; they will speak for him for many years to come.

Richard England

To download the Times of Malta Article, click here

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