In the seventh article in a series on 20th-century artists who shaped Maltese modernism, Joseph Agius delves into the enigmatic world of Josef Kalleya.
Josef Kalleya (1898-1998) is undoubtedly one of the most enigmatic figures in the history of Maltese 20th- century art. His position as one of the two fountainheads of Maltese modernism, together with Carmelo Mangion (1905-1997), is undisputed.
A mixture of asceticism, spirituality, controversy, literature and theology come together in a universe that has no equivalent in our islands art history and that marks him as an innovator even in the more general backdrop of international 20th-century art.
Born in Valletta on March 27, 1898, Giuseppe Calleja received a formal education which ensured him of a fair degree of literacy. He had to change his name a couple of times along the years; first to Joseph Calleja to avoid confusion with the Maltese Nazarene painter bearing his same name. In the 1950s, he coined the name Josef Kalleya to avoid confusion with another Maltese artist, who was also a member of the three Maltese art groups of the 1950s. Besides, there was another Joseph Calleja (known also as Joe Calleia), who was a very successful Maltese actor and a star of Hollywoods silver screen.
Kalleya was involved with a theatrical group LAvvenir Infantile, the brainchild of youngsters of his age group. The theatrical company adopted a Commedia dellArte approach and a more improvisational outlook towards performance.
In his teens, he developed an interest in sculpture, painting and drawing. He sought proper instruction through Antonio Micallef, Lazzaro Pisani and Edward Galea. An apprenticeship with Giuseppe Duca and Ignazio Cefai exposed him to commissions to these artists originating from the Church and other patrons. Kalleya himself was personally commissioned for a pair of angels that were intended for the Ta Pinu Sanctuary in Gozo but the project got shelved as Kalleyas idea for them was deemed to be too modern for the taste of the patron.
The young artists meeting in 1913, or thereabouts, with Dun or Preca, a then young priest who founded the Catholic society known as M.U.S.E.U.M., was a life-changing episode. He became a fervent member of this society. However, his progressive views antagonised the ethos of the group. Eventually, by mutual consent, it was decided that he had to leave. But even in later years, he still felt not completely detached from the teachings of Dun or as their relevance to him ran more than skin deep.
The Church fuelled his spiritual needs although he felt at times to be at odds with its teachings. Its promise, its panacea of eternal salvation for its obedient flock, jarred with the eventuality of eternal damnation for heretics who revealed and believed in an alternative path to universal redemption.
The first seeds of Apokatastasis, the doctrine of Origen, had probably already been sown. This eventually flourished as the underlying concept that is the root of what Kalleya and his art are all about. Origen was an early Christian ascetic and theologian who postulated that there will be a universal non-exclusive redemption at the end of time, one that would also include Lucifer. According to Origen, all souls that have gone astray will be restored, sooner or later, to Gods embrace.
Kalleja was nearing his 30th birthday when he realised that his career as an artist here in Malta was stuck in a rut. At a rather mature age, he enrolled at Romes Regia Accademia di Belle Arti, the Regia Scuola della Medaglia and the British Academy, which were also situated in the Italian capital. During his stay in Rome, he met his future wife Elsa Ornaro, who was 20 years younger than him and whom he married just before returning to Malta.
He weaved a language that curbs misinterpretation
Once back, he transformed his small Valletta studio into an artistic venue which served as a meeting place for other artists and like-minded souls. This same place was also the site of the Libera Scuola del Nudo, which offered nascent Maltese artists the opportunity to study and paint nudes from life models rather than from plaster casts. This experiment was short-lived as the intransigent Maltese Church fell on it like a ton of bricks after receiving complaints from neighbours of the Scuola about the nefarious goings-on.
Various sculptors as diverse as August Rodin, Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore have been mentioned by Maltese art historians as possible sources of inspiration for Kalleya. However, the sculptor that bears most resemblance in some concepts and execution is Medardo Rosso (1858-1928). Kalleya must have come across his work while in Rome.
The Italian sculptors rough and spontaneous modelling is reminiscent of the Maltese artists technique. Rossos and Kalleyas sculptures appear to be deceptively unfinished, scratched, amorphous, primordial and magma-like, as though they are gestating towards other undetermined forms. These in-between states straddle the gap between the abstract and the representational.
Kalleyas work on paper, particularly that of the 1970s, demonstrates a Medardo Rosso sensibility as the Maltese artist introduced self-explanatory Cy Twombly-like text (which is also present in an early and 1935 work) to indicate the origin and philosophy behind a piece, as an aid in the deciphering of concepts and themes. Rosso also used photography as a medium of expression and linked it with his sculptural work.
Kalleya employed this technique too to give geographical context to his monumental creations in the vain hope that they would perhaps one day adorn public spaces; sadly, none of them ever did. He also photographed his sculptural work in plasticine to give a measure of permanence and posterity as he reused the same stock of material for other sculptures, resulting in their destruction. This ephemeral quality, this impermanence defines the sculptural output of the artist, some of which there is no further documentation of besides the photographical one as the same material had been kneaded and remoulded innumerable times. He was also known to leave the moist sculptures outside in his yard to be burnished come rain or shine.
The contextualisation, via his photographs, of extraordinary but improbable monuments in the spaces for which he conceived them, as well as the explanatory texts that accompany his paintings and works on paper, can be seen as Kalleyas utmost effort to document his self-expression for posterity. Thus, he weaved a language that curbs misinterpretation.
Twomblys scribbles are at times unintelligible, structureless and lack meaning as the message can be hard to decipher; at other times, the American artist tickles the viewers fancy by dropping a bombshell of bold text amid a landscape of scribbles, drips and blotches of colour. Kalleya stolidly delivers his Neoplatonist message of Apokatastasis and announces, like a playwright, the name and nature of the protagonists and their relationship to each other and his interpretation of them and their relationships.
Therefore, Jesus Christ, Lucifer, Origen, Dante Alighieri and his La Divina Commedia, John Milton and his Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Giovanni Papinis writings all play a vital role in this amalgam of theological and diverse literary sources that Kalleya the alchemist weaves into a very personal and unique viewpoint of creation, redemption and salvation. Papini was an Italian novelist/journalist who was an atheist, but later in life, converted to Christianity.
As expressed by Dominic Cutajar in his essay on Kalleya: It is thus not a coincidence that most of his sculptures have a clear spiral form, a twist that rotates upwards, similar to the spiral vortex believed by the Neoplatonists to lead all matter back to God, its origin and source.
Kalleyas art can be perceived as a quest, a prayer for an ultimate redemption and salvation that is universal and is non-exclusive a cosmos that resolves all chaos and that includes all, even Lucifer himself.
He lived to a ripe old age of 100, to be comforted on his deathbed by his wife, his numerous children and grandchildren.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.
Follow this link:
- Summer solstice spiritual meaning: What does the summer solstice mean in astrology? - Express.co.uk - June 20th, 2020
- Testing faith: Spirituality in the face of tragedy and COVID-19 in Nova Scotia - TheChronicleHerald.ca - June 20th, 2020
- Finding spiritual light in a lonely place - The Daily Universe - Universe.byu.edu - June 20th, 2020
- Stories and Spirituality Are Driving Passions for Confrontation Theatre's Artistic Director - Willamette Week - June 20th, 2020
- What is the spiritual meaning of the heart? - Aleteia IT - June 20th, 2020
- A Chance to Recharge Mentally, Spiritually and Emotionally - The New York Times - June 20th, 2020
- Young Adventist Wins Second Place in 'Voice of Bulgaria' With Spiritual Song - Adventist Review - June 20th, 2020
- International Yoga Day: The relevance of yoga and the benefits of incorporating it for spiritual growth - Times Now - June 20th, 2020
- Is Being Religious and LGBTQ+ Mutually Exclusive? - Advocate.com - June 20th, 2020
- Catholic composer David Haas accused of 'sexual battery' and 'spiritual manipulation' - Catholic News Agency - June 20th, 2020
- Kunal Kapoor: I think technology changes the world outside and spirituality changes the world inside - Times of India - June 20th, 2020
- Happy Monday 06/15 by The Power of Love Radio | Spirituality - BlogTalkRadio - June 20th, 2020
- Transported across the centuries at the feast day festival at the Baptistery of St John in Florence, Italy - Catholic Leader - June 20th, 2020
- International Day of Yoga 2020: A Brief History of This Spiritual Discipline And The Art of Living Healthy - India.com - June 20th, 2020
- Fit for Life: Physical, Spiritual and Emotional Health - GoLocal Worcester - June 20th, 2020
- Spirits over spirituality? |India Today Insight - India Today - June 1st, 2020
- Spirituality - June 1st, 2020
- Vatican official: Racism is 'spiritual' virus that must be wiped out - Catholic News Service - June 1st, 2020
- Are you a good spiritual mother to your children and your loved ones? - Aleteia EN - June 1st, 2020
- Joan of Arcs spiritual life propelled her to martyrdom - Aleteia IT - June 1st, 2020
- Why, More Than Ever, We Need Nurses as Spiritual Comforters - CBN News - June 1st, 2020
- SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: We cultivate our spiritual life - Herald-Banner - June 1st, 2020
- LETTERS: Connecting spiritual communities important, but only in safe ways - Sentinel Colorado - June 1st, 2020
- ELDER: Dealing with the reality of an unseen spiritual realm - Rockdale Newton Citizen - June 1st, 2020
- Informative New Book Answers Important Questions Around Politics and Climate Change as Related to the Spiritual World - GlobeNewswire - June 1st, 2020
- Religious, spiritual services allowed to continue in person as Washington state counties reopen - KUOW News and Information - June 1st, 2020
- Religion and Spirituality Books Preview: June 2020 - Publishers Weekly - June 1st, 2020
- Tending to Your Spiritual Well-Being - KSRO - June 1st, 2020
- This is what were for: LAPD officers call in spiritual backup during pandemic - Angelus News - June 1st, 2020
- National Philoptochos Responds With A Multi-Pronged Approach to Provide Financial, Emotional, Spiritual and Loving Support to Individuals and Families... - June 1st, 2020
- While some try to politicize wearing face masks, for me it's a spiritual practice - Baptist News Global - June 1st, 2020
- Our view: BSA spiritual care team among local heroes on front lines of virus battle - Amarillo.com - June 1st, 2020
- On the spirituality of quarantine - The Christian Century - May 15th, 2020
- Motherhood and spirituality - The Catholic Sun - May 15th, 2020
- Eustace Was a Dragon All Along: Aslan and Spiritual Growth in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - tor.com - May 15th, 2020
- Fight and win the spiritual battle | Faith | frontiersman.com - Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman - May 15th, 2020
- Launch of Center for Spiritual Imagination hailed as 'exactly what is needed in these times' - Episcopal News Service - May 15th, 2020
- Spiritually Speaking: We all must do our part - Wicked Local - May 15th, 2020
- AMERICAN THEATRE | Tom Key: A Spiritual Connection - American Theatre - May 15th, 2020
- In It Together! 05/14 by Angel Talk Cafe | Spirituality - BlogTalkRadio - May 15th, 2020
- Army Chaplains Getting Creative in Helping Soldiers with Personal, Emotional and Spiritual Challenges - CBN News - May 15th, 2020
- Doctor's Orders: The value of purpose and spiritual health - Daily Herald - May 15th, 2020
- Wong Kar-Wais In the Mood for Love Spiritual Sequel Back on Track with New Filming Plans - IndieWire - May 15th, 2020
- Which qualities of Lord Hanuman should be in a Spiritual Master? - Times Now - May 15th, 2020
- What Is The Spiritual Meaning Of Angel Numbers 1010 - YourTango - May 15th, 2020
- Front-line workers receive 'spiritual' boost with blessing of the hands - Long Island Catholic - May 15th, 2020
- I provide spiritual care at a Seattle hospital. Here's what that means during the coronavirus pandemic - KUOW News and Information - May 15th, 2020
- The beauty of spiritual motherhood, according to John Paul II - Aleteia IT - May 15th, 2020
- Free Webinar: Spiritual Discovery: How you can better the world" - Patch.com - May 15th, 2020
- Just Call Me Pastor: Strengths of head, heart and hand - La Grande Observer - May 15th, 2020
- The spirituality of science - Economic Times - May 9th, 2020
- Pope warns against spiritual mafias that blind the soul to God - Crux: Covering all things Catholic - May 9th, 2020
- Spiritual Care at the Front Lines of the Pandemic - Sojourners - May 9th, 2020
- The Amazing Health Benefits of Spiritual Wellness - Lasentinel - May 9th, 2020
- Spiritual editorial: Jesus meets us wherever we are - NorthcentralPa.com - May 9th, 2020
- Spiritually speaking: The inherent power of humility | Religion - The Philadelphia Tribune - May 9th, 2020
- Our emotional, spiritual, financial and physical health depends on safely reopening Washington now - The Reflector - May 9th, 2020
- Abandoned but never forgotten Millmoor the spiritual home of the Millers - Yorkshire Post - May 9th, 2020
- Word of the Week: Yogi, a word for the spiritually wise - Hindustan Times - May 9th, 2020
- Spirituality at the core of sax greats sound - Mail and Guardian - May 3rd, 2020
- Coronavirus Is Good News for the Wellness Industry - VICE UK - May 3rd, 2020
- What does it mean to be spiritually blind? - Journal Review - May 3rd, 2020
- Hello, this is... podcast | Gaur Gopal Das on spirituality in times of a global pandemic - Moneycontrol.com - May 3rd, 2020
- Hello! This is... | Spirituality in times of a global pandemic - Moneycontrol.com - May 3rd, 2020
- Health and compassion for the mind and spirit - Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber - May 3rd, 2020
- In this episode, The Filter taps into the spiritual - Flatland - May 3rd, 2020
- Spirituality and Reading.. On The Hangout Hour - hcam.tv - May 3rd, 2020
- The Spiritual Treadmill - The Sunday Guardian - May 3rd, 2020
- Pentecostals and the spiritual war against coronavirus in Africa - The Conversation Africa - May 3rd, 2020
- With knowledge from past outbreaks, many Indigenous people return to traditional medicines - Winnipeg Free Press - May 3rd, 2020
- Plan ahead for how you will continue working on your spiritual life once the lockdown is lifted - Aleteia EN - May 3rd, 2020
- What spiritual retreats can teach us about the challenges of lockdown - The Conversation UK - May 3rd, 2020
- Building Spiritual Readiness in the Time of COVID-19 - United States Army - April 15th, 2020
- NCR readers share how they keep spiritually grounded, part three - National Catholic Reporter - April 15th, 2020
- Stay Safe by Practicing Religion and Spirituality from Home - Merrillfotonews - April 15th, 2020
- COVID-19 and the Spiritual Life | Dale M. Coulter - First Things - April 15th, 2020
- Spiritual Health Matters in the COVID-19 Crisis - MedicineNet - April 15th, 2020
- Chaplains and Spiritual Care in Hospitals During the Coronavirus Pandemic - The New Yorker - April 15th, 2020
- Special Report: Welcome to the New Age of Spiritual Luxury - Highsnobiety - April 15th, 2020
- Peace and Spirituality in Times of Fear and Gossip - RiverBender.com - April 15th, 2020