Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005)
The Lace Makers
The Lace Makers by Antoine Camilleri was recently purchased from an auction at Obelisk Auction House, Attard in 2018.
We know that the lino print formed part of a local art collection prior to its purchase. A reliable source working at the auction house said that this particular artwork was originally given to an anonymous friend of the artist in lieu of rental fees. The friend offered his place in Gozo rent-free during a period when Antoine Camillieri was strapped for cash; as a thank you, Camilleri left this work in his apartment. The family of the original owner consigned this work to auction.
The Lace Makers, is one of a series of lino prints exploring trades and crafts in Malta by artist Antoine Camillieri (1922-2005) which also happens to focus the light on Maltese women (fig. 1). In this artwork one can witness two women in front of a typical rubble wall; one is looking at the other crafting traditional Maltese Lace (Bizzilla). The work was produced after a monochrome photograph of the two women and perfectly captures Camilleri’s intelligent compositional eye. It also highlights the importance of simplified linear design which he favoured in his work. The work’s condition requires attention and reframing is highly encouraged.
The Lace Makers by Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005) represents two old women, one of whom is shown making traditional Maltese Lace (Bizzilla) (fig. 1). The woman on the right rests the lace pillow on a chair, while the woman on the left holds a plate. They are seated in front of a traditional Maltese rubble wall, known as ħajt tas-sejjieħ. The work was produced after a monochrome photograph of the two women which is not uncommon for Camilleri’s work (fig. 2). While Camilleri preferred to draw from live models, he often used photos as a source of inspiration or a frame of reference. Camilleri adapted the photograph for the lino printing medium by distilling the most important lines and features of the women which aim to capture the mood of the photo.
Camilleri constantly repeated themes, compositions in various media and revisited past work thereby engaging in a transformative process with each repetition. The printing process is in itself a repetitive one. Artists often produce editions of the same work including Camilleri who often replicated his prints. However, he did not stop there, The Lace Makers was reinterpreted in Camilleri’s unique clay and resin technique (fig. 3). The artist made only slight compositional changes to fit the new medium however, the subject matter, the general mood and the women’s expressions remain the same. He is involved in two transformative actions, first from photograph to lino print then from photograph to clay, each time making subtle changes to suit the medium.
The repetitive nature of prints usually requires artists to adhere to a numbering sequence to justify their originality. However, Camilleri rarely followed a strict numbering sequence in the production of his prints. Rather during the height of his lino printing production, in the 1970s, the artist experimented with the technique rendering each print slightly different to the one that came before. He was fond of experimentation, once saying
‘To succeed in painting, one must always experiment and create new methods and designs it is useless to always dig in the same pit.’
One might say Camillieri was constantly searching to ‘create new methods’, dutifully refining his own artistic voice and looking for freedom within an established technical boundary. He is searching for freedom within an established technical boundary. A study of Camilleri’s entire oeuvre of lino prints will immediately expose their ‘imperfect’ quality. He experimented with the application of the ink on the lino board, at times using a paint brush or a sponge, the result of which produced irregular streak marks in the final product. Teaspoons too featured as part of his studio paraphernalia; once again he would transfer the ink to the paper, paying little attention to creating a ‘perfect’ end-product. Perhaps best exemplified in Lost in Thought, where the ink would have been applied with a paint brush (fig. 4). He pushed the technique even further with his experimentation using putty as seen in Self-Portrait, where he pressed the putty into the lino board to create a bas-relief mould of his effigy (fig. 5). A comparison of the lino print and clay work reveal that the two were produced from the same board (fig. 6). Ultimately each edition produced by Camilleri would have been different, limiting the need to adhere to a numbering sequence. He would also layer colours on the same page using the same lino board, which is rather unconventional in the lino printing technique (fig. 6).