Definition of ‘a busman’s holiday’: a form of recreation in which one does something very similar to what one does for a living.
One of my favourite ways to spend time in Gozo is aimless wandering through the back streets of Victoria, through the jumble of resplendent houses, from rickety-ramshackle to richly-renovated, that jostle for space along narrow streets. The streets twist and turn and take away your sense of direction so turn your back for a moment and find yourself surrounded by golden stone, lost in time and space beneath the colourful balconies and balustrades above your head. And here, deep in the heart of the old city streets where families have lived and worked for centuries, today there’s a burgeoning scattering of new artistic talent, a series of reinvented traditional spaces packed with contemporary art and craft bringing new life to these quirky streets. Each time I explore, the array of art is different giving these dusty backstreets a fresh front time and time again, whether that’s olive wood shelves in The Upstairs Gallery or a painting of fresh fish for the table by Sarah of Studio 38 that caught my eye.
And deep in this maze of streets yesterday, in the Prickly Pear Studio d’Art I met Bob Cardona whose series of paintings of old rusty cars captivated me, encompassing the quirky rustic charm of an island where you celebrate what you have with a self-sufficiency and an unapologetic make-do-and-mend attitude. The rust seems particularly appropriate here too, marking the passing of time in modern style in combination with Gozo’s elemental nature: although an island of magical stories, there’s no King Midas turning stone to gold. Instead the sea salt and humid air turns metal to rust in a single glance!
Bob himself was adding brushstrokes to a Gozitan fishing boat captured on canvas, above his head a shipwreck standing proud against a royal blue sky set on a golden wall. Below, delicate gems in reds, greens, turquoise and purple had been wrapped in delicate organic ‘orbits’ of precious metals by jeweller Mogg Robinson – her creations also combine gems and recycled silver in earthy ‘hewn’ rings, rich with a sense of the age-old rock below and you can visit her nearby studio ‘when the blue door is open’.
And [yes, in the Oxfordshire Artweeks hat] it’s the chance to explore the techniques and the inspiration that makes it such a privilege to visit a studio or meet the artist, the opportunity to discover the story of any unique piece, so I was thrilled to then come across, just around the corner, The Spoon Man!
In St George’s Square, new to the the shop which used to house Organika (which is now in It-Tokk), I met The Spoon Man Mark Tudose who moved to Gozo from Romania eighteen months ago. His intricately-carved wooden spoons are explicitly story-laden, the symbolism of his choice of birds or beasts adding a tale to his talented craftmanship . On the walls, his partner’s painted silhouettes look ripe with legends and folklore from East European forests, reminding me of Jan Pienowski’s acclaimed illustrations; and a series of pretty pocket-sized painted houses were begging to be bought and made into story-book villages for a new generation of tales bursting to be told in these alleys and lanes.