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Neville Ferry - Myth, Magic and Mystery   Print  E-mail 
Submitted by Artissa Administrator  
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In this feature, we have combined a very well written art critique, together with a biography of this artist, both written by E.V. Borg, to produce, what we are sure will be a very interesting read. Since both the critique and the biography are very detailed, we have split the feature into two pages to ease your read.

Neville Ferry is holding a very intriguing exhibition in the Sta. Lucia Gardens (Malta) as from the 3rd of July 2005.

[Discuss this artist in the forum]

Neville FerryHallow, sacred, sacral and precious are the first epithets that come to mind confronted by Neville Ferry’s ‘objects’ or ‘stones’ in space. The titles he has given to his rich collection of works expose his vision and concept, unravel the source of his effervescent inspiration, emphasise the drumbeat message his works suggest and convey.

Torso 4The works are elemental, primordial, primitive, rough and uncouth. They resemble nature or better still they evoke nature’s message – strong, vibrant and triumphant. They are nature itself. They are rocks or stones or ceramics with the property and propensity of stone. They are pebbles or sizeable chunks of our garigue. If only stones could speak. But his do speak! They are eloquent testimony to man’s primitive instinct and expression of sentiment and emotion. His is a symbolism not of numbers but of textures. His dialectic is texture, tactile and tangible.

Shrine 1No wonder the charismatic mystic Bernard of Clairvaux writes repeatedly in his letters that: ‘We learn more in the woods than we do from books. The trees and the rocks will teach you things you cannot learn elsewhere’. Neville surely subscribes to the vital properties rocks have.

Rocks and mountains have character. Like man they age and deteriorate. Erosion makes them old. Lashed and battered by rain, wind and extremes of temperature they become gouged, pitted, scratched, dented and corrugated. Stratification reveals the story of time. Neville’s ‘stones’ ring like bells, they clang and peel.

Goddess 2Neville Ferry (1945-) is a colourful individual with a streak of characteristic good humour, a ready smile and chuckle and a barbed wit often bordering on sarcasm. This intellectual critical trait is apparent in his work and often enough his art is a critical comment, a satiric jibe or deep reflection on life around him.

Neville Ferry was born in Malta. Since 1968 he has exhibited widely both locally and abroad and by 1970 he had already participated in an exhibition outside our shores – the IV Biennale International de Arte de Ibizia and was preparing for his studies in the United Kingdom.

Torso 3The artist’s first love was archaeology. Over the years to his initial love Neville added mythology and auxiliary disciplines like psychology, anthropology, ethnography, sociology, comparative religion and religious history. And he must have realised the truth in Arthur Cotterell’s dictum that ‘Mythology possesses an intensity of meaning that is akin to poetry’.

Let nature be your master and poetry will melt your heart away. Neville’s inspiration is our megalithic culture but especially the temple of Mnajdra. This enclave is a time tunnel, an escape into infinity. Standing on the cliff edge you can hear the sea breaking on the rocks and distance renders the sound just a caressing whisper of ‘truth’ – nature’s language. The cool inland breeze blowing from over the sea softly fingers and tickles the megaliths and dampens your parched lips with brine.

Menhir 1 (Back)The salty taste, the smell of wild thyme, the buzzing of bees and the scent from wild flowers according to season act like opium or balsam. The night sky studded with stars, the August dew falling like rain, sunrise and sunset, changing season, the cry of seagulls, the music of silence stimulate sacral meditation. The spell becomes a reverie, food for man’s expression. Neville imitates nature as art is possession and speaks through his stones.

After Neville studied painting and sculpture at the Malta Government School of Art on a part-time basis he was awarded a scholarship to study ceramics in the U.K. The artist was already deeply involved with local megalithic art and monuments before he left the Island. Most of his work is in fact inspired by megalithic temples in Malta, a theme according to the artist that has been very close to his heart over the years. And quite related and relevant is his salient assertion: ‘I do not attempt to reproduce artefacts or megaliths, but instead I deal with the aura created by these structures’. Neville is after interpretation not imitation.

Shrine 3In October 1971 he started his studies at Croydon College of Art. After a year there he proceeded to Loughborough College of Art and Design (1972-75) to specialise in ceramics where he obtained a B.A. with First Class Honours (B.A. Hons.) in Art and Design. The theme of his thesis – Symbolism in African Art – demonstrates his early interest in signs and symbols and of relating and applying his vernacular studies to international culture. He was also awarded the Licentiateship of the Society of Design-Craftsman. In 1975 he held his first personal exhibition at Gallery 359, in Nottingham, U.K.

On his return to the Island he continued to foster his love for Stoneage art and architecture. He has taken part in experimental studies on our megalithic temples and their alignment with his hard-working colleagues Paul I. Micallef (1931-95) and Alfred Xuereb. The author often took part in such studies. The observations on these studies were published in ‘Stoneage Viewpoint’, a California publication edited by Donald Cyr. These studies are food for though for the artist.

Goddess 4The texture he recreates is redolent with symbols, a direct result of the four elements: earth (clay), fire (the kiln), water and air (light and space). The four elements are physical forces helped by time, by mother nature – the four seasons, by day, night, dawn, and dusk, by the sun, moon, stars and planets. So to his textural symbolism he adds that of numbers.

ShrinesNature, time and space are man’s best friends, man’s educators. Neville demonstrates such wisdom in the textures of his stones covered with the patina produced by millennia – eroded, pitted, scratched, polished, covered with lichen and moss, reflecting the colour of the soil, minerals and environment including passing clouds and steadfast firmament. As in Hopkins’ poetic strain: pied beauty – stippled, dappled and freckled.

Andre Malraux stated that the raison d’etre of the Romanesque style was to ‘transform signs and symbols giving them life through the manifestation of a spiritual truth that the universe reveals unconsciously and which it is man’s duty to bring to light’. Through a similar process Neville exploits texture, the tell-tail sign on stones to reveal the miracle of creation.

‘Forms come before images and ideas. Ideas divide us. Forms bring us together. Forms can comfort and heal. They satisfy our profoundest need. This is not the need to understand. It is the magical need to ‘feel’ that we understand’. In such assertion Francesco Clemente (1952-) reveals the power emanating from forms, the same power expressed by Neville’s megalithic forms. They are a universal language that comforts and heals. This ‘feeling’ of understanding that exudes from the stones is therapy to the soul and spirit of man. Fulfilment follows quickly.

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