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In The Open | Anthony Catania & Jon Wrigley

Anthony Catania is a visual artist specializing in myths and fables. Often on the threshold of grotesque figurative painting, his style attempts to capture subversively idiosyncratic portraits of legendary beings embedded in bizarrely anachronistic settings. His personal exhibitions; Selve Oscure, The Cave of Centaurs, The Piper’s Requiem, Spectre-Bark and Last Light, were held at the Malta Museum of Fine Arts, the Malta Maritime Museum and Heritage Malta. In 2014, Catania graduated with a distinction in a Masters degree in Fine Arts (Digital Arts) at the University of Malta where he is presently undergoing Ph.D studies under the same tutorship of Dr Vince Briffa. Catania also worked as a concept designer for the indie game Will Love Tear Us Apart?, poster designer for Unifaun theatre productions and illustrator of academic book covers. He currently lectures on illustration, primitivism and sequential art at the University of Malta.

Jon Wrigley is a working photographer specialising in audiovisual and advertising practice.  His work in the audiovisual sector has taken him to Italy, England, Austria and Brazil, working on projects ranging from large historical and cultural shows to collaborations on art installations. Wrigley’s in-depth knowledge of production and post-production techniques both in analogue and digital, together with a vast experience of working on diverse advertising assignments in the studio and on location has led to commissions from national and multinational companies.  His passion for photography and thirst for knowledge is the driving force behind his work ethic; that is to strive to create quality imagery and to continue enjoying the process.

Returning the Gaze: An artist book with photographs by Jon Wrigley and text by Anthony Catania

The Lilliputian archipelago of Malta, positioned in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, is a junction of Orient and Occident. It is haunted by what Lehmann (2007) terms the “ghost of the Colonial Other” (p. 85) that permeates this incessant home, fortress and centre of trade to diverse cultures, all disseminating their own deaths on the palimpsest of both the physical and epistemological strata of its space. In Wrigley’s photographic collection entitled Returning the Gaze, the viewer is presented with stark images of particular monuments to this spectre, all situated on the confines of the Maltese preyed-upon landscape.

This project tracks an extensive series of the dura (Maltese bird trapper hide), as well as military watchtowers dating from the occupation of the Knights of St John and the Allied armed forces of the last war. The artist’s obsession in focusing our attention on these specific sites is posing fundamental questions, not only on Maltese cultural identity and landscape but also on humankind itself.

Through a natural subdued palette of sunless light, Wrigley’s subjective vision contemplates not only past histories and folklore but also current attitudes to the precarious state of the environment which the structures chosen are presiding over. Malta’s asymmetrical agricultural land vies for space against the increasingly urbanized landscape growth of the islands. Moreover, the countryside itself, Canute-like, cannot resist the uncontrollable hammering of fiercely raging seas and other decaying forces on the exposed rocks.

This artist’s book that showcases Wrigley’s complete series of the Returning the Gaze project together with a monograph that reflects upon the artists’ preoccupation with landscape, place, ecology and the environment. The essay investigates the artist’s vision via metaphors related to Lehmann’s “ghost of the Colonial Other” and by probing into visual aesthetics such as those propagated by Eugène Atget, Walker Evans and the New Topographics. Critical readings bring together theories on photography, the gaze, the dream, the “Actaeon complex,” Orientalism and Maltese architecture advanced by thinkers such as Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, Norman Bryson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Maurice Blanchot, Jean-Paul Sartre, Edward Said and Quentin Hughes.

Through Wrigley’s vehicle of the camera, which is expressing a phantasmagorical predicament for mortiferous analogies, the viewer becomes the mirror of the pilgrim travelling through the dismal marshes of Dante’s Hell and spies on the watchtower that guards the river Styx and signals to the ferryman of Death. These photographs are memento mori alluding to the Orphic myth where a gaze once attempted to transgress the command of the underworld god.