PAWLU GRECH: A LIFE IN ART
Although art is an eminently practical pursuit, the work which results from the activity of an artist is gauged differently from that which a practitioner of other practical disciplines, such as the conventional professions, is engaged in. In fields of human activity such as these, the work of a practitioner is valued solely in terms of its material benefit to society. Hence, the importance of a medical practitioner, for instance, lies in his or her ability to cure sick people of their illnesses. Conversely, the value of an artist’s work lies in its capacity to bring to the fore some aspect of the covert spiritual life of mankind thereby allowing members of society other than the artist himself or herself to experience such a dimension for their personal enrichment.
When the focus of attention is shifted away from the work or works of art to the life of the artist, it is not surprising to notice a constant clear pattern in the lives of many illustrious exponents of the different art mediums. This pattern includes a long period of strenuous activity during which the individual is intensely involved in the public life associated with the art practiced and experiments with a variety of new forms and ideas in an attempt to gain some sort of freedom from past tradition. Depending on the artist’s life span, this period covers the early adolescent years and a large part of adulthood. It is followed by a shorter but not less important period of distillation, when the artist, having developed an artistic personality all his or her own shuns the public platform and embarks on a solitary single-minded inner journey along the path delineated by the artistic ideas and principles that have come to shape his or her individual style.
It is in the very course of this important period of his artistic development that Pawlu Grech, Maltese painter and musician of ‘some’ international reputation, is now to be found “enjoying the quiet solitude” of his studio in Attard, a modern Maltese
village in which he has been living for some time after his return to the island in 1986 following the long active period of his career spent abroad. Intending to stay away from the turbulence and volatility of the public world of the arts and concentrate on his artistic work as best as possible, Pawlu chose to do this in Malta, a miniscule country culturally and geographically situated on the fringes of the international art scene, (and incidentally his homeland) where, not surprisingly, he keeps a consistently low profile in spite of, or rather, by virtue of his widely recognized dual expertise in the arts.
Those whose privilege it is to know Pawlu personally are invariably struck by the simplicity and joviality of his character as well as by the seriousness and discipline of his approach to his work and to life in general. In this rich yet essential amalgam of psychological and existential traits, one finds a perfect reflection of Grech’s art, an art at once intimate and profound. It is therefore quite startling to discover behind this idyllic and almost timeless picture of Grech’s current life as an artist, a personal history replete with life changes and events unfolding over several years well away from Malta’s shores.
Born on the 20th of February 1938, the first important step in Grech’s artistic career came when, aged fifteen, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the prestigious musical institution, ‘Conservatorio Santa Cecilia’ in Rome. Grech was to spend as many as ten years studying at the Conservatorio, winning acclaim for his remarkable talent, manifested notably in the originality and boldness of his early compositions. While in Rome, Grech also furthered his studies in painting at the ‘Scuola Galli’, now closed.
His stay in the ancient Italian capital, then in the throes of great cultural and artistic upheavals was also marked by some personal associations with a few of the major protagonists of this period of profound changes in the musical field, namely, the Italian conductor Franco Ferrara and composers Luigi Dallapiccola and Luciano Berio. Equally momentous in its symbolic significance was Grech’s meeting with Igor Stravinsky, a giant figure in twentieth century music and a strong influence at the time on Grech’s musical development and on that of the whole Western musical tradition. While perusing and positively commenting on a score of one of Grech’s early works, the Russian composer, intrigued by Grech’s unusual Maltese origins, inquired about the Maltese word for Grech’s forename. At the end of their meeting, Stravinsky wrote a personal dedication to “Pawlu Grech” on a score of one of the works most admired by Grech, the symphonic poem “Chant du Rossignol”, and, thenceforth, it was by this forename that Grech chose to have himself referred to in both public and private circles.
Grech’s stay in Rome, the first stage of his artistic formation, came to an end in 1964, when, after having obtained his piano diploma two years earlier, he was awarded a scholarship to pursue further training in his two favourite branches of music, orchestral conducting, and composition in London. Grech cultivated his skills in the former at the Royal Academy of Music and the Trinity College where he followed conducting courses. The rapid progress he made in mastering this very complex branch of musicianship earned him the Ricordi Prize for conducting in 1965 London, and an invitation by the London BBC to conduct the English Chamber Orchestra in 1968. Grech’s interest in composition found a highly fertile pasture in Hans Keller, the renowned Austrian musicologist, with whom he studied modern compositional techniques from 1968 to 1971. This association developed into a veritable mentorship for Grech, which was to profoundly influence and spur his continued evolution as a musician. Grech’s works, the tangible fruits of this partnership, were broadcast in Britain on the London BBC radio as well as in other countries such as Italy and Germany during the late 1970s and throughout the following decade. Meanwhile, Grech’s career in painting also flourished during his stay in London after a long period of silent germination in Rome. After taking part in two collective exhibitions in the late 1960s, in 1985 Grech was granted the unique opportunity of displaying his works in the halls of the Yehudi Menuhin School at Cobham in Surrey. Furthermore, an important exhibition untitled “In Praise of Small Format in Contemporary Art” held in Paris at the Centre Culturel Christiane Peugeot in December 2002 also featured some of Grech’s paintings.
In 1986, Grech, then at the height of his artistic maturity and equipped with an enviable portfolio of artistic works and vision, returned to Malta to focus on his creative life in the tranquil and sultry Mediterranean atmosphere of his native country. Here, he is also an active pedagogue, teaching a private circle of students in both music and painting. Far from fading into oblivion, his long and successful artistic career abroad was crowned, in February 2000, with the title of “CHEVALIER ACADÉMIQUE” by the Accademia Internazionale Greci-Marino Accademia del Verbano di lettere, arti, scienze of Vinzaglio in Italy.