The Artist Gallery – From Tradition to Self-Expression
This mural formerly decorated the lobby of Mellieħa Bay Hotel. It represents workers engaged in local trades and crafts such as fishing, spinning cotton, weaving, pottery, water carrying and selling vegetables, thus representing aspects of Maltese identity. Portelli was an innovator in Malta’s artistic scene, finding his own niche by catering for the booming tourism industry. He also applied his artistic skills and style to design, particularly of interiors.
Portelli’s audacity as an artist determined to break the mould is testified by his use of the international style of Crystal Cubism, a form of Cubism which bloomed in the period around the First World War. The style was particularly appropriate for this mural because, while Portelli often depicted the subject of workers, he is here primarily concerned with formal rather than figurative aspects. Serving as a backdrop to the ‘crowd' of portraits in the first part of ‘The Artist’ Galleries, the fact that Portelli treats such a theme in the visually innovative way that he did, and when Malta had just gained Independence in 1964, makes this mural a forceful statement of the island anchoring its peculiar characteristics and customs.