Feeling the blues – and golds – of Gozo
Yvonne Gordon discovers how local artists explore the vibrant colours of the landscape on the Mediterranean island of Gozo
“Once a photographer comes to the island, they realise the colour of the sea,”says artist John Grech, as he holds a piece of grey steel, shaped like a fish. He’s adding colour to it – painting it with a vibrant blue colour that brings it to life, a blue he says that is distinctive to the island of Gozo. “When you see a film or photo, you can recognise that it was shot here,” he says.
John is an artist and metalworker who works from a workshop and shop, Inkwina, at the Ta’ Dbieġi Crafts Village in San Lawrenz, to the north west of the island. As he paints, he tells me why the blue of the sea of the Mediterranean island has a strong influence on his work.
“The sea is a strong asset for an artist. Apart from the beauty, the sea is quite a mystery. Every morning and every evening, you can see a different picture,” he says.
After talking to John, the strong colours of Gozo, the island next door to Malta in the centre of the Mediterranean, seem to stand out when I’m exploring – the blue of the sea, the unusual red sand beaches and the light gold limestock rock that all the buildings and stone walls are made of.
The colour of the sea is a strong theme. Gozo, an almost circular shaped island, has 43km of coastline surrounded by sea and the clear water and limestone rock reflections produce an array of blues, turquoises and greens in the water.
The first time I notice the rich, deep blue colour is at Wied il-Miela Window, while looking down past the massive limestone rock arch into the sea. At the centre of the arch is a natural window that, over the years, has got bigger and bigger from erosion. The sun shines into the clear water below the arch, reflecting off the limestone to create a rich blue colour. To get here, we’ve come down a long, dusty track lined with dry stone walls and prickly pear trees, on the north end of the island. It’s a little off the beaten path, but the limestone arch most visitors to Gozo are familiar with is the Azure Window, another giant limestone rock arch, at Dwejra near San Lawrenz.
The word ‘azure’ refers to the colour of a clear blue sky, and the water under the arch, thanks to sunlight reflecting off the limestone, is a deep blue which joins the blue of the sky visible through the window.
Just beside the Azure Window is another famous Gozo blue – the Blue Hole – a 20m-deep diving spot full of crystal clear water, rock caves and an underwater coral garden. When I look down from above, there’s a diver floating on the deep blue surface, looking into the depths. About halfway down the hole, divers can swim through a passageway out to the sea.
At Dahlet Qorrot, the quieter fisherman’s bay, boathouses are hewn into the layer of Globigerina limestone and some of the the doors are painted bright blue, to contrast with the light green shallow waters of the bay, a popular swimming spot for locals.
Back in the craft village, John (44) who started his art 30 years ago, making decorative items with metal – from ornaments to lampshades and candle holders – says that the sea inspires his work.
“I like to go on a nice evening with the family and stare out to sea. That inspires me. Things come quite naturally when I choose the colours,” he says. “I like to transmit nature in my art. Steel is usually presented in dark colours but I like to give it life and create some movement in the designs. I want colours to reflect our character, the blues, reds and greens.”
Gozo is a small island, there are no airports, no motorways, no train lines and you get there by ferry, passing yet another famous blue, the Blue Lagoon of Comino. You can swim, dive, snorkel or kayak in the blue sea; climb the golden rocks, walk the red sands of Ramla or San Blas bays.
“These places are something magical,” says John, and it’s clear the magic of the landscape is reflected in his work. “Steel is not an easy commodity to work with. But anything you do for the steel is like magic, once you touch steel, it’s something magic, it’s not easy to let go. It becomes part of you.”
After just a few days, I feel just the same about Gozo.