|FANTASY IN STONE
MARK ANASTASI (1961-)
Structures, castles, towers, ramps, tiers, spiral and rectilinear flights of steps that reach upward towards the clouds and sky above. Echoes, or an interpretation of the hanging gardens of Babylon, the tower of Babel, the architectural structures carved in the rock at Petra, picturesque terraced fields hanging from the cliff face at Mtahleb, Malta or in China carved in soft ‘globigerina’, honey coloured limestone. These structures of modules in repeated clusters, in tiered ziggurats and pyramids reach upward in an architectonic balance of spaces, volumes and forms.
Mark Anastasi is a sculptor imbued with a musical flair for form. His works emanate rhythm, harmony, cadence and nuance. He is a fantastic dreamer with a natural inclination towards hewing ‘franca’ or ‘globigerina’ (Malta) stone. His obsession, his fixation is so overwhelming that it leaves him breathless, hardly able to wean away from it. He seems prolific for he contracted such fixation in a sudden and abrupt manner and since then has created continuously and assiduously. It descended on him like a traumatic bout that dominates and dictates his moods, that clears everything in its path.
Mark’s work is like a maze of passages, a labyrinth similar to the underground caves at Knossos of the legendary and mythological Minotaur. He carves into the stone like a bookworm, like a woodworm – catacombs and hypogea terraced and multi-layered without weakening the block. He cuts, hews, carves and sculpts as if one possessed, inspired by the ‘daemon’, modelling with verve and élan quite unique until he arrives at the core. The end result is an arabesque tracery or decorative lace, the honeycomb quality of a coal-mine with the relentless risk, enthusiasm and fever of an adventurer, explorer, researcher or navigator in a jungle, forest or ocean.
His frenzied efforts resemble those of a mystic trying to unravel the mystery of creation, ‘The Celestine Prophecy” or the endless search for truth, but, since such yearning is relative, highly illusive and vague he hardly obtains satisfaction or relief. Thus the process becomes endless, infinite and irreversible.
One of the works resembles structured salt pans, organised vertically like waterfalls. Every pan or saucer rests on pillars or stalagmites of the one below it. On its flat top or plateaux the observer discovers the ruins of massive fortifications. Castles, towers, bastions, keeps, caves, minarets, steeples or bell-towers fascinate the artist.
In one of his works he is inspired explicitly by a mosque and its minarets, by Islamic architecture. He carves in its minarets innumerable perforations that resemble a honeycomb, Ementhal or Swiss cheese. Such structure is quite oriental. Yet Mark is not tied to a specific influence; rather he is inspired by a wide variety of cultures including those of ancient civilisations and South American styles: Inca, Maya and Aztec. He skilfully grafts different cultures into architectural hybrids of local bastions and lookout post with those of distant Syria, Persia and the orient.
Beside architectural, geometric and schematic forms and shapes Mark interprets anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms. His ‘male nude’ is perhaps one of his best works, considering its strength in its simplicity and economy. The man, in a crouching position, covering his ears is quite symbolic. It seems that the cacophony of this absurd and mad world is so deafening that he has lost all sense of orientation, of stability. Confused he feels isolated, emarginated, completely ostracised. He seems losing his grip on the rock under him, revealing that he is losing his hold on reality, underlining his instability, uncertainty and irritability.
‘Lizards’ is a work of pure fantasy and imagination that represents reptiles sun-bathing on a textured and rough stone. The stone is pitted like the jambs of the trilithons in our megalithic temples. The reptiles are basking in the hot, blinding desert sun and their oscillatory movement intimates a tribal dance with macabre undertones. The circular and curvilinear movements seem the result of witchcraft, of a spell or curse, so grotesque and surreal. The rock strata are folded, rounded and cylindrical with parallel faults, ravines or chasms. The repetition of folds creates a pattern with a musical and harmonic rhythm that weaves into the beat of this choreographic happening. The artist trespasses into the enclaves of metaphysical dimensions.
In this facet or mood Mark’s works become phantasmagoria, monstrous and even grotesque and burlesque. In this manner Mark carves a grafting of human masks in an acute surrealism. The labyrinth or maze changes into a simple, logical and contained surrealism: a still life in ‘globigerina’ – two alcohol bottles, a brandy glass and a stopper made of cork. This metaphysical creation has an affinity with that employed by Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) in his interpretation of containers and receptacles. Perhaps the suffused softness, the smooth polished surface, the cold powdery whiteness of the stone act in concert on our psyche and metamorphose the physical, realistic and tangible qualities of the fragile material into a surreal entity.
Mark Anastasi was born in Sliema in 1961. He is a professional restorer of old farm- houses and buildings and therefore his love of architecture runs in his blood. He has learnt photography through practice and enjoys playing musical instruments and composing music. This talent for music is the basis of carving stone. Before taking up sculpture Mark specialised in breeding reptiles but presently he concentrates on his art. With the help of the internet Mark’s work has become quite popular with gallery directors and private viewers who admire and appreciate his fantastic creations.
2001. 12. 13.
E. V. Borg