There is a defining honesty to Anna Calleja’s work. In this collection of paintings and prints, she retires to the comfort and melancholy of home. Calleja takes us right into her home, she shows us her closest loved ones and uncovers objects burdened with private stories. Calleja disarms the viewer with the domestic space, drawing us in by familiarity to express themes that are universal.
The title of the exhibition, ‘Homebound’, holds a dual meaning, a return to home but also being confined to home. Not only does this duality reflect upon Calleja’s personal experience, her return to Malta after 3 years of living abroad, but the more universal experience of the global pandemic, as the domestic space has become both a haven and a cage.
While the work is autobiographical, Calleja draws influence from a variety of sources. She harks back to artists she admires, references historic tropes in figurative painting and revisits the childhood certainty of fairy tales; sleeping figures, lost shoes, misted mirrors and domestic happy-ever-afters.
These references are loaded with meaning to Calleja. She looks back to her own notions of comfort to confront an anxious present and grapple with an uncertain future. The dominating sense of stillness slows down the fast-paced world outside that relies on constant productivity. This is emphasized by the sensitive attention to textural detail throughout the body of work.
Sleeping figures and animals are almost suspended between a nostalgia for the past, and an uncertainty for the future. While the world grows ever more turbulent, divisive and moves steadily towards climate crises, the cat passively sleeps on, as do we.
The safe haven that Calleja depicts is occasionally permeated by the outside world. Still figures gaze into their phones, captivated by the endless stream of the virtual world that both connects us and divides us. They are transported far beyond the walls of the home, escaping the quiet claustrophobia into the noisy online world. Video calls connect loved ones. There is a closeness in the distance as two faraway lands cohabit a composition.
The use of tactile traditional media, oil painting, printmaking and drawing, contrasts with the depiction of the virtual. Calleja’s return to figuration and realism parallels the recent renewed value for the handmade, the analogue, and the accessibility of craft in a time of mass production and an intangible digital world.
Calleja’s work is uniquely contemporary. In this body of work, mostly executed in our strange COVID-ridden world, she captures what it means to find comfort in a time of great uncertainty.