Frank Portelli (artist)

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Frank Portelli was one of three Maltese artists who, in the immediate post-war years, recreated the foundations upon which Maltese Art was to rise again in closer consonance with European sensibility.

He was born in 1922 and at the age of thirteen he started attending the School of Arts in Valletta where he studied under the Caruana Dingli brothers, Edward and Robert During the war years he was drafted into the Royal Air Force and was stationed first at Ħal Luqa then at Ta' Kandja.

After the war he became involved in the drawing of topographical maps which in the long run served as a basis for his fascination with contours.

In 1947 he distinguished himself among the top students within his course when he sat for his final examinations at the School of Art earning himself a scholarship at the Kennington College of Art in England. On his return to Malta in 1950 he became a key figure in a fresh, novel and sometimes daring symbolic artistic expression at a time when Malta was seeking its own national identity.

In 1951 he was elected as the first secretary of the Modern Art Circle. Their first public appearance as a body in an exhibition was held at Palazzo de la Salle in 1952.

He was among the first six Maltese artists to exhibit in the Venice Biennale in 1958. it was only after forty-one years that Malta participated again in the world renowned exhibition.

His interior design career was consolidated around the late sixties and these early works included the Whisky a Gogo in Sliema, the Dragut and Piali restaurants along with the Piper Club nightspot, the La Stella Band Club in Victoria, Gozo, the Coliero's Tavern Restaurant at Pinto Stores, among others.

His work reflects the openness of his personality to new challenges. It is eclectic in expression, ranging from cubism and impressionism to a later unique experimentation with contours. In the late seventies he was given the arduous task of taking in hand the entire decorative scheme for the sanctuary of St Therese of Lisieux at Birkirkara. By far his monumental work will remain the decorating of the dome and the pendentives of the Basilica of Senglea.

Frank Portelli married Rosa Attard in June 1952, and together they had three children, Henri, Simone, and Sharonne. He died on 10 March 2004 at the age of 82.