Past, Present, and Future Falcons

By Jheri St.James.

     The word “Malta” evokes a myriad of images: the classic film “The Maltese Falcon;” the Maltese Cross, Knights of Malta. The tangible reality of Malta is a Republic in the middle of the Mediterranean, near Sicily and Corsica. Now an independent country, it has been ruled by the English and Spanish. Like the Arab sheiks, since Medieval times, the Maltese have perfected the art of falconry. In 1565, the King of Spain, so grateful to the Knights Hospitalers (now Knights of Malta) for keeping the country from sacking by the Turks, built the capital city of Valletta and gave them a couple of castles. Then he generously charged them two Maltese falcons a year as rent. The Maltese Cross is an icon made up of four arrowhead shapes, points meeting at the center.

     In 2004, Scott Methvin went to Malta and collected soil for Common Ground 191. Scott is a Laguna Beach, California, artist who mixes his own paint from colored soil and paints on copper, an unusual surface which never cracks like canvas or wood. He buys his paint soil from a catalog listing different kinds of soil and mineral pigments from all over the world. Certain countries are famous for certain colors; Afghanistan—Lapis Lazuli, for example. He talked about the Malta he visited in 2004, and the huge contrast he observed in comparison to its romantic past of knighthood.

     “Malta was a boring place to visit. It was completely dried up, a desert island. Very little vegetation, very boring architecture—old and didn’t have a lot going on, incredibly hot, in the 100’s. They had a lot of shops and that’s what you did, you went there and walked down the promenade. When you’re on a cruise ship, you’re limited to ports of call—urban settings, but in Malta we did get away from everything and found a place where it looked like they were doing some kind of archeological dig. We snuck in there in the 110-degree heat. I had stolen a spoon off the cruise ship to dig with, and I used the spoon to get some real Maltese-looking dirt, dusty clay that’s got to be a million years old. I left the spoon in the dirt, so when the archeological guys came back it would really freak them out, with the cruise ship logo on it.”

     Scott talked about Common Ground 191, concrete used as paint on canvases, dirt, organic and inorganic pigments. “A lot of modern pigments that most artists use are made out of coal tar.” He showed me a jar of Crayola-green dirt. “You put this down before you paint flesh colors. People have green in their skin. What I would do if I were making the Common Ground project is just order all this dirt from art suppliers in the world--Pyrite, red jasper, Swiss brown earth—but Gary needs the shipping documentation.”

     Malta, with its heroic and idealized history is of course evolving today, though it may not be visible to the traveler. Underlying both individual man and country is the earth, the soil, the common ground, the stage upon which this country’s unique images and activities will manifest.

We thank Scott and all our soil collectors for their efforts in carrying the DHL box and jar on their travels, finding special locations like Malta from which to collect the soil, finding a spoon with which to work, mailing the package back to us at Common Ground 191, and just generally supporting our project.




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