What a shock to hear this morning that my dear old friend Dennis Vella passed away last night. He was only 56. As with so many of my other friends in Malta, we had lost touch ever since I left the country about fifteen years ago. Still, our paths would cross again every now and then.
Dennis was a perennial presence in my social life as I grew up in Malta. We first met in Tigne, where we both naturally gravitated to satisfy our shared love for all sorts of music. Many people who are now under 40 probably don't know Dennis as a musician, but if they know him at all will know him as a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta.
We were mature students at the University of Malta together in the early 1990s. He read History of Art, of course, while I explored Communications and Theatre Studies. We spent countless hours together in the University Film Club office at Students' House, often with our mutual friend Julian Manduca.
Other times we would meet at some music-related event or better still at an artist's studio. I spent many Saturdays at Antoine Camilleri's studio back in the late 1980s and into the 90s until I left Malta, and Dennis was no stranger there. Another time we'd bump into each other at Gabriel Caruana's windmill gallery in B'Kara, or the latest art show he'd curated or was simply visiting.
Dennis always struck me with his genteel manners and erudite knowledge of the context for whatever we were looking at or listening to. I was not surprised, but rather impressed, when he actually because curator at Malta's National Museum of Fine Arts. His love of art was second to none. Thankfully, most Maltese artists understood this and some of his peers have luckily captured him directly in their art. (Top painting by Debbie Caruana Dingli; Photo by Patrick Vella; Bottom painting by Isabelle Borg)
His extensive personal collection can serve as an excellent starting point for Malta's National Museum of Modern Art, which was something he frequently mentioned as a missing element in the islands' embrace of its own cultural heritage.
You'll be greatly missed Dennis. Anyone who met you frequently along the way surely knows what a rare gem of a person you were. Those who didn't know you will hopefully appreciate that the Maltese art scene is all the poorer now that you're gone.