The Artist and his Muse

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The Artist and his Muse who came to Portomaso and Loved it

“We love Valletta, it is the perfect gem.” This is something you hear often and any visitor to Malta who does not fall in love with the architecture, grandeur and art of Valletta is usually a bit of a loser, a jilted lover or someone of little taste. 

The quote is one of many Alain and Karen Despert readily dish out about Valletta, Malta and the advantages of living on this island when we meet at their beautiful apartment in Portomaso. The Desperts add a quip to that Valletta quote which gives it a marvellous twist. They lived in the city and loved every minute but moved to Portomaso “for the comfort, the amenities and the sheer pleasure of being surrounded by all things that pamper you. We would gladly move back to Valletta if the Portomaso developer manages to move Portomaso to Valletta or build a second one there, far-fetched as that may be.”

However, even St Julians, to the Desperts, is a true haven, picturesque and full of advantages.  Karen and Alain Despert are two of the most enchanting, courteous and interesting people you could ever meet. While sipping a glass of wine on their balcony, even the grand view of the marina and the sea which usually captivates me completely had a tough time competing with the Desperts’ welcome and ways. Effortless flair oozes out of them. 

If there is one thing Portomaso can boast of (and believe me there are a lot) this is certainly it—it attracts people who have abundant flair, who love life and love sharing their easy-going ways. With them—and facing that view—I felt as if time and all my worries had stood still and their melodious words wafted in my ears.

Alain is a world-renowned artist who gave us one of the most iconic pictures connected to vodka: his painting of an Absolut Vodka bottle bobbing in the sea moving towards the island of Bora Bora is part not just of vodka legend and lore but also of advertising history. The ad campaign which featured a number of artists is still, long years after it was launched, discussed and hailed as one of the industry greats. Alain’s story of how he became an acclaimed artist is incredible and sounds straight out of a fairy tale.

He and Karen lived in a house in Bora Bora perched high on a hill and spanning a 360° spectacular view.  Bora Bora is renowned as paradise on earth so to hear the Desperts describe Portomaso as “pure magic” is quite something. 
He was a most successful hotelier running top hotels in the US and Bora Bora. In his spare time, he dabbled in art, self-taught and inspired by the gorgeous colours and vistas of Bora Bora. He painted for his own satisfaction and to cover the walls at home with what he loved and depicted lovingly and vibrantly. He painted as he knew how—from the heart—and  his art had beautiful colours, shapes and sea, sea creatures, anything that reflected his own positive, ebullient self. 

One day he was approached by one of the leading magazines of the time, Town & Country, and asked to put them in contact with some local artists. However, the editor of the magazine ditched the pieces he saw, despaired, went to Alain’s house for a drink and friendly consolation and found plenty of it: Alain’s art was the editor’s answer to his need and his search. It was used for the magazine spread about Bora Bora, which was a great success. The editor then suggested that Alain ditch hotels as a career and become a full-time artist. The rest is history, as Alain then dedicated his life to art. And thank the gods, divine intervention or whatever these strokes of luck proceed from. He then met Karen who had been very successful in the advertising world and would then become Alain’s art manager, publicist and incomparable muse.

That such success can happen and happen in this most fortuitous ways is unbelievable. Even coming to Malta was a stroke of luck. They wanted to leave Bora Bora but wanted to replace it with a beautiful and accommodating home that could still give Alain inspiration and Karen a good place to work. They came to Malta for a holiday, attracted by a Maltese couple who live here and spoke enthusiastically about our tiny island. 

The Desperts came, fell in love with this island of history, architecture and all things nice and beautiful, socialised and became part of the Malta scene which they love. 

After living in Valletta they moved to Portomaso—a move that, according to them, “made our life and Alain’s painting complete.” They love feeling “secure, sitting on the balcony and having a choice of restaurants that are not just good but magnificent.”  From Bora Bora to Monaco or Monte Carlo was what some friends advised. The Desperts chose to be more adventurous and different and opted for Malta and now Portomaso—which to them beats everywhere else in the world. 

The Desperts tell me “Malta has everything going for it and is safe and beautiful. What more can we ask for? And Portomaso, besides all its other attributes, has security and landscaping which is world-class.”See some of Alain Despert’s art by popping over to the Art Gallery located in the Hilton Hotel lobby. His depictions of seahorses, turtles and fish are just wonderful. As wonderful as the Desperts themselves.

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