Croatia's marketing tagline reads „The Mediterranean as it once was“, tempting the traveller with a break from the all-assailing, all-consuming advent of franchised commercial architecture that renders the experience of any and all Mediterranean town alike, interchangeable even. The town of Korčula has resisted this valiantly - if not stubbornly, as is the way of the South - for decades, and so, in keeping with this spirit of timeless looks and timeless values, the work of its artist Hrvoje Lorenzo Kapelina can be described as „The Mediterranean as it once was painted“.
The connoiseur of the history of art in Croatia will feel the intensity of colour and brushstroke in his oils that was seldom seen since Murtić's depiction of the Dalmatian landscape some thirty years ago, and those more familiar with Western art stemming from the vivacity of Europe's southern regions will be reminded of the joyous hues of Matisse and the bold, large fields of colour pioneered by the artists of Pont-Aven.
Colour is Kapelina's greatest strength, delivered to the canvas in confident, almost gutsy strokes that betray the artist's love of his subject and carry his feelings of home and belonging over to the viewer. This reviewer would like to speak for the authenticity of this feeling with a personal anecdote: having lived in the north for some time now, where everything is tinted in variations on grey, green, and brick-red, the longing for those same bursts of primary colours that vibrate in Kapelina's canvases becomes a physical sensation. That a painting can satisfy such a need is in itself a testament to his mastery of his chosen media. These oils are one part of the love story between the artist and his home; more stories are told through watercolours, gouaches, inks alone, as well as pastels and chalk.
Each is a facet of one's understanding of the Mediterranean landscape and Korčula's unique layout: the pen and ink croquis, coloured or simple, serve as a reminder of the island's landmarks, as little more is needed to convey their impact upon the visitor. The chalks and gouaches take a step away from the historically relevant and memorable spots and focus on the wider, deeper experience of the land and the sea, once more relying on the signature colours of the local land as well as the skies, but trying to incorporate them into the artwork also through the medium of the tinted paper, stressing in a literal but effective way their almost material role in the building of the landscape. The inkless watercolours round up the journey with their sublime, dreamlike impressions both of the Adriatic sea and the town's iconic outline, and are possibly his finest work.
The Mediterranean haunts the artist in three major themes, each of which is explored through a variety of media. The most immediate is that of the town of Korčula itself, its fortifications, churches, its medieval streets unaltered through the centuries. This expands to embrace the larger island, and scenes typical of the wider coastline: houses, fields, small farms. These on occasion introduce human and animal figures, yet as part of the landscape since generations pass but, true to the underlying motto, the land continues. The third theme opens up further: it is the sea, whether taking center stage where the land and the people exist only to remind the viewer of where precisely these waters lie, or serving as backdrop to boats and sailboats lovingly depicted with all their signs of age and use. This is where Kapelina returns to oils, as they indicate the best the fine cracks in the wood, the rust and the salt, the mossy layers of sealife that go on to reclaim all that man can build.
What is curious for a painter of landscapes is that, regardless of the transcience of people themselves in the scenes, there is virtually no image without the sign of human life, whether through a roof or a wall in the distance, or the orderliness of orchards or olive fields. It is as if to convince us that here the people and the land become one with the slow passage of time, taking from one another and taking turns in command. This is a thoughtful, sobering undercurrent to Kapelina's art, but his is the kind of art that never forgets to celebrate life when considering it. May it, together with its Mediterranean inspiration, never change in this.
Mia Kalogjera, 2009.