Closer to the heart – 2011

Closer to the heart…away from it all is an emotional and sentimental expression of an incurable romantic who has finally found solace in nature to escape the stress and tension of modern living. The dichotomy, the polarity, the struggle explicit in ‘Elements of Mood’ (Hilton Malta 2009) has melted away and instead there is a catharsis that has brought a complete change in the artist, a dénouement.

The solution was an escape into the countryside to smell the wet soil, to feast his eyes on light and colour, on white billowing clouds, on the deep blue sea, on clear blue skies, on fields of red poppies, yellow and white mustard, cape sorrel, red clover and stretches of wheat dancing in the breeze. When Joseph has some free time he packs his easel and colours and escapes into the countryside to paint én plein air while ‘listening to birds chirping away or hearing the waves crashing on to the rocks’.

Atmosphere, atmospherics and mood are captured on canvas with emotional vigour, with the lyrical sentiments of a romantic poet. His mentors are the Impressionists such as Camille Pissarro and Monet. Vincent Van Gogh is his idol and ‘in some cases more aggresively a touch of Turner too’. His optimistic approach is quite explicit as he rather prefers to capture a scene with perfect visibility or he changes it on purpose to look so. So his canvases are limpid, clear, and simple, with vibrant colour and brilliant light. His contentment is obvious surrounded by nature’s music. His empathy with nature is complete and he has adopted nature as his master.

Joseph started as a graphic artist, a competent illustrator but as he gained more confidence he turned to colour. Initially he had a limited palette with blues, greens and burnt sienna with tonal effects. With such an economy of colour Joseph could reconcile his graphic verve with tonal effects. Recently in October 2011 the artist created a series of abstracts in vibrant colour using a dominant strong red for effect. These canvases are dynamic, powerful, passionate and bold. But their impact is similar to the ‘agressiveness’ he achieves with his blues and greens in previous phases. There is a certain emotional inquietudine, explicit in the phase of 2009. This sense of struggle surfaces in an angry sea, in a sky with dark clouds of an impending storm, in gnarled or twisted trees of the actual collection.The sky, the sea, the land – rocks, hills, terraced fields and the solitary countryside chapel and lane inspire the artist to express lyrical scenes of great emotional beauty.

‘The day is dying/ mourned by darkness/ that like a blanket/ shrouds its

corpse/ but night like balm/ annoints and heals/ and by sunrise/ day is born

again and again/ in splendid light’.

‘Sweet Dreams’ (Ill.4, p.7) with its dramatic lighting and reflection in water, with stupendous cliffs and rocks in deep ultamarine and purple is quiet surreal and apocalyptic. The dream becomes a nightmare and perhaps this work is unique in the collection as it is in contrast to the tranquillity, serenity, quiet, peace and rest evoked in most of the works. ‘Carmelite Church’ (Ill.38,p.31) also depicts a striking reflection in Balluta Bay but there it parts from the occult, symbolic magic in ‘Sweet Dreams’.

‘Milestone’ (Ill.30,p.23) is an exquisite landscape with a milestone from colonial times as the protagonist. It seems a romantic hand-coloured postcard of the 1940’s with delicate

hues and balanced tones that emanate a tranquillity and serenity outside time. Time stands still and it is a stretch of virgin, uncontaminated countryside of 50 years ago. It has a sense of history.

‘Prairies’(Ill.29,p.23)and ‘G ̇asri’(Ill24,p.19)capturethe solitude, serenity and peace of sweet-

scented fields painted with vigorous brush strokes and palette knife in the manner of Van Gogh. The tension and dynamic strength in layering the paint hardly diminishes the tranquillity the scenes depict. But surely one feels how irrequiet the artist feels. Possibly it is the excitement and passion the artist feels when surrounded by nature.

‘Ìnien’ (Ill.18,p.15) with its twisted tortured trunks of small trees growing among rocks has a touch of the abandon and wild execution of certain works by Cezanne while ‘Heights’ (Ill.14,p.13) is the very opposite in sentiment: a moment of quiet meditation, a time for prayer with a placid sea and a conciliatory, poetic sky. ‘Beach II’ (Ill.11,p.11) with its limpid drowsiness and stillness is therapy for the heart and mind. ‘Santu Kristu’ (Ill.15,p.13) is exotic with vegetation in the French classical manner and acutely picturesque. ‘Ta’ Loreto’(Ill.6,p.9) is the most enchanting chapel of them all.

‘My Art World’ (Ill.31,p.24) is autobiographical. It depicts the artistinhisrooftopstudioamong his canvases. In the foreground a still life with tubes of colour and paint brushes and a mannequin, in the manner of De Chirico painting the artist. In a corner a sculpture of ‘David’ in stone by Mario Agius of Gozo his friend and on the wall an old map part of Joseph’s collection and ‘Mdina’. He is at the top of the world one might say.

‘Blue’ (Ill.32,p.25) is an opitical illusion with a piece of folded blue cloth hanging on the edge of one in a series of paintings of ‘Menqa’ in St. Paul’s Bay. On the Wall is ‘Santu Kristu’ and most probably ‘Heights’. A well structured composition in a rhythm of blues and balanced tonalities.

‘Katy Jane’ (Ill.27,p.21) has a turbulent cloudy sky almost aggressive in its strength and threatening impending rain. ‘Dark clouds scudding by/mixed with brilliant sun/ and kisses thrown by flowers/ amid glancing showers’. The emotional element in this work refects even more significantly in ‘Chalet’ (Ill.23,p.19) an almost monochromatic work of a rough sea with mountainous waves breaking on the Sliema front with tremendous force. This work in its graphic quality is a link with the sketches in this volume. ‘Mdina’ (Ill.41,p.34) is the most poetic of the collection with a cypress tree as the protagonist, a landmark near the cemetery for infectious diseases, and the Mdina mythical skyline in the distance.

Joseph Casapinta might not be able to verbally describe his moods but surely he is an expert at depicting them. Looking at his pictures as in a mirror he sees his own reflection, his own image in an objective critical way.

Night is falling on the land like a blanket. The sun disk, diaphanous red slowly and softly sinks among the waves. Silence reigns supreme. The sea becomes red with the blood of heroes who died for their country. With a piercing scream an isolated seagull like Narcissus kisses its reflected image and disappears with a beak stained in blood. The light, a time- switch, gradually becomes soft grey and gently gives way to darkness. The tranquility, serenity and peace are overwhelming. Nature our master is a great healer. Painting is a feeble echo of such majesty but interprets the moment and creates catharsis. Abstract, real and surreal..Art has shown Joseph things about him that he did not know.

E.V. Borg

23.10. 2011