Orašac is a village near Dubrovnik and the birthplace of Antun Masle, a painter who was born in 1919 and who obtained a degree in painting from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1942. “I was born in a village that is abundant in foliage and olive trees, where the sea is blue and the sky is clear.”, this is how Masle described his birthplace in 1958. He would later try to convey in each of his paintings this feeling of belonging to a specific Mediterranean location. In Masle’s artistic world, Orašac has the status of a primeval place, a wellspring of all the values this painter holds dear: from family and interpersonal relationships to the relationship between man and nature. “In front of the house, purple islands were visible behind pink cliffs. A rose bush, as red as blood during the month of May, was climbing the side of the house. Black and white lambs jumped around the garden, and I would look at them and feel sad their lifespan was not longer than a month. In February, daffodils turned white and almond trees blossomed – then when I turned 7, they sent me to school.” There is something in this description of Orašac that is not visible in Masle’s paintings, and which in the European cultural tradition is denoted by the Latin phrase Et in arcadia ego – Even in Arcadia, there I am, whereby the subject of the statement is death, that is, transience in general. In Masle’s Arcadia, in his native Orašac, the death of lambs is the first obstacle standing in the way of the artist’s Arcadian happiness; even going to school represents a vague indication of the end of childhood, but based on the analogy of the culture of transience, also of life itself (the beginning of the end). In the paintings, however, Orašac is depicted without the ancient warning. We see a small village at the foot of the mountain. Although it is devoid of people, the village is shown as a place that is full of life; cypress trees and vegetation connect people to the landscape and nature. We cannot see everyday life, but we can imagine it. Even the swirling ink lines do not spoil the harmony.
Text: Klaudio Štefančić, curator of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb 2022
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb 2022