In 2005, I again had a discussion with Iosif Kapelyan, occasioned by yet another of his exhibitions, this one titled ‘In jest and in earnest’.
Why did you name the exhibition thus?
I consider this exhibition special: it is simultaneously serious and jocose. I want to bring to the attention of artists and viewers the importance to the painter of studious preparation and professional foundation. Nowadays there’s an impression abroad that study is not really important and that it is more important to portray what one feels. But having a proper foundation allows the artist greater means for expressing himself! These days there is a depreciation of so many values. Art is treated like entertainment, whereas to achieve true art requires study and enormous effort. Therefore I decided to present copies of works of my favourite artists – Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Ingres, Vermeer, Savrasov, Polenov, Bryullov. And in this is the seriousness of my intent.
The jocular nature of the exhibition stems from the fact that I deviated from the required standards of copies and allowed myself some liberties: I introduced other characters into the copies, or I reconciled the irreconciliable: for instance, introducing Brodsky’s ‘Lenin after work’ into Ingres’ ‘Odalisque’. Similarly, I reinterpreted the works of Vermeer, inserting modern figures into his familiar themes.
After the stages in your career of socialist realism, geometric abstractionism and expressionism, and you played with symbolism and mysticism, how would you characterise the current period of your creativity?
These days I am occupied with figurative art, that is, a recognisable world. The style of work is not as important as its level. After all, art is defined above all by the deepest insights into natural phenomena or human nature. But the language of expression is only the passion of the artist.
The copies require a lot of time. For example, Savrasov’s ‘The Rooks Are Back’ took me several months. When you start the work, it’s as though you are in touch with the artist and you begin to understand how perfect is the skill of the master, how like a high unattainable peak it is. You can probably clamber a part of the way on it. And when copying da Vinci, you find such detail in the transfer of forms, measurable not even in millimetres but in microns.
Two years ago you retired from the Tel Aviv Institute of Archaeology where you had worked as a graphic artist for 20 years. Are you painting a lot, given your free time?
Yes, of course, I have much more time, but it is occupied not just with painting. I have also taken up social work. I have set up an association of professional artists and I am currently its chairman. It is necessary so that ‘our’ people can entrench themselves and occupy a worthy place in the artistic circles of this country. In the beginning, there were twelve members in the association, but today there are over a hundred from various towns in Israel.
A little while ago, Kapelyan handed over the leadership of the union to a colleague and devoted himself entirely to his art.
Today the artist is 75 years old. He has been participating in exhibitions for nearly half a century; there are thirty solo and 130 group expositions to his credit. In Israel, Kapelyan is one of the founders of the famous artistic village of Sanur (which recently was returned to the Arabs). He is a participant in the series of paintings ‘Israeli Landscapes’ on display at the Jerusalem Museu of Nature.
It should be noted that in 2009, he released another album ‘Painting and Graphic Art’, comprising 87 colour and 512 black-and-white reproductions of his works, spanning the previous ten years of his life, indicating the uninterruptedly active creative career of the master.
[This is the second excerpt in a loose translation of Yevgeniya Laskina’s article ‘Russian Artists on Israeli Soil‘, Seven Arts, Number 4 (17), April 2011.]