Charles Billich takes on Lastovo

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From painting to business venture

Charles Billich shares his vision of a new sustainable Lastovo

Like many summers until now, Croatian-Australian artist Charles Billich made his way to his beloved Croatia. This time round, his main stop was the beautifully secluded Adriatic island of Lastovo. Painting, dining, and mingling turned out to be quite fruitful. The idea of turning Lastovo into a secret safe touristic heaven is about to take a turn.

World traveler Charles Billich meets UK Boris Johnson (l) at international airport (Photo: Billich archive)

Pushing on 83, Charles Billich still manages to cultivate a surreal, audacious, witty and perpetual personality. Celebrating over 50 years of painting, his works can be found around the globe, from Sydney, LA, Beijing and Monaco to Lovran, Vukovar and now Lastovo. He says he is a citizen of the world, but he never misses an opportunity to promote his beloved Croatia.

He divides his time between Australia, US, China and of course Croatia, where he every or every other year chooses a new destination to take his, as he likes to call them, working vacations. This time round, his summer residence was on the Adriatic island of Lastovo. All summer his current best works were on display, new pieces created, and alongside the beautiful hot and sunny weather the island has to offer – new steaming business ventures were also on the table. “Lastovo is known for its unusual and peculiar history, one which has had a strong effected on its population. To compare, in the small city of Geelong in Victoria, Australia there are more people from Lastovo then there currently are on the island itself. Of the 150,000 residence in Geelong, 2000 claim to be from Lastovo while nowadays there are only about 400 residents on the island. It is interesting that over 400,000 tourist make their way to the island yearly – a number that will very soon skyrocket if our plan succeeds. And then, another ‘0’ will be added”, says BIllich when discussing one of his new ventures.

Born Karlo Bilić in Lovran, Istria in 1934, says that as a young boy his world was splintered by, “a plot between Roosevelt and Stalin,” when the 1945 US-Russia treaty annexed the Istrian peninsula from Italy and placed it alongside neighboring territories into a newly formed state called Yugoslavia. His world became highly restricted and policed, after attempting to flee to Italy, Billich was arrested and sentenced to ten years in Maribor prison.

Now he and his partners are looking to revamp the Island of Lastovo, which has much of a similar history to Billich, as it was taken away from its people and conquered, divided and held hostage by many of the rules through time.

However, if such a project does see the light of day a bright future is on the horizon for many, including Billich, Lastovo’s residents, tourist, and for those whose families migrated from the island decades ago, “one of the main goals of our project is to invite the many people from Lastovo, who are now living around the globe, and aid them in their return to their roots”.

This Australian artist, describes his work as surreal. When talking about the future, he says he cannot see which painting he will be creating in the future, but that the suspense and curiosity keeps him going and that the images hidden in his mind are yet to be downloaded onto canvas. Billich adds that his greatest incentive in life is not getting too much praise for his work, he is grateful for the sycophants who love his work, but also the indifference as well.

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Zrinka Lušić
Zrinka Lušić