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Painting after Painting
Erika Grigoravičienė
The “24” Group, “Angis” and the young expressionists
In 1990, Ričardas Povilas Vaitiekūnas initiated the founding of the painters’ group “24” that included the most prominent “silent modernists” who sought to represent a higher, elite form of art. The group held its final exhibition at the Lietuvos Aidas Gallery in 1999. The group’s members and theoreticians (including the renowned art critics Alfonsas Andriuškevičius and Viktoras Liutkus) were unable to preserve painting’s prominent position within the arts or the special status and influence enjoyed by painters in various artistic institutions
Read more: The “24” Group
By the mid-1990s, painting had found itself on the periphery of the artistic world. Followers of the classics castigated the new technological media art that now overshadowed more traditional artistic fields. Nevertheless, the painters of this period continued to paint. Their works were exhibited in the art halls of Kaunas and Klaipėda as well as in private galleries (such as Lietuvos Aidas and Vartai) established during the early years of national rebirth under the Sąjūdis movement and immediately after the restoration of independence. As inflation surged, many Lithuanian works of art were sold at a fraction of their value to buyers in Western Europe. The Lithuanian art market that had begun to form during the Soviet period gradually found stronger roots.
The painters’ group “Angis”, founded in 1989 by Jonas Gasiūnas, remained active until 2010. Its members included many artists from Kaunas who, for a time, best represented the stubborn, ever vocal “dinosaurs” of the art of painting. The neo-expressionist, large format paintings of the Angis group were influenced by the hippy culture, psychedelic music, popular culture clichés, advertising and cinema, as well as by a need to re-imagine classic Lithuanian modernists, particularly Gudaitis.
The group’s abstract works were a significant contribution to the development of painting. Henrikas Čerapas developed an almost monochromatic abstract expressionism with references to landscapes. The colour black was given substance not only with paint, but also with the use of asphalt tar. Later paintings included text. Rimvydas Jankauskas-Kampas also painted abstract creations with landscape traits, only in bright colours, while his gaze tended to turn earthward rather than skyward. Vytautas Dubauskas created colourful abstract works with hints of figure compositions. The works of Ričardas Nemeikšis featured evenly painted borscht-coloured canvases with minimalist additions or illusions of three-dimensional spaces lacking any clear objects from the visible world. He later took to affixing shiny ornaments on cardboard packaging.
Several artists of the younger generation cultivated the traditions of realistic, pictorial expressionist painting in the last decade of the 20th century. Saliamonas Teitelbaumas, using thick paint to portray cityscapes, self-portraits or characters from plays staged by Eimuntas Nekrošius, sought inspiration from the Paris School and the works of Jewish artists from inter-war Kaunas. After experimenting with banal modernist motifs, Sigita Maslauskaitė later used wide, thick brush strokes to create religious paintings based on the canvases of the Baroque masters.
The brightest star of the painting world in the 1990s was Vilmantas Marcinkevičius. The young artist, discovered and popularised by the Vartai Gallery, gaining particular renown in Denmark, noticeably revived expressionist painting. Crafting figures against landscapes with clear strokes on large canvases, very often depicting scenes of sex or violence, the artist combined traditional iconography with his own imagination and the present day. Constantly repeating the same yellow and blue colour combination, linking creative aggression with a studious observation of his painting medium, Marcinkevičius discovered his own style of painting that appeared as if viewed through a magnifying glass.
New painting
Even as new media art expanded, the painting discipline continued to occupy a place of considerable significance at the Vilnius Academy of Art. The Academy’s rector, Arvydas Šaltenis, a member of the “24” group, even set up his easel next to his office desk. The Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) continued to hold its traditional Vilnius painting triennials, of which the 2000 Triennial was particularly significant, curated by Evaldas Stankevičius and Swedish art historian Anders Kreuger, who was working in Vilnius at the time. The exhibit presented the new painting style from several countries: post-mechanical, flirting with cinema and photography, experimenting with materials and technology, re-crafting various discovered images and, most importantly, characterized by introspection, self-discovery, dismantling and investigation. As the myths of painting and inspiration dissipated, the venerable field of art became a full-fledged “contemporary art.”
The 2000 Triennial also featured the first works by Gasiūnas created using smoke from burning candles in place of paint and brushes. The smoke trails were employed to emphasize the deceit and unrealistic nature of the image, even its illegitimacy. Most of the paintings were comprised of two layers: a sparse interior or dreary landscape created using paint, and smoke trail drawings assembled on glass above the painting that appeared to be accidental, without any logical interrelationship. Their flimsy, black lines are, in fact, reminiscent of street art, all the more so because all of the motifs — from depictions of miraculous saints to film stars — have been audaciously appropriated by the artist. Gasiūnas’ smoke creations became an effective example of the new painting style.
The new painters set out to test the boundaries of painting, dismantling their works into parts to display their contents. In Jurga Barilaitė’s visual installation Būtinoji gintis (Self-Defense, 2001) we see how the artist has created an image of a baby’s face using boxing gloves dipped in white paint. Here, an athletic punch has taken the place of a brush stroke, which was no longer obligatory for a new painting style now based on the use of a canvas (or other foundation) and paint.
Brush strokes obviously lose their significance in the works of Eglė Ridikaitė, who used canvas material similar to sail or tablecloth like paper or the pages of a notebook. In her early works, she employed a brush as a stand-in for a pen, drawing diagrams, blueprints and sketchings. Later, using an aerosol can, she began to portray precise recreations of everyday objects. Ridikaitė’s paintings appear like technical drawings used as instructive guidance to produce an object, lay down flooring or furnish a room, or like maps to orient oneself in a given environment. Eglė Gineitytė’s landscapes featuring houses and figures — also produced without any visible trace of brush strokes — look as if they were just started or are unfinished, reminiscent of a digital image not quite corrected by Photoshop.
The series of portraits of more than one hundred Lithuanian artists and intellectuals created by graphic artist Kęstutis Grigaliūnas between 1997 and 1999 and presented in a 24-part work entitled Tikra istorija apie Joseph Beuys (The True Story of Joseph Beuys, 1998), based on the radio play by Herkus Kunčius and other works, is a piece created with paint on canvas, but one that is more akin to screen printing due to the use of stencils and false raster dots.
The hyperrealistic images created by Gintaras Znamierowski also look nothing like painting, despite his use of paint on canvas. Znamierowski recreates, references and incorporates marginal examples of modernist painting. To Piet Mondrian’s final painting he added yellow smiley-faced tablets. Mondrian’s motifs and Kazimir Malevich’s black square return in the politically incorrect series Sena feministė (Old Feminist, 2007-2008) and in works aiming a critical eye at artistic institutions.
The refashioning of art history appeared to be the task of most artists. Evaldas Jansas, among the first to exchange a brush for a video camera, but who every now and then returned to painting, compared Monet’s Impression to images from popular culture. Patricija Jurkšaitytė meticulously recreated many classical paintings, removing any figures from the pieces. Her barren, ghostly landscapes and interiors such as hotel rooms, swimming pools or antique stores, provoke a feeling of emptiness mixed with anticipation.
Some artists refrained from referencing specific works, instead choosing to utilise historical and antiquated means of expression in an apparent attempt to demonstrate that these were still useful in the creation of new paintings. Sigitas Staniūnas sought inspiration from travels to distant and exotic countries, painting enchanting visions on large canvases with multiple smooth and clear layers. His paintings are replete with fantastic plants, with mysterious creatures dressed in the clothing of past eras emerging from the denseness of the jungle. The realistic, enlarged bodies and faces painted by Žigymantas Augustinas in the confined spaces of his paintings are reminiscent of works created by the late 20th century master of figure painting Lucian Freud. One of the artist’s favorite themes was the depiction of enlarged, derisively deformed images presented from unusual perspectives.
The artist’s own image is inseparable from introspection of the painting in works by Andrius Zakarauskas. Almost all of his paintings are full-length self-portraits. The artist’s figure is usually repeated multiple times like the structural element associated with certain painting and vision processes. This could take the form of a painting within a painting, in both of which Zakarauskas portrays himself observing his own creation, assuming the roles of painter, model and observer. In other works, he depicts anamorphic reflections in a vortex swirling into a bottomless space or a net resembling cloth. Zakarauskas mocks the politics of painting, “authentic” brush strokes and the view of paintings as artifacts. Although he uses only a few colours — black, blue, and gray — his broad, posterly paintings create the impression of endless space. The strong, broad and straight strokes that often appear in his works (traits also shared by Gudaitis, Karatajus and Dereškevičius) are not only a means of expression, but also the object being visualised.
The younger generation of painters often tell their stories with rapidly painted images (such as in the work of Adomas Danusevičius) or explore the spacial structure of the imagined painting (Povilas Ramanauskas, Rosanda Sorakaitė). Jolanta Kyzikaitė uses a comic book style to paint large montage compositions, interweaving her own experiences with images from popular culture. Rūta Povilaitytė assembles masked creatures and images of objects like sketches on a sheet of notebook paper. The paintings of Staselė Jakunskaitė appear to have been created using simple stencils to visualise linguistic clichés. Jūratė Jarulytė’s hyperrealistic paintings, meanwhile, depict mysterious constructions resembling nautical equipment.
Linas Jusionis employs sparing suggestions to create a complex and heavy spacial experience. In his precisely crafted minimalist works there appear to be no traces of the past, but attentive observers may discover within them the refined or altered methods and motifs once used by Kisarauskas, Dereškevičius, Šaltenis, David Hockney and Jurkšaitytė. This is, indeed, a new stage in the development of new painting.


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Sources and links

Lietuvos tapyba. 1960–2013
Sudarytoja Raminta Jurėnaitė, Vilnius: Modernaus meno centras, 2014
Rimvidas Jankauskas Kampas (1957–1993)
Albumas, sudarytoja Simona Makselienė, Vilnius: Vilniaus aukciono biblioteka, 2009
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