Friday, January 30, 2015

Two Lithuanian Modernists: Vincas Kisarauskas and Saule Kisarauskiene

When Vincas Kisarauskas and Saulė Aleškevičiūtė met while studying at the Lithuanian Art Institute in Vilnius in the late 1950s they forged a powerful personal and artistic partnership that was to introduce a Picasso-inspired Modernist aesthetic into the conservative Lithuanian art scene, which typically encouraged socialist realism or the exploration of safe ethnographic themes. The 1960s was a decade of turmoil and revolution not just in the West, but also in the Soviet bloc. In his article "Vincas Kisarauskas' Arrow Is Still In Flight", Marcelijus Martinaitis recalls how in those heady days, "Fragments of modern Western art were hunted for, art albums 'from over there' were scanned, books and articles were read."

Saulė Kisarauskienė

One approved route into Western art circles was participation in international congresses of collectors and creators of exlibris bookplates, and both Vincas and Saulė became keen exlibris artists. All of my examples of their work represent this aspect of their art, which was celebrated in three booklets by the Danish exlibris scholar Klaus Rödel: Nogle Exlibris af Vincas Kisarauskas og lidt om Tradition eller Modernisme i Exlibriskunsten (1970), Vincas Kisarauskas: En moderne litauisk grafiker og hans exlibris (1973), and Exlibris-Portrait 12: Saule Kisarauskiene (1973). All of the exlibris I have by Saulė are etchings with aquatint; those by Vincas include etchings with aquatint, linocuts, and one relief engraving on zinc. The artistic practice of both extends way beyond this discrete area of work - Vincas in particular was a dedicated painter, and also became known as a designer for stage and screen.

I find much to admire in work of both these artists. The work of Vincas is perhaps more austere and intellectual than that of Saulė, which has a livelier sense of emotion. But they are both clearly working in the same area of interest, and playing with the interaction of shape and form in similar ways. Saulė is more concerned with the human figure than Vincas, though when he does include figures they have a wonderful wit, as in his 1970 bookplate for Inge Rödel, created on the occasion of the 13th international Exlibris congress in Budapest. I'll show Saulė's work first; her bookplates are mostly for literary and artistic figures in Lithuania, including the artist Ausra Petrauskaite, the poet Edward Puzdrowski, Saulė's sister Aldona Aleškevičiūtė, the scientific writer Jurgis Tornau, and the artist Antanas Gudaitis.

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris Ausra Petrauskaite
Etching with aquatint, 1970

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris Edward Puzdrowski
Etching with aquatint, 1969

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris Aldona Aleskeviciute
Etching with aquatint, 1969

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris  Jurgis Tornau
Etching with aquatint, 1970

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris Antanas Gudaitis
Etchng with aquatint, 1970

Saulė Kisarauskienė, Ex libris Inge Rödel
Etching with aquatint, 1970

Vincas Kisarauskas was born in 1934 in the village of Augmėnai, in the Radviliškis district. Saulė Stanislava Aleškevičiūtė was born in 1937 in Kaune. After their marriage, Saulė became Saulė Kisarauskienė, or Saulė Aleškevičiūtė-Kisarauskienė. While both pursued their art with great seriousness, it was perhaps inevitable that the duties of motherhood and the gender bias of the day would mean that it was Vincas who achieved the greater fame and acclaim, but they appear to me to have been a true lifelong artistic union, each enriching their own artistic practice by reference to the other.

Vincas Kisarauskas

The art of Vincas Kisarauskas employs a personal vocabulary of forms, which he combines and reinterprets with wit and skill. This is particularly evident I think in his linocuts, which teeter on the verge of abstraction without ever fully embracing it. What I particularly admire about these is the way Kisarauskas achieves a sense of monumentality within such small-scale works. His block-like figures have real strength and presence.

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Inge Rödel
Etching with aquatint, 1970

Vincas Kisarauskas, XIII Congres International de l'exlibris 1970
Etching with aquatint, 1970

Vincas Kisarauskas Ex libris Klaus Rödel
Etching with aquatint, 1974

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Klaus Rödel
Etching with aquatint, 1974

Vincas Kisarauskas, 15. Dail. Julijos Vysniauskienes knygy
Zinc engraving, 1967

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Mary & Alfonso (Sapnas?)
Linocut, 1971

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris A. Stasiul…
Linocut, 1971

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Herber Blokland
Linocut, 1971

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Lars, Inge & Klaus Rödel
Lincocut, 1971

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Carlo Chiesa (XIV Congres International de l'Ex libris)
Linocut, 1972

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Inge Rödel (XIV Congres International de l'Ex libris)
Linocut, 1972

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Vagn Clemmensen
Linocut, 1972

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Vagn Clemmensen
Linocut, 1973

Vincas Kisarauskas, Ex libris Vagn Clemmensen
Linocut, 1973

In this sense they are rather like a Lithuanian version of Robert and Sonia Delaunay. As in the case of the Delaunays, the husband died prematurely (Robert Delaunay lived to be 56, Vincas Kisarauskas was just 54 when he died of a heart attack in New York in 1988). Saulė Kisarauskienė, like Sonia Delaunay, was left to be the standard bearer of her husband's reputation, and also to continue her own artistic journey. In 2007, after a long silence, she held a major exhibition of new work entitled Rebirth, and in 2008 there was the first monograph on her art. There's a 2013 interview with her here, in Lithuanian; if you copy this into Google Translate you will get the gist of it.

There is now an extensive collection of works by Saulė Aleškevičiūtė-Kisarauskienė and Vincas Kisarauskas in the Šiauliai Aušros Museum, whose website has virtual exhibitions of both linocuts by Vincas and monoprints made from carved and painted clay plates by Saulė.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Social Media: Twitter and Facebook

This is just to alert my readers to the fact that I have taken the plunge into the world of social media, and set up Twitter and Facebook accounts for Idbury Prints. The Twitter feed will just feature a single image with minimal information: artist, title, medium, date. The Facebook page will feature the same image but with a brief, informal text about it. I'll also try to work out how to link the Facebook page to this blog, so that the longer, more considered pieces I post here should also go there.

Ludwig Heinrich von Jungnickel, Pantherkopf
Colour woodcut, 1916

This is the first image I chose for this new project, a really stunning colour woodblock print by one of the masters of the medium. It was published in 1916  in the Vienna art revue Die Graphischen Kunste. Jungnickel made two different versions of this print - this one with the white background, and a second one with an orange background. You can compare the two in the informative post on L. H. Jungnickel at Modern Printmakers.

I'm still intending to keep this blog up, and have quite a few posts in the works, but the simpler nature of Twitter and Facebook should enable me to communicate with more regularity. So if you like, please follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or even both.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Winter: an etching by Louis Graf Sparre

The aristocratic Swedish artist Count Pehr Louis Sparre, commonly referred to in German as Louis Graf Sparre (Graf meaning Count), was born in Gravellona Lomellina, Italy, in 1863. He was married to the Finnish artist Eva Mannerheim, and lived in Finland for nearly twenty years from 1889. Louis Sparre is regarded as one of the founders of Karelianism, alongside his close friend and colleague Akseli Gallen-Kallela. This shiveringly cold etching was created by Louis Sparre in 1904, and published in 1906 by the Gesellschaft für Vervielfältigende Kunst, Vienna, in Die Graphischen Kunste.

Louis Graf Sparre, Winter
Etching, 1904

Besides a long career as a painter and printmaker, Louis Sparre was a leading ceramicist, and directed the first Finnish feature film. If that wasn't enough, he also competed as an individual and team fencer at the 1912 summer Olympics. Louis Graf Sparre died in Stockholm in 1964, at the age of 101.

Friday, January 16, 2015

War and the pity of war: Kathe Kollwitz

I've posted before about the German Expressionist artist Käthe Kollwitz, so I'll not rehearse all my previous thoughts again: you can read them here. But having acquired a new etching by Kollwitz I felt I wanted to share it with you, partly as my own inadequate response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Initially this picture seems to have nothing to do with war or terror: it is simply a mother caressing her baby in the cradle, the kind of image Mary Cassatt made famous.

Käthe Kollwitz, Frau an der Wiege
Etching, 1897
Klipstein 38 IIIc, Knesebeck 40

But look again at that mother. She is not entranced by the happy, healthy presence of her baby; she is traumatised by the anticipation of grief and loss, already holding her head in her hands. When she made this image in 1897, after the birth of her second child, Peter, how could Käthe Kollwitz have known that such sadness lay ahead? But it did. Peter was killed in action in WWI in October 1914, aged just 19. Everyone knows how much it hurts a mother to lose a child. If everyone in the world who is tempted to acts of war or terrorism could just remember, in the moment before they pull the trigger or shed the bomb, that every one of those they kill is a son or a daughter, surely they would think again?