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Circus

Mikalojus Povilas Vilutis1976

Modern Art Center / Modernaus Meno Centras

Modern Art Center / Modernaus Meno Centras

The prints made by graphic artist Mikalojus Povilas Vilutis from 1973 to 1978 share a centric and mostly pyramidic composition. They always depict a human figure, usually that of a woman. The works also share the artist's avoidance of personal history narratives, meaning that the women he portrays do not represent actual personalities or love interests, nor do the parachutists signify any adventures by the author in the sky. "When I want to say something specific, I say it in words or in writing," recounts the artist. So then what are we, the audience, to do when looking at his paintings? Enjoy their concise shapes, striking silhouettes and color contrasts. Allow emotions to be born – that is the goal of the artist.

If we look at the print entitled Red Dress I, from 1974, we can see the frenzied candor of youth. Circus (1976), on the other hand, resonates with a tense peace of the moment just before leaping. The strength of these pieces lies in their clear shapes and colors. Each of them share pure and strong emotion, like a sip of strong black coffee or a truth told directly to one's face. It is not surprising, then, that these works were kept out of exhibition halls from 1971 to 1976. To better understand these paintings, let us look back on those times.

The artist speaks about his early works thusly: "These were years of big dreams and a happy youthful life. Bohemian days spent in old gateways. I sketched my early works then -- spontaneously, in black and white. I lived and sketched without great effort, letting things happen as they may. And things came out pretty well. I was alive and my works were alive. My entire life from that time is in those paintings."

Remember that, at that time, none of these works were shown anywhere. We can look back and note with irony that being rejected by an exhibit in Soviet times was a sign of a work's quality and an artist's talent. But if we think about the lack of recognition for five years, we can only image how strong was the artist's persistence and his internal imperative to create.

Today it is hard to understand why these works were ignored. There appears to be nothing in them that relates to politics or ideology. Perhaps suspicions were aroused by the appearance in the country of the new silkscreen printing technique, which Vilutis had learned during an internship in Kiev and had introduced to Lithuania? Silkscreen printing (sometimes also called serigraphy) is a graphic printing technique during which a drawing is made on a special mesh, paint is then etched away, and a print is created using the resulting stencil.

Another unique characteristic of Vilutis' work is his original style. Lithuanian graphic art at the time was dominated by soft forms surrounded by fine detail and popular folk motifs (examples include the creative works of graphic artist and instructor Rimtautas Gibavičius, as well as those of Petras Repšys, Romualdas Čarna and Birutė Žilytė).

Vilutis, however, portrays gruff, laconic silhouettes, striking contrasts, ungainly shapes. Where does this come from? The graphic artists of the day, younger members of Vilutis' generation and now quite well known in Lithuania, such as Eduardas Juchnevičius, Vytautas Jurkūnas, Edmundas Saladžius and others, sought new forms and their own original styles. Vilutis found the greatest inspiration not from his instructors, but from Pablo Picasso and his work. Picasso, who sympathized with the communists, was one of the few Western artists whose works and albums were permitted to be seen during the Soviet period.

In Vilutis' early pieces, we see the simplified forms characteristic of Picasso's work, the same exploring eye that transforms environments and the same blunt directness. Vilutis' work is also defined by constant change and a search for innovation. In his later work, we will see much more of Salvador Dali's influence. Unexpected parallels, complex forms, multi-colored palettes, and intricate, ornate design, as if the same world is being portrayed but at a different time of day, by an artist in a more mature period of his life.

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Details

  • Title: Circus
  • Creator: Mikalojus Povilas Vilutis
  • Date: 1976
  • Location: Lithuania
  • Physical Dimensions: 18/30, 30 x 22 cm
  • Medium: silkscreen

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