Review by NYC based art historian, curator and writer Rosa JH Berland
Many imagine the scope of post-communist Lithuania as a painful recouping of self, inscribed through memoirs, narratives and return to intellectual study. Much of modern Lithuanian art has been marked by an esoteric admixture of neo-surrealist imagery that takes a muddy atmospheric style, veiled by motifs and lettering of a nation. As well, conceptual art, installation and film play an important role in this national art scene.
Contemporary Lithuanian painter Egle Razumaite’s describes her practice as transcendental, and notes basic themes include the function of creativity as a liberating force, exploring ways to transform the mundane or every day, and study of perception and reality.Much of the artist’s work is often centered on sociopolitical themes, namely that of the human cost of war and conflict.
Additionally, in many of the pieces, there are explicit borrowings from the motifs of classic modernism –e.g. the early 20th century –works such as The Matchmaking Room are laid out like the flat planes of Pierre Bonnard’s pictures. These expanses of pattern resemble swathes of cloth –paired with more “naturalist” details.
Egle’s most interesting work in fact combines these leitmotifs in a tapestry like reworking of color, pattern and shapes, all shallow views and saturated color. She is quite aware of canons of modernism, as we can see in her painting The deconstruction of imposed memories: Salon de Fleurus. Egle’s oil on canvas work responds to the engaging traveling installation of the same name (organized by Curators International). This curated exhibit recreates Gertrude Stein’s iconic 1903-04 Paris salon.
The artist describes the process of making this work in a quasi-mystical way, centering on the artistic process through which models and adsorbed and reexamined: “The repetition itself opens up as a pure form of time. Then the deconstruction begins. The imposed memories of modern art canons start to move and resolve into abstract forms, different color spots eventually vanishing into one-dimensional surface.”
The recent abstract painting (,,Tribute to nature’’, 2016) seems to be an embodiment of this vanishing, the ephemerality of a moment, of the atelier process, coming into being through opaque and transparent layers of paint, cloud like forms dance among the besotted petals of a divisionist garden. These ways of working while perhaps indeed referencing the classic modernism of the Paris group, in fact also draw from regional styles, that dusty and murky heaviness in foliage, distorted angles, and a strangely romantic eclecticism of form seen in work by artists such as Justinas Vienožinskis.
Egle’s earlier paintings often borrow and rework the outlines and expressive gestures of Van Gogh and Gauguin. The Lithuanian artist’s oil and pastel pictures such as Leaving Home have a somber folkloric tone — reminding one of the dark outlines of woodcuts, the shadows and ridges of the Lithuanian landscape, punctuated by forests of wood crosses.
One of the most important creative forces in Lithuania is the late Julius Juzeliūnas whose multi-disciplinary practice included music, composition and theory as well as his advocacy for Lithuanian independence. For many historic figures such as MK Čiurlionis and Oskaras Koršunovas, and the highly regarded and masterful contemporary painter Šarūnas Sauka. As Leonidas Donskis points out in the article. “On the Boundary of Two Worlds: Lithuanian Philosophy in the Twentieth Century.” Studies in East European Thought, in the early 20th century, Lithuanian theory and philosophy responded to social and moral questions raised in the Russian circles, intellectuals would move on to engage in continental European philosophy, and center around issues such as hermeneutics, phenomenology, and existentialism. After communism, this culture of inquiry has been revitalized, and it comes as no surprise that artists such as Egle are deeply engaged with the philosophy of theoreticians such as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. And so, she wishes her audience to see more, and notes: “By experimenting with ways of reading and creating history, I create a dialectical flow of timeless ideas hidden within an artwork.”
Perhaps… but for me, the actual haptic beauty of Egle’s work is enough, it is clear that she is engaged with the idea of history, archetypes, and the importance of creativity and new ideas. These additional justifications seem almost unnecessary but of course are an important part of an academic culture that existed before communism and continues to be crucial to the development and practice of intellectuals and artists. The considerable legacy of modern visual arts, and the intertwining of surrealism with expressionism results in a kind of watershed of imagery. Egle visually unifies impasto, flatness, and leitmotifs and prototypes with a woven quality, each segment narratival, redolent with color, notable mostly for the purity of tactile appeal.
Yes, studying philosophy is a sort of endurance training for the brain, and serves as a recovery of an abused and disused culture, but the mark of the brush, the process, the exploration of form, beauty, ugliness and composition seem ultimately more meaningful, and certainly Egle has succeeded at this. Of course, such experimentation would not be possible without independence, and artists like Engle continue to emerge from this nation exposing a new way of looking at the history of modernism. She emerges from the folkloric, a density of philosophical thinking to reveal mural like paintings of scattered trees, stones and bodies. And this is a fitting conclusion for a painter named after the Queen of the Serpents.