Conversation with Elena Balsiukaitė-Brazdžiūnienė
Interviewed by Raminta Jurėnaitė for Modern Art Center, Vilnius, Lithuania
on September 30, 2010 at the painter’s studio in Šančiai, Kaunas.
Where did you study?
I started studying art at Steponas Žukas Art College. At the same time Henrikas Čarapas, Jonas Gasiūnas, Vytautas Dubauskas, Aušra Bagočiūnaitė-Paukštienė, Ričardas Nemeikšis, Eimutis Markūnas were students too. An excellent crowd. We had the most wonderful teacher of painting – Alfonsas Vilpišauskas. By the way, my first teacher of painting was R.I.P. Romualdas Stankevičius that was a good painter and a great teacher. That is how we all ended up in painting. The College was located on the Owls’ Hill, we were walking in the neighbourhood with paints and portable easels, painted the surroundings as it was a very painterly neighbourhood, and it went on in this way. Then we all met again at the Arts Institute, most of us had chosen to study painting.
I will be honest: I did not have too many teachers at the Institute. There was also a great group of people – Henrikas Čarapas, Rimvidas Jankauskas-Kampas, Aušra Andziulytė. They were ambitious people. Painting was important to us, we did not think how we were going to make a living. Painting to us was the expression of freedom. Ant that is how we became painters.
You came back to Kaunas…
I came back to Kaunas a bit later than the rest because I was so lucky to be thrown out of the Institute as I was caught copying from my notes during the exam of scientific Communism. I had to postpone my graduate for a year. There were three months remaining, the final diploma work in progress but I had to defend it later. I finished my studies under the guidance of Augustinas Savickas who allowed me to do what I wanted, who trusted me. As I say, we studied from the books and from each other because it was not the best of times at the Institute, it was the lowest point. But when I was defending my diploma work everything was different: the Rector was another person, painters Mindaugas Skudutis and Arvydas Šaltenis were allowed to come back and teach. I encounters the time of changes there.
When I came back to Kaunas, I got very lucky again. I started to work at the 4-Year Art school, now it is Arvydas Martinaitis Art School. I worked together with Laima Drazdauskaitė, Alfonsas Vilpišauskas, Aušra Andziulytė, – there were lots of painters at our School.
At that time we had the group Four consisting of four young women; some called us The Moths. We were putting up lots of exhibitions, at least once a year. Our start was very ambitious. We were the group that were making showings. When we would enter the Picture Gallery, they would say at once, “And again these girls want to make an exhibition. How many of them can they make?..” Aušra Barzdukaitė-Vaitkūnienė, myself, Judita Budriūnaitė and Aušra Andziulytė. It helped a lot because such was the pulse of the time. You work, you dedicate yourself to work. Now I see that it was a very intensive period although it was not very easy since I was at the beginning of the career, no studio. Thanks to my dearest colleague Augis Varkulevičius. He went to Berlin, abroad, and left his studio to me and my husband, and he did it free of charge. We worked there for some seven years. I have never thought before until now Raminta has asked the question but it turns out I have been very lucky. There was the milieu, and the colleagues were interesting, ambitious and talented persons. And that time has been used to its fullest.
Tell about these two paintings. When, under which circumstances were they created? How much did you discuss them with your colleagues?
We were discussing art but we were rather cautious when speaking about each other’s art. Firstly, our priority was colour, then – to get away from the Institute’s influence as far as possible. To get away from everything they told us to do, all those thematic pictures. That is it, you crossed it out, you walked out, you did what you had to do, you paid your dues because we all were going into a huge compromise. Then the big formats started. Arūnas Vaitkūnas was first, then Kampas followed. Colour, freeing yourself. If you say something in a picture, you say it without any compromises. You do not improve it, do not make it pretty even if it is crude. Rimas and I were talking about the incompleteness. We were interested in literature; for example, we discussed haiku, the art hinting. If there is an apt allusion, then the consciousness extends the picture in the thought. If there is an apt allusion in the picture – an internal allusion, an external allusion to an extent – the viewer extends the picture in his thoughts. Not everything has to be said, there must be a pause.
Why is that picture as if taken from CoBrA? And next to it – a match?
When I was putting up a show in Denmark, one painting bought the library that had a collection of CoBrA’s drawings and graphic prints. They were very surprised when they saw the connections. Frankly, that doll is a toy that I made myself to my son. It is present in several pictures. It is the hand puppet, which you put on your hand and it moves. So it affected the overall style. And also the expressionist manner suits me well. I am an emotional person. I like it, I dislike it – I have told it. It is the doll smeared in smut, covered in some kind of soot.
And why is there the match?
The match is related to the stages in life. I have got two sons, and at that time they were at that rather dangerous age when things have to be hidden from them. But the match is also a kind of a symbol. It is also in another painting. In that painting I am talking about the Last Match, the last possibility – either you strike and lit it or it will not be lit. The little match becomes large as the problem: if you do not strike and lit the match you will not make food, you will not smoke a cigarette before making the final brushstroke. The match represents the last possibility when the little match start a huge fire but if it is not lit the fire will not take place.
And this painting containing 1 and 0? And what is about the female form of a ballet tutu, painting in an angry manner?
This is a remark to my painting that is called The Skater. It is one of my earliest works and I love it very much. It is one of my mile-stones with certain painterly tasks that are important for me all the time. From nature to poetry. There is a patch of white canvas in each painting. Finally, what is a painting? Canvas smeared with paint. But how that paint is smeared on it, what it is done with it can be total nuisance but it can also be very important. Only later I understood that this painting was the mile-stone for me. And this one is the response to it; another figure makes its entrance, very didactic, and it is a very inhospitable character, from my point of view. In first painting was this one, on that wall. And these paintings are in the conflict with each other. A conflict is necessary for a picture to appear. They are in conflict, 1:0, but to whom. In this one painting is already different, I smear and destroy paint. I did not want it to be bright therefore I was removing paint, putting it on again. Right now I am strongly influenced by graffiti. It has courage and relevance, it affects strongly. I look at it, I take pictures of graffiti art, I have bought books on it because it is relevant and expressive.
And this one is called Self-Portrait with… The multipoint.
What is that with?
With something. You can have something in mind but you can chose not to show it in a picture. It is possible to paint a picture and scrape the paint off. The best picture is the one where paint has been scraped off. It is done to avoid saying too much. There are purely painterly problems in a picture and it also has to contain the incompleteness. I think when everything is finished, everything is said the picture becomes elementary, it does not attract anymore, it becomes uninteresting.
I have painted several pictures that seem to consist of two pictures. This division comes from the so-called green skirting boards series. Walls use to be painted white and up to here – green or brown or some kind of hideous green-brown. Two pictures appear, a kind of a story, as the principle of the comic strip, it has to be looked at from the top to the bottom. For me here is one more emotion, damaged surface. It took me long time to grow this yellow colour so it became absorbing, as if the paint itself could talk. And in this part – a figurative story, Self-Potrait with… I had something in mind, had almost painted it but then I came one day to the studio and removed the paint and it disappeared. Let it disappear. If anyone will truly ask me about it, I will tell it one day.
Tell about the technique…
I used ink from the printing house. It is very thick, it takes very long time for it to get dry. This picture is completely dry now. I wanted the surface itself to be very expressive, uneven. There is such a phrase – the exhausted surface. Weary surface, not new, as if it has some kind of experience. When you spent some hours with the picture moulding it, paint is not getting dry, you mix oils with ink, you get very good black colour, very good matter. This kind of division comes from when the wall is painted in one colour but another colour appears in the end but they suit each other so well. Then calligraphy appears. I have been thinking what I wanted to do. But I needed to paint all that background. Then I draw with oil pastels, I am looking for that character who said “Bye”. I met him in the store, he was buying biscuits, we said farewells to each other, and he said “Bye”.