I would like to start with a small provocation. I have got the problem with expressionist painting with the point of departure in nature and color, – I stand in the conflict with it. Is this painting canon still alive? Your works seem to claim so. Does the issue of the painting school and tradition matter at all to you? For it seems that you feel very comfortable in it and you do not feel its existence (it does not disturb you)?
The mere fact that you experience the conflict shows that something annoys you, disturbs, perturbs or does not allow you to concentrate. You cannot ignore it. You keep on tripping over the stone even though it seems that you know the path by heart. I think this is your personal relationship. You would like the page to be read, understood and closed. In a word, we proceed.
And here Balsiukaitė darts out and brandishes with the brush, hurling paints. She is making unimportant issues important, futzing with old stuff. Without any feminists discussions and global narratives. I understand that this is nothing new. I do accept that it might be uninteresting. Comfortable? Certainly not. And insecure.
But I think that it is not my business to ask how much inertia the tradition contains or where the capacity for the renewal lies. Like others, I would like to experience the instant of astonishment having discovered something exceptional, something different and unique. Yet the questions of this kind no longer hamper me.
Yes, it is probably my issue, and it would dishonest for me not to say anything about it if we are engaged in an honest conversation. Speaking of your exhibition The Church of Crows, it is possible to be surprised more than once if we are seeking to be surprised. It has got a very integral narrative very well grounded in childhood, nature, inspirations from the surroundings in general. It falls into the front and the background: there are personalities of the crows in front forming the solemn church-tree and there is everything next to them (ground, metal roof, the depth) in the back. It seems that the motif taken from the real world remains still very important to you. At the same time, the all overpowering paint, concrete surface, painting par excellence is the most important for you. Could you say how the relation between the real motif, the push from the reality, and abstraction works?
Painter Giorgio Morandi has said that there is nothing more abstract than reality. For me the selection of the motif is very important. It is the point of departure. The motif = motivation. It reminds of the act of repeating the word that empties it of the meaning and only the sound of it remains.
The real image can mutate, decompose and eventually vanish during the longer work process. It is that internal nerve. The impulse. When the color loses that linear dependency (and for me its surface, mass and its movement are always very important) and becomes the very important agent. In such works I try to avoid brush works. I arrest the picture in the moment of its becoming. I want it to be living. So that the eye of the viewer could ramble.
Was it always like that for you or has it changed over the year? For it looks now that it is your gold years, – the third personal exhibition this year. Have you discovered a certain balance and found a certain way of thinking and painting?
Actually, some things to be more clear now but when I approach a new work I start everything from scratch. During 20 years many things were changing of course. Several different strategies have formed. Most likely, it is related to my private life. With what was significant and important for me.
Several points of departure have emerged. This exhibition, The Church of Crows, is the result of observing and experiencing nature. The exhibition this past spring at Vilnius Art Academy, I am dr. Love, was inspired by literature and culture. The project About Them that I am developing since 2007 is about social existence. Externally and technically they are very different collections. All the time I am trying to see the inter-relations. I would need a very large space to place these works and take a look at them. Now for me the most important thing is to get information – external and internal – under control.
I am not too eager on things learned. I am contemplating what I have been doing and what I am doing now. Sometimes I think that it reminds some kind of the schizophrenic state, as if there were different voices speaking in one‘s head at the same point of time.
This „crow exhibition“, I must admit, is very personal. I draw the crows, paint them but in reality I am speaking about myself. The only difference is that they have got the wings and fly off to the other bank of the river when I have been looking for too long at them… Oh, it is so beautiful anyway!
Who and what has had the biggest influence on you (teachers, authorities, exhibitions etc)?
When I was a student at Stepas Žukas Art College painting was taught by Romualdas Stankevičius (1933 1991). He had once told me, „Elena, the most important things in life are painting and boys“. And he was indeed right. Today I have got a husband and two sons. And painting. He was an excellent teacher and an ambitious painter.
I still remember the exhibition of the works by Petronėlė Gerlikienė (1905 – 1979), which I saw when I was a student. I am impressed by the painting by Ričardas Povilas Vaitiekūnas (b. 1940), his paintings from the years when he lived and worked in Kaunas. The early works by Mindaugas Skudutis (b. 1948). The entire œuvres of Antanas Samuolis and Vladas Eidukevičius at M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum. Alfonsas Vilpišauskas (b. 1945) is an excellent painter and teacher. And of course there are books: James Joyce, William Faulkner, Anton Chekhov, Virginia Woolf, Fernando Pessoa, Sigitas Geda (1943 – 2008) – it would be a long list. The foreign artists who made the lasting impression on me are Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anselm Kiefer, Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet, Antoni Tàpies, Cy Twombly, R. B. Kitaj, Doris Salcedo.
The strongest influence, however, is all the losses and bereavements, through which I am discovering my own art. It must also be mentioned my work as an art educator that is inseparable from what I am. The contact with children and young people bring me so much positive impulses and fun experiences.
What authors (writers, poets, visual artists, friends) do you still admire?
I am fascinated and intrigueed by the art of Ina Budrytė, and Eglė Ridikaitė. I deeply respect the artists working in the field of pure painting – Henrikas Čarapas and Eugenijus Antanas Cukermanas. I am very lucky to count wonderful artists Česlovas Lukenskas, Eugenijus Varkulevičius, Aušra Barzdukaitė-Vaitkūnienė, and Jovita Aukštikalnytė among my friends.
Why do you think you are still painting? Have you no wish to try other means of expression?
I am simply following my instinct. Painting for is, still, the inexhaustible mode of communication with the reality. It is my never ending journey from the inside out and back again. I have created several installations, and I am taking photographs all the time. There are two series of my photographic works – Homoe Ludens. Forever and K.P.P. It might be that I will show them one day. I think photography needs to age a bit to acquire the aesthetic value. It may be that it will transpire that those works have lost their value. For this reason the exhibition of photographs by graphic arstist and stage designer Aleksandra Jacovskytė (b. 1945) was so amazing. I could say the same thing about the works of Algirdas Šeškus (b. 1945).
What is the message that your painting sends?
The message is about sadness and fun, shallowness and viscous depth. It is about showing how everything in nature and culture repeats itself in the cyclical manner but each time catches by surprise. The threshold of pain still is very close to that of hope. I believe that there is still hope. And I am grateful for this wonderful but unbearable moment.