Aušra Barzdukaitė-Vaitkūnienė, 2008 04 02

“Downhill Street”, canvas, oil, 1981-1982, 100x75 cm

Rumours were heard while studying at Vilnius Art Academy that there was one very gifted painter in Kaunas. Some Arūnas Vaitkūnas. We heard in 1984 that his one-man exhibition was opened in the premises of the Artists’ Union in K.Donelaičio Street.


Audrius Naujokaitis, Justinas Mikutis, Jolanta Strazdaitė, me and perhaps some other students went to Kaunas instead of lectures to see the exhibition. Justinas walked around speaking what was done well and what wasn’t. I did not listen to his talks and looked at the paintings. They made a strong impact on me – they seemed so tragic, heavy and dark; still, they were very persuasive. This was how I saw life – tragic and full of pain. I thought then that this was a real painter.


After making a circle, I returned to the canvases of this painter. I was moved by deep blue colours, green flashes and strokes. The exhibition of Arūnas did not leave me in peace for a long time. I caught myself thinking about the seen works during lectures. The colours, the moods and expression of paintings and their truth appeared in front of my eyes.


From the memories of the painter Alfonsas Vilpišauskas: “Arūnas was a master of painting. When he entered the Art Institute, I was studying for the fifth year. One lecturer told me that one painter with absolute colour skills entered the establishment and offered to grant him a flower. And I, being a fifth-year student, gave the flower to the first-year student.”


After the studies, Arūnas returned to Kaunas in 1980. At the beginning he worked at Kaunas St.Žukas Technical Art School, later – at Kaunas Exhibition Hall as the paintings exposition employee.


Kaunas is the native city of Arūnas. The painter felt many sentiments for it. This is where his childhood passed at the home of the grandfather Pranas, this is where he learned painting. He felt sorry for the liquidated market in the old town, for the destroyed numerous old interiors (pre-war), for the changes made in Laisvės Alley. It seemed to him that all changes were to the worse, as inability to cherish own culture and traditions destroys the sense of identity and dignity in the minds of people.


The art situation of Kaunas was two-sided then. Many compromises, many efforts for authority and honour were made. Still, there was much potential and honesty in art. The art of people who strived for that has survived. Antanas Martinaitis was alive then, R.P.Vaitiekūnas used to come. The meetings were organised at home of the graphic Edmundas Saladžius. The painters Laima Drazdauskaitė, A. Vilpišauskas and Mykolas Šalkauskas were creating. The young generation was growing in Kaunas at that time already: Audronė Petrašiūnaitė, Eglė Velaniškytė, Algė Stankutė, Eugenijus Varkulevičius, Arūnas Vaitkūnas. Along with them – the spiritual leader of the young Justinas Mikutis.


Arūnas was charmed by the canvases of Laima Drazdauskaitė, graphics of E.Saladžius: “I love the internal cleanliness of L.Drazdauskaitė paintings and the plasticity of E. Saladžius graphics.”


Arūnas painted the staircases and interiors of forlorn buildings as well as famous places of Kaunas and more interesting streets of Žaliakalnis.


While lecturing at St.Žukas Technical Art School on the Hill of Oaks, he organised plain-airs for students during which the surrounding streets were painted. The atmosphere of this hill and of Žaliakalnis is perfectly revealed by the canvas of Arūnas “Downhill Street” painted in 1981-1982 (present Benediktinių Street).


In 1985 he painted the small-format painting “Garden of the War Museum”.


Feeling how the environment is changing and how the historical values are not protected and are destroyed, he used to say that, even if a painting is not successful, it would still register a particular place and perhaps it would be interesting to historians.

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