Rasa Andriušytė
www.kamane.lt , 2009 08 31

In brief: The end of the summer is the perfect time for discussion about plein-airs, creative camps and symposiums. It is an old and important tradition of European art; however, it has sadly changed almost beyond recognition now.

Painting en plein air (French for open air) started at the end of the 18th century. The British painter John Constable (1776-1837) was one of the first artists who noticed the importance of changes of light and other atmospheric phenomena for colours of landscapes. Still, Constable painted only sketches in the open air and his most famous landscapes “White Horse” (1819), “Hay Cart” (1821) were finished in the workshop. Meanwhile, his followers, French artists Théodore Rousseau, Camille Corot, Jean François Millet and others started painting en plein air from about 1830.

J.Constable. “White Horse”, 1819

This was the painters’ opposition to academic painting and the birth of Impressionism. Creation en plein air encouraged modernisation of painting. Gatherings of painters outside the city, in picturesque locations were an incentive for the development of art market and tourism. Country-side cafes and hotels used to become meeting points of painters, poets and other creative people.

M.Verefkin. “Tragic Mood”. 1910. Ascona Museum

One of such points was Hermann Blöde Hotel in Nida opened in 1867. While the Curonian Spit belonged to Germany until 1923, about two hundred artists visited Nida. The most famous of them were expressionists Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Pechstein, Pranas Domšaitis. Nida was also loved by German realists and impressionists Lovis Corinth, Ernst Bischoff-Culm.

K.Schmidt-Rottluff. “At Nets”. 1914. San Francisco Museum

M.Pechstein. “Graves of Curonians”. 1911 Altona Museum

There was no bigger movement of plein-air painters in Lithuania before the war. Members of Ars group were lured to fields and forests by studies of Lithuanian folk art – sculpture and fabrics rather than painting of landscapes. Some places Višakio Rūda, Beržoras, Gintališkės attracted them by the preserved natural and archaic features. Viktoras Vizgirda, Antanas Gudaitis, Antanas Samuolis visited these places in order to draw sketches.

In the second half of the 20th century the Soviet authorities did not tolerate any groups of artists and allowed only spring “Art Days”, during which one was forced to paint workers of collective farms. Finally, after the year 1990, the era of informal gatherings of artists started in Lithuania.

As compared to other countries, really many plein-airs, symposiums and camps were organised in the country during the latter years. The first plein-airs were held in Kaunas and Nida in 1994-1995. Nobody gathered information how many events were organised and how many Lithuanian and foreign painters participated in them; still, it is high time to speak about the artistic results of such events and their impact on the general creative atmosphere of the country.

According to data of the art critic Donvina Morėnaitė, 147 plein-airs, symposiums and camps of painters were held in the period of 2000-2003 in Lithuania. The events were most often dedicated to some famous painter, despite the fact that perhaps he/she was not a lover of plein-air painting. Plein-airs in memoriam of Vytautas Kairiūkštis, Justinas Vienožinskis, Juozas Zikaras, Jonas Šileika, Kajetonas Sklėrius, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, Benediktas Vytautas Pranckūnas were organised.

Plein-airs often have interesting themes related with the present artistic problems highlighted by curators, for instance: “Energy in Art” (Nida, 2003), “Trajectory in Water and Time” (sailing along the Nemunas, 2003), “Forms of Time” (Verkiai, 2002), “Resort Romance” (Palanga, 2001), “On this Side of Painting” (Kaunas, 2008), “Textile in the Wind” (Plungė, 2001), “Expression of Silence” (Kaunas, 2009).

More realistic events have conquered the mix-up of artistic thoughts finally – recently events in memoriam of painters Antanas Samuolis and Chaim Soutine were held. The organisers declare relation with their works, even though it is hard to notice it in works of plein-air participants. Not much attention is paid to presentation of works created in plein-airs as no rules of state funding demand that as many people as possible would see state-supported art. True, the organisers of Samuolis plein-airs Aušra Andziulytė and Juozas Šlivinskas moved the exhibitions to Jonava, which is related with the artist Samuolis. Later Vaičys presented the harvest of Samuolis plein-air in exhibition halls of Juodkrantė, Plungė, Vilnius.

A.Andziulytė. “About Sand and Water”. 2005. Oil, tin, 111x126 cm. Work created after the watercolourists’ plein-air in Klaipėda (curator Renate Lusis).

A.Andziulytė. “Ebb”. 2006. Oil, tin, 106x126 cm. From the series “Ebbs”. The series of works was created after the symposium “Secret Dimensions” that took place in Milton Keynes town in England in 2004.

The number of short informal meetings of artists has decreased recently. Perhaps the enthusiasm is disappearing or perhaps it is caused by decreasing state funds allocated to such events. True, artists are supported by private persons or owners of manors as well (Dalia and Gintaras Gruodžiai from Bikuškis Manor, Mindaugas Šventoraitis from Babtynas-Žemaitkiemis, Danguolė and Kostas Lincevičius from Šilavotas, to name a few).

What about the results of such events? Like every August, the exhibition of the 16th painters’ plein-air in memoriam of Antanas Samuolis is open at Meno Parkas gallery in Kaunas. An analogical exhibition of “Soutine Days’2009” may be visited in the premises of the Lithuanian Artists’ Union in Vilnius. These are exhibitions which do not have to be visited by common people as the plein-air results are often important only to a handful of plein-air participants.

The artistic results are frequently modest or even poor. It is not often that valuable works are created in plein-airs: the conditions are unusual, there is too little time for work. However, it is believed due to some reason that an exhibition should be organised. The fact of exhibition of any level proclaimed by the mass media provides a possibility to receive state project funds in the coming year.

The task to express silence and relate such different fields as Samuolis and Pažaislis, Expressionism and Baroque appeared to be complicated for participants of Samuolis’ plein-air held in Pažaislis this year. The result was a formless variety and chaos of values. The mosaic of Naglis Baltušnikas is from a completely different context. In the author’s opinion, neither Samuolis nor Pažaislis is worth this. Only Vaida Tamoševičiūtė and Gregoire Fabvre did not stray to distant shores and interpreted the spaces of the monastery as metaphors of original spiritual experience in their works. The question of expression remains; still, there is the least amount of empty noise in their works and they are not extraneous to the sacral Pažaislis.

Pažaislis'09. V.Tamoševičiūtė. “4.00”. 2009

Pažaislis'09. G.Fabvre. “Labyrinths of Reverence”. Video (4 min. 45 s.). 2009

The question of relation of an artwork and place is one of the main artistic problems solved in the contemporary art. Still, it is forgotten that plein-air is a really old form of artists’ creation and communication. Everything was simpler in Šilavotas (Prienai district) plein-air headed by Alfonsas Vilpišauskas. The theme of this year “Mist” reminded of Claude Monet. The exhibition was traditionally presented outdoors, on the walls of an old cottage. Kaunas painters who participated in the plein-air did not hide that they demonstrated only the initial ideas, which would turn into material for further work in the workshop. The practice is old and tested by Constable long ago. Communication among colleagues, friendship with local people is also a valuable thing in such an event.

Šilavotas’09. Exposition of A.Andziulytė’s sketches

Šilavotas'09. A.Vilpišauskas at his works and A.Ruseckaitė

Šilavotas'09. Works of VAA student P.Lincevičius

The participants of summer events of artists state unanimously that the essence of plein-airs is the possibility to discuss, communicate and have a good time. Sometimes a very favourable creative atmosphere is created. Personal international relations are developed. A pleasant socialisation process takes place. The movement of plein-airs testifies that contemporary art is not discriminated in Lithuania. The state is still supporting short gatherings of artists, even though such events are not always worth it. However, the time has come to evaluate the results of plein-air activity honestly and to reconsider the system of organising plein-airs.

Pažaislis'09. N.Baltušnikas. “One. Two”. Mosaic, 2009

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