“Now Art. Reborn” or Graphical Art Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

There has been much hustle and bustle in the Art Yard of Klaipėda Culture Communication Centre (KCCC) for the last five days, from 17 to 21 of August. In the space, reborn after renovations and quarantine, an open graphic art workshop “Now Art. Reborn” was held for residents and guests of the city.

Every day, enthusiastic audience of all ages gathered in the Art Yard to create graphic artworks in a freely, effortless and tensionless way, together with professional artists. Though, actually, not quite tensionless – concentration of the workshop participants on the work demonstrated their very serious insights in the opportunity to learn about various graphic art techniques and, in collaboration with lecturers, to create their own linocut, monotype, or kitchen lithography. These efforts were highlighted by the joy of creative fulfilment. We could see excitement in the shining and coloured faces of adults and, especially, the small participants, when their works were printed. They carefully wrapped the dried-up works of art in rolls or old newspapers to take and decorate their houses. They embosomed T-shirts with newly printed graphic works to capture themselves in a photo shoot.

Now Art: Linkup on the Beginning of KCCC

Klaipėda Culture Communication Centre invited community and guests of Klaipėda City to the open graphic art workshop “Now Art. Reborn” to celebrate its 15th anniversary in 2020. The creative workshop is a part of the KCCC’s anniversary cycle of “Supernova” events as if taking us back to the beginning of the centre. In fact, one of the first events held by the KCCC 15 years ago was the graphic art project “Now Art Now Future. Print.”

“Now Art Now Future. Print” was launched in 2005 and developed to a multi-year international project. In the context of Lithuanian art of that time, it was special for a variety of events: art initiatives, auctions, broadcasts from parallel exhibitions; it involved urban communities and socially excluded groups into the creative process.

For the first time in Lithuania, the project was presented as an art tour across the three largest cities – Klaipeda, Kaunas and Vilnius. Exhibitions were presented in five galleries. The first in Lithuania travelling art gallery was put in a train car. It had been running on railway routes around the country for three weeks. In Klaipėda, the largest graphic print, 18 square meters linocut, was engraved with the feet of the audience (authors J. Rekevičiūtė, L. Dubauskienė, E. Vertelkaitė). In Kaunas, print-glued air balloons (author J. Rekevičiūtė) took to the air at the Town Hall Square; there were other art initiatives taking place, too. In September of that year, the project “Now Art Now Future. Print” was presented in Stockholm (Sweden), where it was of great interest.

But let’s go back to the nowadays. Fifteen years later, KCCC once again invited the community to leave its imprint at the open graphic art workshop “Now Art. Reborn.” Professional artists of different generations, Evaldas Mikalauskis, Živilė Minkutė, Linas Spurga, Jonas Vaikšnoras, Žaneta Jasaitytė-Bessonova and Toma Šlimaitė-Bubelienė, were lecturers of the workshop. For five days, they by turn gave creativity classes to all interested residents and guests of the city.

By the way, the graphic artists E. Mikalauskis and Ž. Jasaitytė-Bessonova participated in the first KCCC project “Now Art Now Future. Print,” too. Both this fact and the fact that the artists of the workshop represented three different generations of Lithuanian graphic art led to asking all participants to look at graphic works and a change over time: what changed in their lives during these 15 years? What trends in graphic art do they see?

Thinking Digitally

Evaldas Mikalauskis, an artist of the older generation, when asked about how ritually he feels to come back to the same place again, laughed that only the workshop building changed – it was repainted, it became cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing in the Art Yard, “Because artists smear, destroy everything. Of course, they accidentally fingermark door handles and walls with painted hands.” Suddenly, he steadies down and remembers, “Some of the artists are gone. Jūratė Rekevičiūtė participated in the project more than once. She and Ignas Kazakevičius were the pioneers of “Now Art Now Future.” This is my third time participating. ”

The artist teaches classical graphic art (etching) technologies at the Kaunas Faculty of Vilnius Academy of Arts. When asked to comment on how, in his opinion, the graphic art had changed over the past 15 years, he reflected, “Well, ancient graphic techniques are a thousand or more years old. It is difficult to see what has changed over a period of 15 years. There are a number of interesting new techniques. For example, they had not engraved plastic before. There was even no plastic. Plastic engraving emerged only, perhaps, 20 years ago. I really like experiments in graphic art, like combining digital printing with classic graphics, looking for innovation. The most important thing is not the shape, not the technique, but what you want to communicate. The new era is new techniques. It makes you think a little differently, digitally, when applying new technology, combining digital with old techniques. After all, you find innovation in it. You must track it. You have to!”

But, in that case, would not ancient graphic techniques disappear? “It is nice that a lot of children come to this event. We are happy to fancy them with ancient techniques. We don’t know whether they will like it or whether they will be interested in them in the future. But, maybe, there will come along weirdoes who will not be afraid to get muddy and work with dirty hands. Of course, digital, computer work is clean, nice, the coffee next to you is cooling down.  Meanwhile, the graphics are dirty work. Like ceramics. But I don’t believe those things will disappear. After all, they told the same about books – they said that no one would read them anymore. It is exciting that people come to this creative workshop, look around, maybe, they are afraid at first, they think that they won’t be able to, that they will fail. But these do not exist! Any person is capable of creating if he does it from the heart, with pleasure, not through suffering. Maybe some new Čiurlionis will grow up from those little ones who come to the workshop? ” says the graphic artist E. Mikalauskis about the future with hope.

To Make Work Breath

Žaneta Jasaitytė-Bessonova, a graphic artist of middle generation, who has been living and working in Klaipėda in recent years, is a permanent resident of KCCC workshops and a participant in projects. Together with Irma Leščinskaitė, the painter and a resident of the Art Yard workshops, she decorated the workshop windows with works of art especially for this event.

As well, Žaneta placed colourful textile objects around the courtyard. The artist offered to participants of the workshop to imprint fun balloons of bright vivid colours, “Because balloons are associated with celebration. Birthdays must be fun and colourful!”

When asked about what she recalls from the project “Now Art Now Future,” Ž. Jasaitytė-Bessonova told, “I’ve been in the project from the very beginning. In 2005, I had just completed my master’s degree studies. I joined the project in Kaunas, at the Communications History Museum where I did a light monotype. It was very hot in Kaunas, it was a wonderful team. We had quite a time to communicate because we all came from different cities and town.”

The artist’s favourite technique is linocut, “I like bigger works. A large-scale work is easier and faster to make on linoleum, so, I use it. You can play with colours on it. I play with colours! My graphic works are usually bright. However, it is important to me since my studies, that colours and layers do not overshadow each other. And that the work breathes. That’s how we were taught and that’s how I try to work.”

When asked to comment on what has changed in the graphic art over the 15 years, Ž. Jasaitytė-Bessonova looked through the prism of her work, “A lot has changed! Though I used to create graphic-based objects at that time, my works kept getting even more into objects. Now, in my works, there are, perhaps, more graphic transitions into shapes. In the beginning, it was just a plane, which slowly moved to 3D, to space. Now, it is more about playing conceptuality – a thought, expression of it. The work becomes not only a plane, it is reflected through the shape, and the colour is a complement of the graphic,” the graphic artist concludes.

Rebirth with Artists of Different Generations

Another resident of the KCCC art workshop, Toma Šlimaitė-Bubelienė, joined the project to teach the participants a dry needling technique. To demonstrate to guests what they were going to deal with, Toma decorated one of the windows in the Art Yard with an exhibition of her prints. When asked what this workshop gave her as a creator, the graphic artist emphasised the opportunity to work with artists of different generations, “I am so glad that the younger generation of artists joined this creative workshop. There are relatively few graphic artists in Klaipeda, because no one trains them here. Since we learn new techniques, I, personally, consider it a kind of rebirth. For example, I hadn’t realised that I could do etching by wrapping inorganic plastic in foil and soaking it in coca-cola. No one really taught us that. The artist of the older generation, E. Mikalauskis, with long experience in classical graphic techniques, was happy to share various professional tricks. It is very interesting to communicate and share experiences. We learn from each other. And it’s a lot of fun,” T. Šlimaitė-Bubelienė shared her impressions.

Talking about the changes in graphic art, the artist reflected that only old techniques were used in the past; now, there are many new technologies, such as computer graphics, emerging. The current graphic art is distinguished by free choice.

“I completed the graphic art studies 10 years ago. During the studies, we are supplied a bundle of knowledge. After graduation, you are a free artist and you choose what is more acceptable to you, what technique you want to work with. Let’s say I’ve completed etching. This is a classic intaglio technique. However, in recent years, I mostly do dry needling on inorganic glass and imprint author-painted paper. What is important to me is not only a painting, but the interrelation of the painted spaces, spots, and lines with the graphic work itself. I used to really enjoy bright colours. My graduation works were particularly vivid. I don’t know whether I’m influenced by the seaside or my creative period looks like this, but my works became less vivid than before, more monochrome, in softer colours. One never can tell, maybe, in ten years I will start splashing in bright colours again?” laughed T. Šlimaitė-Bubelienė.

Completing Your Inner Puzzle

Jonas Vaikšnoras, a graphic artist of young generation, who came to Klaipėda from Kaunas, taught the participants kitchen lithography using coca-cola, oil and vinegar, all five days of the workshop. Where did the artist learn this weird technique?

“I represent the generation that spends a lot of time on the Internet, in social and other media. I, therefore, was shaped by a lot of different art movements, innovative ideas that were widespread in that space. One of the techniques I gathered information about was this kitchen lithography. When I see people sharing the process and the result, I wonder how it is made. Then I want to learn, to try, and to share it with somebody. Social media is very helpful in sharing thoughts and knowledge,” says J. Vaikšnoras.

So, did the artist himself benefit from this creative workshop? “With a synthesis of different generations of artists and different experiences, you can draw a lot from small instant things. Every conversation, every idea you share enables the thoughts, which fill your inner puzzle, to spread from generation to generation and from person to person. And then you become more than you were before. These people are role models to me – I try to learn maximum from them. I feel warmth, team spirit, and love for what we do. I am highly inspired by that,” the young artist spared no words, “That’s what we call the beauty of graphic art. Because graphics is a field of art where you can feel a really great joy of creativity. I believe everyone who attended the workshop had a need to create something new, to let a creation to come into being. Graphics is one way he can do that and, thus, find self-fulfilment.”

Time, Extended in Layers

Živilė Minkutė, a young graphic artist from Vilnius, participated in the creative workshop for three days. The artist admitted that at first she had a bit of stress because “a lot of people are interested, you want to help, talk, and explain to everyone. The people, however, are quite independent.”

Ž. Minkutė usually uses a monotype or multilayer monotype technique. Apart from graphics, she also works as a set designer for commercials and short films. “Lately, I’m no longer working in one dimension. After I started practicing scenography, my art became more volumetric. I really like combining a print that is usually flat with some volumetric objects. Though, when creating volumetric objects, I also work with graphics. Creation of multi-layered monotypes makes the process long-lasting. The only difference is that instead of stretching on the plane, time is extending in layers,” says the young graphic artist about her work.

When asked about how, in her opinion, the graphic art changes over time, the artist reflected, “I think that the boundaries of graphics are rubbing against each other. What is graphics? Curators of traditional exhibitions and contests strictly define the graphics and what they accept for participation. To me, this is a kind of moment of caution so as not to lose the authenticity of the traditional graphics genre. Though, I rather look for the amplitude of print, because each print can be a piece of graphic art. My latest works, which are now participating in the Biennial of Graphic Arts, are body prints. Graphics can be widely interpreted. In particular, when it comes to modern graphics, it is more important is access to the process rather than to fit into the boundaries. A thought, a concept is conveyed through a shape. Graphics is fun, but you always want a reason of why this technique conveys my idea. This results in a body print, in a multi-layered monotype, which for me is part of the journey where you can keep growing and changing by adding each layer. I imprint them very slightly and transparently, everything grows up on a sheet,” says Ž. Minkutė.

Flowing More Freely Into Other Arts

Linas Spurga, a calligrapher from Vilnius, joined the creative workshop in recent days. When asked why he chose this rare genre of graphic art, the young artist joked that calligraphy rather chose him. “I naturally turned that direction. The letters had been appearing in my mind from my early age. In the second grade, I participated in the contest “Beautiful Letters” and took the second place. As a teenager, I was keen on graffiti. Rimvydas Kepežinskas, my lecturer at the Academy of Arts, presented calligraphy in such a way that I dedicated my master’s thesis to the deeper research of it,” says L. Spurga.

When asked to comment on how the graphic art changed over a longer period of time, the artist chose to talk about his field, “I think calligraphy used to be more necessary in the past, it had a very clear function. For example, Albertas Gurskas, known as the father of the Lithuanian font, started his career on Lithuanian Television. He wrote film captions or titles, book covers, posters, etc. Everything that is now attributed to graphic design used to be practical applied art. As the functions of calligraphy are now taken over by graphic design and computers, calligraphy should seem to die. Nevertheless, its function is transforming from applied to artistic. It happens to many things. For example, when photography came about, painting did not die,” argued the calligrapher.

“It is difficult to see the present from the present moment. However, calligraphy is, probably, transforming to the field of art right now, too. It is greatly influenced by the East, where it takes a higher place in the hierarchy of arts. Western calligraphers draw from this. I think the future of calligraphy will be even more artistic. Its language is very rich in both visual and textual terms. Since we all are, to a degree, citizens of the Internet today, the text is important to us. Even though the text art is a rather small area, it has quite much power both in its essence and concept. The visual form of letters is flexible and diverse. The more it detaches from its function, from the constraints of conveying the meaning, the more it communicates deeper things. Moreover, calligraphy is becoming not only more artistic, but it may also intervene in other arts. For instance, I have seen calligraphic sculptures. In Belgium, in Bruges, which is known as the capital of European calligraphy, there have been all kinds of experiments happening for a long time – it is combined with ceramics, sculpture, painting. The freer the calligraphy becomes in terms of application, the softer and more smoothly it flows into other arts.”

So, what do the participants of the workshop “Now Art. Reborn” think about the acquaintance with calligraphy? “It was fun. I have made tools from all sorts of things: coca-cola cans, combs, wooden sticks. Calligraphy is a rather complex and time-consuming art, therefore, in the workshop I just show you how to use those tools and give them space. You have to choose one of two: either to teach a lot or to explain where to draw the line. I prefer to have fun,” is laughing calligrapher V. Spurga.