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Creation of a sculptor Rimantas Šulskis

Prepared in accordance with Donvina Morėnaitė “Rimantas Antanas Šulskis scientific catalogue“. Kaunas, 2002

Rimantas Antanas Šulskis (1943 - 1995)  - one of the most original and interesting modern sculptors of Lithuania, standing out by highly individualized artistic thinking manner and expression. He invented and perfected a unique technique of copper forging, which is unique both in Lithuania and in the world art. The artist also created graphics, but neither his sculptures, nor his monotypes, drawings are still widely known and valued. Creation of this artist was influenced by changes in Lithuanian art in the 7th and 8th decades. It has been little explored and according to sculptor Vladas Kančiauskas, “it has remained unappreciated and very provincially understood”.[1]

In Soviet times the artist and his creation was ignored by official art criticism, he would seldom get and opportunity to exhibit his works. He did not have basic working conditions and worked in a damp unheated basement. His creation in press was presented just episodically. From that period we have only a few short articles about exhibitions where name of R. A. Šulskis was mentioned. “As a promising, young sculptor”, the artist was introduced in 1980 on the cover of “Nemunas” magazine, but that was all. This could have been influenced by notably closed character of the artist, unwillingness to speak about himself and his creation, as well as his political creed and resistant nature of his creation. R. A. Šulskis seldom communicated with Union of artists, he did not try to please and gratify others. He shirked Bohemian uproar, as he wanted to work quietly and create the world of his visions.

There appeared more talks about the artist and his works after his first personal exhibition in the summer of 1990 in Kaunas Picture Gallery (Violeta Jasevičiūtė wrote an article introducing the author to a catalogue).  One of the first articles about a unique and talented artist was written by an art critic Arūnas Vyžintas: “Introduction to R. A. Šulskis works, review of personal exhibition”. After that there were more publications. One of the most significant was Saulius Kuizinas’ professional consideration of the same personal exhibition and analysis of creation of R. A. Šulskis. Later the painter was included into large art albums:”Kaunas artists” 1996, “100 modern, Lithuanian painters” 2000, where qualitative replicas of his works as well as articles discussing his creation were published. Painter Rimantas Antanas Šulskis’ (1943 - 1995) works in the context of contemporary Lithuanian art is distinguished by originality, novelty of technique, astonishing plastic power and eloquence. Old mythological archetypes and Christian Biblical symbols intertwine in his works. They merge into philosophical contemplation of our being. Some connoisseurs of art state that works of R. A. Šulskis are a unique case in Europe or even in the world art. [2] However, as many other talents, R. A. Šulskis and his art in soviet Lithuania was unaccepted, disregarded and ignored by official art critique for a long time. The artist adopted a silent resistant attitude, directed against soviet period system that had enchained creative freedom. Regardless of ideological pressure he worked persistently, without sparing his power and health while creating brass world of his visions, the world that was displaying eternal values. The artist sacrificed all of his life for his creative work. Painter R. A. Šulskis worked not only in the field of sculpture, but also in the field of graphics. His creative heritage was copper high relief, round sculpture, monotypes and drawings. Most of them are works of a very distinctive, individualized and professional artistic language.

The sculptor’s talent was formed through the influence of many impacts and changes that were happening in the 7th and 8th decades of Lithuanian art. At those times art was “serious, dignified, cultural sphere that almost performed sacral functions in Lithuanian art” [3] and its’ processes and artistic expression was finetuned, limited and regulated from “above”.

R. A. Šulskis’ works are distinguished in the general context of Lithuanian art by individualized and specific originality of artistic thinking. By perfecting his artistic language R. A. Šulskis eventually became an absolute individualist as search for inner experiences, personal symbols and visions became clearer in his works. By varying that same stylistic manner of primitive forms, the artist created a world filled with universal symbols and subordinate only to himself.

R. A. Šulskis creative life could be divided into several separate periods of time which have a peculiar and different means of artistic expression, stylistics and themes.  

1. Early period. 8th  decade. I part.

The artist was formed through the influence of the 7th and the 8th decades of Lithuanian decorative interiors and sculpture of parks. He adopted elements of art peculiar for this period: use of allegories, lyric generalization, traditional themes, (motherhood, childhood, youth and etc.), inclination to romantic, poetic moods. His favourite sculptural materials were clay, wood, granite, copper.

The painter was influenced by creative works of teachers’ prof. Juozas Kėdainis, Bronius Vyšniauskas and lectures of Vladas Drėma on anatomy and drawing. Studying in the institute R. A. Šulskis actively explored plastic anatomy. The sculptor created realistic gypsum portraits of his friends, compositions of wood and granite.

Studying in the art institute R. A. Šulskis tried copper forging technique for the first time (teacher prof. Juozas Kėdainis). Although in the beginning he was not very successful in forging copper, eventually this material became the sculptor’s most favourite material.  

At this period R. A. Šulskis works tend to be sentimental, emotional, decorative, there is naievety, ease and exterior slendour of themes. Frequent traditional images of the 7th decade in Lithuanian sculpture are those of a child or a woman, family: “Family” (1972), „Woman" (1972), „Antanas" (1973), „Children I-II" (1975), „Fate of a woman" I-III (1975-1976) and etc. There one can see a very clear personal relation to an object, expression based on feelings, sometimes light irony and appearance of caricature elements.

The sculptor was affected by german expressionism (all that knew the painter notice R. A. Šulskis german nature: hard-working, pedantic, „german"). One can envisage similarity with creative work of Ernst Barlach. He was interested in the works of sculptors Ivanas Meštrovičius, Matas Menčinskas, Vytautas Košuba.

2. Period of quests. 8th decade. II half.


The sculptor created decorative copper reliefs for interiors, round sculpture of granite and sculptures for space of a city. In one of his interviews R. A. Šulskis said: „a true place for sculpture is in modern architectural buildings and squares. Their plastic forms and unity of an idea is best shown there" [4]. There were plans to establish a square of R. A. Šulskis’ works in Kaunas old town near Royal Tavern („Upelis" (1975); the sculptor got an order to make a decorative panel for the frieze of T. Ivanauskas zoological museum („Fauna" (1978-1983)), however for known and unknown reasons none of the projects were finished.

Copper became the most favourite and main R. A. Šulskis’ creative work material. This taste was also caused by material conditions: copper tin was one of the cheapest available materials for the sculptor.

R. A. Šulskis copper reliefs are characteristic of free relation to visual objects, speaking in allegories, associations. A man’s figure is divided into parts, deformed, connected with strange contrived and somewhat surreal elements: ”Time” (1976), „Dream" I- I­I (1975), „Ear" (1976).

R. A. Šulskis used to say: „Sculpture attracts me by a silhouette, line, by which space is visually made and defined. I am not afraid of deformation; I am at fault with academic, sainted proportions if it is necessarily needed for my chosen theme and interpretation of artistic idea” [5]. Real and fantastic images intertwine on a copper plane.

The sculptor perfected copper forging till virtuosity. We can say that cambering copper to the maximum he invented a unique technique, which, as many who had seen R. A. Šulskis’ high reliefs say, that most probably nobody created this way either in Lithuania or elsewhere.

In the beginning of 1980 prof. J. Kėdainis said: „Nobody can forge copper so perfectly and mastefully as R. Šulskis. (...)In some of his compositions by means of this technique he was able to obtain not high relief any more, but round sculpture. As his former lecturer I am amazed by a creative swing, a distinctive attitude to life, a choice of unexpected symbols, mythological, alegoric themes, humorous and even ironic mood“. The painter found a common bond with his teacher J. Kėdainis and they became close soul friends and the professor compared his disciple even with Michelangelo.

At the end of the 8th decade R. A. Šulskis reforged the first copper works, which had a distinction of  puttied surface and incompletion by changing their facture: “Dream" I-II (1975), „Hands" (1976), „Time" (1976) and etc..; these works acquired a completely different artistic quality and greater expressiveness. The first copper reliefs were little factural. New means of artistic expression were found: roughness, knottiness, abundance of factural details, sharpness, asperity of forms, harshness.

The sculptor pursued greater expression of plastic perfection, suggestibility, notional depth. R. A. Šulskis’ creation turned a new road while he was making a project for the frieze „Fauna" (1978-1983) of T. Ivanauskas zoo museum. The sculptor found new asthetics which became his new artistic expression and led to further quests.

3. Maturity period. End of 8th decade - 9th decade

At this period, R. A. Šulskis introduces an aspect of politicizing in his works, as well as publicistic character (“Dreamers” I-III (1982)), connections with primitive art, use of religious, mythological plots (“Adam and Eve” (1987), „Two kings" (1988), „Teacher with apostles" (1988) and etc.), expressionist look, deformation, primitive treatment of form is adjusted to perfect academic proportions.

The artist turned to treatment of a satirical image: sharpness of thought is felt, sometimes roughness, irony, grotesque. Important ideas are expressed by dinamic pushing plastic, quite clear expressionistic deformation intertwining link of forms and factures, switching, becoming something different: „real links are changed by conditional ones and new images full of tension are created. They are strange and deliberately shocking” [6]. By symbolic images the author tries to begin to speak to people, tell his truth, thoughts, wisdom of life which is based on essential moral categories and concepts. At the same time active and creative participation of a spectator is expected.

At this period R. A. Šulskis created a cycle crowning all of his works – “Copper kingdom” (1981-1988). In the cycle the author forcibly embodies “his kingdom of pain and hopelesness, (...) painful bitterness of frustration [7]" , spills out his truth, attitude and position, challenges dark powers by proving that the most important thing is inner freedom, which is possible in any circumstances.

Cycle is the most important and mature work of R. A. Šulskis, that took lots of energy, endurance, years of consumptive work from the artist. Impressive huge high reliefs which seemingly well up with uncontrolled formidable power, tell us story – saga full of sins, suffering, violence, persecution, torturing, prosperity and fight of other earthly evils.

This work embodies allegory of wheels in A. Dante’s “Hell”[8]: one can hear the echo of images from hell and purgatory: motives of chaos, fire, boiling pitch, attributes of the saints, infinity, cycles – repetition, a flair of eternal fight. The bodies of the figures chained by stifling ropes that can not be cracked, this symbol comes from one part of the cycle to another as if proclaiming that absolute liberation is impossible, that is an eternal bond, an eternal fight. A darker side of human nature is condemned by dramatic images, ideas of eternal perdition and salvation, meaningfulness of suffering and temporality and timelessness are also expressed.

These are eternal themes – interpretation of fight between evil and good, development of the theme of fall and sin interconnecting with classical poetry of A. Dante. Various sprats, beings of phantasy world and monsters live one life and fight sunk in the atmosphere of images of intertwined material and beyond worlds. Feuding poles are compared: a binary composition that is usual for all works of R. A. Šulskis is created.

In every part of the cycle a relation between an executioner and a victim is highlighted: torturing and suffering, violence and pain, persecution and despair. Human and divine natures join to fight against each other. This is an eternal fight between good and evil, freedom and violence, spirituality and substance, high and low. A link to soviet period reality is felt – a problem of restriction of freedom, silent protest, denial of “lie era”.

Large scales of reliefs, strong emotional suggestion of compositions astounds the spectator and shocks by an unbelievable swing of the painter. Figures are massive; they hardly fit in copper panels that are two metres size. There is a strong pushing of plastic, energy, and tanacious links of forms.

Creation of the cycle took lots of wasting years of work and powers by taking away his health. The artist managed to reach great suggestibility and influence of images. By this work he expressed his attitude and protest against a system that was destructive to freedom:„(...) this resistant mental feature, consistant, talented creation of meaning through images is distinctive not only in local but also in the context of European sculpture” [9].

4. Later period. The end of the 9th decade.- 10th decade I half.

R. A. Šulskis got ill with a severe disease of kidneys and that had influence to his creative work: he lost strength to forge big copper panels. The painter created small plastic, started working in the field of graphics by creating monotypes. He changed both as a person and as an artist: his themes remained like before (existence, truth, eternity, conflicts and etc.), however he spoke by different ways, and other means of artistic expression. He was hurrying and was working feverishly, because he had still a lot to say… The works of this period are united by the same stylized symbols and incomposite manner of thinking.

In the last period of R. A. Šulskis creative work there is the same motive repeated which penetrated the world of the artist’s images and phantasies and seemingly persecuted him without allowing them to move away from him. This is an image of a bird – a symbol of freedom which would often appear in copper reliefs of the 9th decade (“Bird of war” (1976), „Bird“(1986), „Copper kingdom“ (1985) and etc.).

The artist grew fond of this image in the last years of his life: all of the works of the period are related to stylized bird – an image of a human being. It is interchanged with the most unbelievable variants by introducing biblical themes, christian symbolism, linking archeotypical images, pagan attitude: “Sacrifice of a bird” (1993), „A bird and a jellyfish“ (1993), „A bird and a human being with a tail" (1993), „Prodigal son“ (1994) and etc.

Why did an image of a bird become the most important one? It would be difficult to explain this unambiguously, because a human being chooses his symbols that resound in his soul unconsciously, or maybe they come all by themselves, responding to vibrations of human soul. From immemorial times a bird because of his wings and flight has been considered a mediator between the earth and heaven. It is an embodiment of non material things, primarily those of a human soul.

All of these motives – a human being that desires immortality, a bird, a tree, a ship, and different mythical creatures: a jellyfish, a snake and etc. in the sculptures of R. A. Šulskis intertwine with each other into one fusion joining pagan and Christian worldviews and mythological images. R. A. Šulskis’ birds - humanized beings, raised from those human silhouettes by their free spirit, sort of knowing mysteries of being and giving sense to their temporary existence in silent introversion. They speak about the unity between nature and human being - an eternal archaic link. A bird, sort of personifies good powers of the universe. Its’ silent symbolic presence is higher than earthly mean existence of human being. It outruns a man by its’ freedom which is not dreamt of as a flight by a human being, but it is inner freedom of a soul which the artist was pursuing all of his life.

These antropomorphic sculptures are static, frontal, schematized, of quite rough forms, laconic compositions. There important things are: silhouette, uneven facturism, some sort of geometrism, which is close to primitive art. Figures remind of ornaments of ancient zoomorphic civilizations forming some sort of symbolic archaic forms – signs: a circle, a rhomb, a cross and etc.

At this period R. A. Šulskis created quite many graphic works – monotypes, which by their artistic stylistics are very close to antropomorphic sculptures of bird – human beings and many very interesting drawings.

The same topics, motives, symbols are taken and varied: “A human and a bird” (1991), „A human and an animal" I-IV (1992), „A bird and a tree“I-IV (1993) and etc. There is a tendency to very a distinctive laconic speech, inclination to minimalism; the biggest attention is given to a resolute expressivity of a line. A composition is most often binary with the help of which a relation, a fight and an antithesis of two poles is conveyed. There is a lot of space left; a line is free, accurate. The author speaks using themes of mythology, sagas, and fairy tales. The same compositional elements are repeated: circles, lines reminding of gossamer or sun rays that are associated with constant changes and cycles in the nature and the whole world. The painter speaks about themes of cultural history, morality and religion, and a bird sort of personifies a good power that fights with the inborn darkness and narrowness of human nature. Every composition expresses author’s attitude and outlook towards certain phenomena. Deep meaning is expressed by a laconic image. Symbolic meaning is highlighted by the use of universal exemplars: a bird, a fish, a tree, a ship, a book, an egg, a wheel, and elements of fairy tales („A king and a queen“(1989), „A king and a bird“(1989) and etc.) and the Bible („Last supper" (1988), „Caine and Abel" (1989) and etc.) are included. The painter loved his work madly; he could reject and forget anything for the sake of creation. He had to feel an absolute call to art, because without such understanding recless waste and absece of self consideration would be incomprehensible. R. A. Šulskis worked disregarding all difficulties, although he knew that his works are sort of unnecessary to anybody.  For a long time nobody took interest in creative work of the artist, as R. Kogelytė wrote: „(...) a great world of views that many passed by in exhibitions were necessary to no one: customers, collectors, colleagues“ [10]. Everybody kept silent and the reasons for that can only be presumed now. It would be very strange if the reason for this silence would be negligence and improvidence of art critics. It would be impossible not to see and feel artistic power and professional eloquence radiating from R. A. Šulskis works. A more understandable reason would be fear to speak, that was influenced by reality of Soviet times – the painter never truckled to that authority, he did not forge “lenins” or other “idols”. His creation was of a resistant type – a protest against things that frustrate, suppress and imprison freedom. The artist never refused his attitude; he did not pay attention to ideological pressure, and conform to the system. Partly, this position determined destiny of this artist and his works. Beliefs that were unhandy to the dominant regime determined long term disregard of the artist’s creative work. It was shown in different forms: absence of orders, a rare opportunity to take part in exhibitions, non-existence of articles introducing his creative work. For a long time R. A. Šulskis did not have a normal studio: he worked in an old mint in Šančiai in an unheated room: „Working in almost unbearable conditions and having lost his health because of that, the sculptor became severely ill. Disregarding his progressive illness he was still creating sculpture of small figures, graphics, and drawings. In 1995 exhausted by wearisome procedures of dialysis and ignoring them, he dies“. Being severely ill, completely committed to his work the artist laboured persistently, created a world of his visions. His purpose and the whole life was work – creation. Appreciation came only at the end of his life, when he had very little power to create. Then articles about R.A. Šulskis creative work started to appear, even a documentary film was made (1990m.), the artist was included into art albums. In 1991 the painter was recommended to a National premium. However as all who had seen the sculptor’s works said that R. A. Šulskis was worthy of it, he did not get it. Only a few persons took interest in his creation.

R. A. Šulskis’ creative work was too distinguished and original, in many cases it was exceptional, and that’s why it did not have followers and worshippers. His art was very individualized, somewhat of grotesque aesthetics, which was not acceptable and understandable for everybody.

  1. Zingeris M. Skulptorius, kuriam mirtis pakirto sparnus//Laikinoji sostinė. 1996, rugsėjo 18.P.4.
  2. Vyžintas A. Prakalbinęs varį// Santara. 1992.Nr. 8, p. 78.
  3. Andriuškevičius A. Lietuvių dailė: 1975 – 1995. Vilnius: Vilniaus dailės akademijos leidykla, 1997.
  4. Valaika P. Rimantas Šulskis// Nemunas. 1980.Nr. 1, p. 4.
  5. Valaika P. Rimantas Šulskis//Nemunas. 1980. Nr. 1, p 4.
  6. Grybauskaitė G. Šešeto skulptrių paroda//Kultūros barai. 1979. Nr 9, p. 79.
  7. Kuizinas S. Tekstai iš vario//Kultūros barai. 1990. Nr. 5, p. 38.
  8. Jasevičiūtė V. Rimantas Antanas Šulskis//Kauno menininkai/red. kolegija: K. Adomaitis ir kt. Kaunas; Kauno meno fondas, 1996, p. 106.
  9. Kuizinas S. Tekstai iš vario// Kultūros barai. 1990.Nr. 5, p.38.
  10. Kogelytė R. Šulskio skulptūros//Krantai. 1990. Nr. 4, p. 70.