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He made copper speak

Vyžintas A. Santara. 1992. Winter 

Rimantas Šulskis' creative work was a true resistant phenomenon.  

If I had to name a few most interesting and original contemporary Lithuanian painters I would undoubtedly mention sculptor Rimantas Šulskis. Creative work of this artist is clearly distinguished in the context of comtemporary Lithuanian art. Moreover some art experts state that his creative work is a unique case in Europe and maybe in the world art. Rimantas Šulskis' works are monumental and full of suggestive plastic power. They stun and surprise, sometimes even dumbfound and shock. They frustrate stereotyped evaluation criteria of Lithuanian mentality and art. Maybe for this reason the works of the sculptor have not been acceptable for many art critics and official art apologists for a long time. I remember visiting the first personal exhibition of Rimantas Šulskis and hearing a phrase from one colleague art critic:"Somehow not very Lithuanian...". When I hear similar descriptions I always think: who on earth has planted us this strange conception about being Lithuanian? Are Lithuanians some sort of molluscs that are not able to forge stone or copper? Or maybe our sufferings and losses, our will and strength of the spirit, and finally fear and painful despair that has been frustrating us for decades - are not worthy to be immortalized by somewhat more monumental and strict forms? These "sentinels" of superficial Lithuanian identity are really strange... However it would be wrong to interpret peculiar elimination of the artist and prolonged ingnoring of his creation as strangeness of form, aesthetical searches and technique.

Rimantas Šulskis' creation was a true expression of resistence. And what I am writing now is really not a tribute to a reader of politicized mentality. Let us look at one of the best and most impressive works of the sculptor, a gigantic cycle of high reliefs "Copper kingdom". Let us look at those copper monsters, ogers riminding of metal maggots that crush, stifle and kill their victims. After all that is an entire epic of hell, a legend about a human being that desires freedom but who had got into  a tough grip of copper kingdom, a machine of crippling merciless system - a mincer. Did Lithuanian art have a lot of works of that spiritual power, passion, open delivery of truth and unambiguous challenge to dehumanizing system of the Soviet period? It is obvious why evil servants of the copper kingdom did not like Rimantas Šulskis creative work and why they persecuted him in many ways, even investigated and carried out searches in his home. When the coriphaei of the official art bathed in glory and money and many misfits artists of the soviet system resigned in spiritual emigration - Rimantas Šulskis with a fanatical stubbornness forged copper. In a direct sense he fought with the kingdom of lies. He did it as he knew, as his powers, talent and conscience allowed him to.

And maybe this was the only way to endure and not break down? 

It was a work of titanic magnitude which took away a lot of strength and stamina. Forging just one cycle of "Copper kindgom" would take the whole year! As far as I know this technique was conditioned by certain circumstances: in a sense Rimantas Šulskis' high reliefs are bronze moulding imitation or to be more exact - substitute. Having no good technical and material possibilities and customers he chose a technique that would require incomparibly more physical efforts and still managed to get a desirable result and even more: copper high reliefs acquired original and specific plastic expresion as well as completely new sound that was indistinctive to bronze. What he did was literally fantastic.

However, even understanding the situation that destined the sculptor's choice, one wonders what inner impulse forced the person of that strong character, yet shy, reserved and of calm disposition, also severelly ill to create the works of that complicated amount, gigantic high reliefs of complex plastic composition and in such unusual technique, which might have fitted other purposes much better.  Why did not he spare himself? Could not he, for example... blunge or mix watercolours?

And maybe it was the only way to endure and not break? Defend his truth, conscience and understanding of the world? Overcome physical disability and prove his might, standing up to fight with uncanny copper monster, evil and all destroying, killing system?

I know one thing for sure - the sculptor did the best he could.

However, ability to make copper speak, so that it could convey artist's creative thought, huge inner energy, inspiration, patient, time, physical and spiritual endurance are not enough. One also needs love. Love for your work, love for material you work with. Once the sculptor said, that "material" like a human being has a second breath, - it looks like you have squeezed everything out of it, but... you ask nicely and slowly it gives in. You feel that it can reveal a lot and then such a good link between you and the material starts up..." It was hardly possible without this link to master such plastically inert material as copper. The best works of the artist could hardly have appeared without it. In the process of creative search those works had seemingly acquired "a second breath".  If earlier Rimantas Šulskis' creative experimentation reminded of some shallow copper "billets", that were a great deal more primitive, then, later the sculptor perfected this technique till virtuosity. He learned to forge in copper the smallest details and convey most subtle nuances of spiritual state. Flat, decorative copper reliefs turned to sculptural high reliefs of great artistic power, deep and tragically phylosophical content. The sculptor worked not only with copper. At the end of his career, the artist created quite a lot of works of graphics, likewise smaller plastic sculptures.  These bronze sculptures are not of a lesser value than the greatest works of the artist and this, once again shows talent of the artist, because sculptors who are used to monumental works are not very successful with minor plastic art. Actually, not all copper reliefs well up with monumental power of "Copper kingdom". There are works of calmer, more lyrical generalization, more gentle plastic decision and even sentimental origin. Not all of them are equally successful. It is difficult to forge copper and Rimantas Šulskis was not a robot or an automaton creating only masterpieces. He was like all people, not only found, but also searched and made mistakes. However, he was always sincere and genuine. There lay his power.

P.S. I have written about Rimantas Šulskis once. Then, in February of last year, his first personal exhibition was organized in Kaunas Picture Gallery. After that, there were a lot of publications, even a television program was made, and M.K. Čiurlionis art museum bought several of his works. However, I often ask myself:"Why was this distinctive artist acknowledged so late? Are the "Cerberuses" of the copper kingdom guilty for that? And where were you reputable art connosseurs, lovers and critics? Where were your eyes, eloquence and your present courage? Therefore, do not sing now about how necessary and precious this artist is for us. It is not very fair and sincere. It is better not to hinder him to continue working. He still wants to do a lot. He is working. And those that like pointing fingers could do it a lot earlier...