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Between personification and sociability


Rimantas Antanas Šulskis’ copper kingdom


 Vida Mažrimienė. Kultūros barai 2004. Nr. 4 (473). 


„People identify me with my works… people are not like me, but scrutinizing and judging me”, - by these words of André Malraux character we can name Rimantas Antanas Šulskis’ (1943 -­ 1995) creation credo. It is said that Francisco Goyo’s graphical cycle “Caprichos” tells us better about events of Spain wars than annals of those years, Pieter Bruegel’s “The virtues” and “The evils”, Hieronymus Bosch’s phantasmagoric fiesta of “The garden of earthly delights” like a mirror reflects topicalities of life and Laocoon’s sculptural group of 1506 portraying Virgil’s “Aeneid” scene is no less social than Eduard Viiralt’s “The prophet”…  Vitalic power dormant in a socially topical work continues to do what is encoded in its’ structure. According to Malraux, it is not necessary for Maillol to create kings’ sculptures in Satre’s cathedral and for Malarmé to become Shakespear, but according to him, the valley of the dead joined Shakespeare with Beethoven, Michelangelo with Rembrandt, because they were witnesses of their day and great myths of that day – freedom, democracy, progress coincided with the greatest hope of a human being which he had known since the times of catacombs.[1]

Prof. Juozas Kėdainis compared him to Mi­chelangelo...  

Rimantas Šulskis in this aspect was not a less unique personality in Lithuanian art. He was controversial, archaic and present-day, phylosophical and diverse. In contrast to Algimantas Švėgžda who was able to thrust his way through the iron curtain and go for a treatment abroad, Šulskis, being severely ill, stayed in Lithuania and his former study mates - Virginija Babušytė - Venckūnienė, Stasys Žirgulis, Aloyzas Jonušauskas, Vytautas Juzikėnas, colleagues from Kaunas’ children art school - Edmundas Saladžius, Ričardas Vai­tiekūnas and other cousins developed a sense of plastic form, searched for a key to complicated compositional decisions. He did not live smouldering, but burning and standing in confrontation to a severe epoch. According to H. G. Gadamer, even looking at an abstract picture is not a common sensual act; it also can not be dissociated from history, because history dictates new decisions. How should we treat Rimantas Šulskis? He created in a stagnating society trying to find an expression unrestrained by ideology. As if a stonebreaker of the Renaissance he was searching for optimal measurements and sometimes felt medievally ascetic and expressionistically vigilant… Šulskis tried not to be a herald or a tribune, but an analyst and a thinker. Prof. Juozas Kėdainis compared him to Michelangelo… He heated up and forged huge plates of copper turning them to gigantic multifigure compositions, and then tried to perfect them, planished their surface and at the same time fought his disease, which was wearing his body down. Lacking financial resources he found his creative niche by choosing a less expensive but titanic physical powers requiring technique of copper forging. Today experts say, that a technique amounting to a three dimensional art and bronze mouldings matching more than two metres high reliefs do not have equivalents not only in Lithuania… Art critics called him “romanticized knight of  a province”, that embodied “arguments of the sculptors’ guild against expansion of Soviet ideology”. [2] When in 1990 Šuls­kis personal exhibition in Kaunas, art critic Arūnas Vyžintas heard that the works of the artist are not Lithuanian like, he flared up:”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?” [3]

Many times searches were carried out at his home, many times he was invited for “dialogues”…

Šulkis’ “Copper kingdom” that was exhibited in Kaunas picture gallery – more than 60 works from the sculptor‘s family collection – revealed more deeper and versatile view of his creative work. Compared to earlier expositions this was different from other genres and techniques by its diversity. By endeavour of the tutor of the exhibition Edmundas Saladžius, Žilvinas Pabrinkis’ team and Šančiai casters a lot of gypseous Šulskis’ works were cast out of bronze. We saw new shapes of expression – sort of an allusion to an unceasing change.

It is customary to say, that Šulskis creation is dramatic, but it does not have features of euphoric dramatization and theatrical farce. It does not somehow correlate with creative works of other sculptors of the time: Teodoras Kazimieras Valaitis, Vladas Vildžiūnas, Leonas Strioga and the resti. Šulksis was closer to Matas Menčinskas attitudes or Ernst Barlach’s attempts fearlessly show inner depths, evils and insanity of the world.  The artist was not impressed by Barlach’s artistic expression, but by a desire to depict life as hellish Paradise and Paradise as Purgatory. Topics of Šulskis’ works are unfolded in the cauldrons of mighty tension, depths of climatic senses, swamps of symbolic, mythological comparisons. That tune is very eloquent, but not literary, there is no pose, imitation of suffering and artificiality in it. These are fruits of concentrated thinking. Šulskis depicted himself trusting his feelings, creating a world full of pains, unbelievable visions, crowned with hope and journey to a great goal. That goal was creative work, very personal and global at the same time. It was constantly balancing between introvertical sensations and confrontation with reality. In the Soviet times he got into eyeshot of security because during the years of stagnation he decided to read Solzhenitsyn. Many times searches were carried out at his home; many times he was invited for “dialogues”…

Šulskis‘ „Return of the prodigal son“ with a desperately supine body – was not repentance of Rembrandt type, it was a cry of despair. Broken, stretched, deformed masses speak of a personality that is torn by inner conflicts. “The son” does not want to come back home, because he does not feel guilty. He has not made peace with outside world; he has not made his own conclusions yet… In a grotesque Šulskis triptych “Dreamers” frontal Mephistophelean characters, with surrealistically hyperbolized endings, hiding their heads in clerical uniforms reflected a degeneration of a totalitarian epoch. A climatic thematic cycle “Copper kingdom” I-IX (1981-­1988) – was Šulskis’ creation peak. It was an epic about painful desire of freedom and images of a perpetual fight. High reliefs are sort of Dante’s Anthenora speaking both about trators and the disadvantaged ones.  Bodies are intertwined into a ball that is torn apart by brutal powers and contradictions. Homo sapiens of present days alike Laokoon try to set free from the chains of tyrony and get away from them as if from the embrace of monstors of hellish Bosch. Psychological dramatization in these mysteries overflow like   Pablo Picasso’s“Minotauromachias”, or an apotheosis of George Rouault’s “Crucifixion“.

Who knows, maybe, the decorative panel “Fauna” for the frieze of Tadas Ivanauskas zoo muzeum has remained unformed because of non standard thinking of Šulskis? Monumental panels ended up a lot further from the centre at the bend of the road in front of the gates of the zoological garden.
The idea of a park of the painter’s sculptures did not materialize either. Šulskis creative work looked suspicious in a regulated environment of Soviet culture. The truths of Christianity and of nowadays, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Samuel Beckett’s grievous messianism, symbols and archetypes in the works of the painter merge together into a common fusion by embodying insights  of social life.

Šulskis’ “Adam and Eve” deformed proportions with enlarged iconic heads is a confrontation with a naked life that is full of declines, sorrows and grimaces. These two figures are most probably not biblical characters, but anomalous dwarfs from paintings of Diego Velazquez.

“Two kings”, “Temptation of st. Anthony” pulsate from within, move expressively and turn reaching mysterious suggestibility.

During the 8th and 9th decades Šulskis distanced from multifigure compositions and moved to chamber like sculptural variations. At exactly the same time there were bennials of miniscule plastic in Budapest. There was organized a quadrennial of Baltic sculpture and miniscule plastic in Ryga. In 1979 an exhibition of miniscule plastic opened in Vilnius. For the Soviet sculptors it was an opportunity to firm up their individual artistic attitudes, for Šulskis it was an opportunity to continue work reserving his physical power that were exhausted through titanic and tiring work.


…A paraphrase of a human being – bird’s existence not only reveals a mythological view of the world, but also associates with a destiny of an enslaved nation.


A poetic being that had taken an image of a human being – bird, a lot of times wondered in the works of Antanas Gudaitis, Leonas Strioga, Jūratė Stauskaitė, Šarūnas Šimulynas in forms of allegories, symbols and metaphors. Reappraisal of existential values, a desire of reincarnation, and personification of individuality is felt in Šulskis’ “Birds”. His humanbird (or angel, redeemer of the resurrected souls) sometimes reminds of pagan mythological beings and artistic symbols of the early Christianity. In great civilizations near the Euphrates and the Tigris, the Nile and the Indo, in the antique Mesopotamia or Egypt hybrid creatures would become sacral objects. They abound in the portals of Romantic Gothic churches. Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Marcas Chagallas liked portraying them. In the works of Lithuanian sculptor they remind of a sacred Egyptian bird Ibis with a large beak and long massive legs. Elian in his tractate about Egiptians worship for Ibis wrote:”Having hidden its’ head and neck between feathers under its’ breast, it reminds of a silhouette of a heart. It has wisdom of a god Toto”[4].  Šulskis’ characters are also wise. They are hidden in an act of stoic self-suggestion and rituals of becoming and extinction. Combinations of space and sizes, comparisons of dinamic images create constant tension and conflict marked by fatal painter’s existence. Toreutic surfaces of sculptures and grotesque elements for Šulskis are only a means to express a spiritual state spontaneously.  This is also inherent for the painter’s graphics, which can be shown as stand alone, not as subsidiary creative works. Purified space of monotypes, images parallel to sculptures, laconic, yet pulsating with great passion and power of suggestion, dialogue of colours and lines, paraphrases of human – bird existence not only portray view of mythological world, but also associate with destiny of an enslaved nation.

 Fight with the world, trials of fate and disobedient material made up all the subsistence of Rimantas Antanas Šulskis. Eduardas Saladžius expressed it in 1995 by saying goodbye to his friends:” Vilnius street in Kaunas, stony handshake, warm yet almost sightless look. In his studio he always had a cup of tea, some bread, steel knife, a tass of vodka hard as iron. With love. Rimantas did not know hatred. For more than forty years he sedately marched through desserts driven by one or another Pharaoh, forever believing, that his bare feet are better than strange leather shoes… “.[5]

Rimantas Antanas Šulskis granted universal vitalic pursuits individual expression in the presence of trials of human destiny and epoch. We only start understanding intentions and globality of intonations of the creator of the copper kingdom.


[1] A. Malraux. Įsivaizduojamas muziejus. Krantai. 1990 birželis, p. 24.

[2] S. Kuizinas. Tekstai iš vario. Kultūros barai. 1990, nr. 5, p. 35 – 38.

[3] A. Vyžintas. Prakalbinęs varį. Santara. 1992. Žiema, p. 79.

[4] I. Rak. Mify drevnego Egipta. Sankt Peterburg. 1993, p. 165.

[5] E. Saladžius. Atminimas. 7 meno dienos. 1995,  spalio 13.