Akvilės Zavišaitės galerija LT EN
Artist Akvile Zavisaite (Akvilė Zavišaitė) was born in 1962 in Vilnius, Lithuania to a family of an architect and a journalist. Since childhood Akvile manifested signs of artistic talent. But when after graduating from high school she was denied admission to the Vilnius Art Institute for not being a number of the Komsomol, she enrolled in the Pedagogical Institute of Vilnius to study English and in 1983 she left Lithuania to join her mother in Australia. Here Akvile studied art at the Newcastle College of Advanced Education graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in the visual arts. In 1988 she completed her post-graduate studies in the Hunter Institute of High Education in Newcastle with the graduate diploma in art.

In her paintings and drawings Zavisaite strived to put into perspective the experiences of her own life (especially as a night club dancer) and those of her family and friends. Her portraits of people possess what her critic and mentor Frank Celtlan called “almost intimidating presence.” She was a promising young Lithuanian artist whose loss will be deeply felt by all.

Algimantas Kezys (LITUANUS, vol. 37, summer 1991)

Since 1984 to 1991 Akvile participated in 14 art exhibitions (2 of them – solo) in Australia, Lithuania and USA. After her death at the age of 28 in 1991 in Sydney her art was exhibited in 3 retrospective exhibitions: in 1991 in Chicago (USA) and in 1997 and 2006 in Vilnius (Lithuania).

In 1997 in Lithuania was published a book Akvile. Pictures, Letters, Memoirs, compiled by her journalist mother. In 1998 the second edition was issued and a TV documentary was created by talented Lithuanian director Lilia Kopac. The movie with English subtitles was shown several foreign countries including Australia.

Akvile, who died of AIDS on 2nd of June 1991, left about 50 big paintings (mostly pastels on canvas), many drawings, numerous sketches, and some ceramics.



The following description of Akvile’s paintings are taken from her essay My Life and My Art, submitted as part of the requirements for Post-Graduate Degree in Visual Arts (1987) and also was published in the same issue of LITUANUS magazine with remarks of Algimantas Kezys.

CENTAUR. “This is the largest drawing I have yet done (250x120 cm) and the task I set myself was to use only pastels – no paints at all – and to use horizontal streaking technique for shading some aspects of the picture contrasting with “rubbing” in other aspects in order to present different textures within the work. The drawing is done on canvas which I washed with black paint first giving me a dark background on which to draw. Pastels “bounce”, or stand out with more effect on the dark surface than o a white one, and the dark surface serves to highlight the forms and shapes. This drawing is entitled “Centaur” and depicts a woman so dynamic and strong yet graceful that she reminds me of a beautiful horse. (…)”

QUEEN OF CLUBS. “’Queen of Clubs” depicts three ladies playing cards and sipping wine. This picture actually is my first big pencil drawing [150x90 cm] and involved much research. I wanted figures to look graceful, well-shaped with certain expressions on their faces so I spent lots of time sketching different parts of the body, using anatomy books. All the drawing is done on a rough surface paper using a simple pencil and some black oil-crayon. The picture is slightly distorted by the prolonged, curled up lines and the exaggerated shapes emphasize the characters and it gave me pleasure to play with the expressions.”

THE BELLEVUE HOTEL. Drawing portraits of bar people was Zavisaite’s means of expressing the reality part of her life which she spent as a night club dancer. In order to supplement her student allowance she took a job at a tavern I the midst of Newcastle which employed dancing girls. It was convenient to her because during the day she could study, relax in the afternoons and then go to work at night. “I loved it – all these shiny, silky, little costumes and wigs, wild dancing, sitting at the bar and sipping vodkas during the breaks, all these loud people and girls kicking their legs and swinging their skirts. All of this reminded me of Toulouse-Loutrec’s lifestyle. I was very fond of his works, but I also thought of him as clever and courageous… During breaks in my dancing, I would often sketch people in the beer-garden. They were simple people and shy in a way, but they would all want to be drawn…”

DISTORTED IMAGES. The technique Zavizaite liked to use and experiment with was that of distorted perspective. “Best of all I liked drawing with charcoal and I also liked experiment using distorting mirrors. The latter especially absorbed me, and, since at this time I wanted to do only distorted images, I did a few self-portraits looking at my reflection in a glass, in an iron, spoons and so on… I loved the twisted images of the background and the whole composition of shapes seen in the iron.”

RED DRESS. “’Red Dress’ was a picture of a girl standing lonely at the bar. It was distorted figure, in a twisted pose, with exaggerated shoulders, hand, elongated arms, legs and waist. I felt I wanted to draw a distorted figure because the twist creates a certain mood, a feeling. It emphasizes what I want to say in the picture, i.e., long thin figure gives as impression of loneliness, maybe even of hunger and exhaustion. (…) I especially love the effect of red on the black background. (…) During these times I produced a few images from my imagination just to enjoy the shapes and lines, enjoy shading with the pencils and making some parts decorative. I could not avoid making the red dress hanging on the line in the picture entitled “Spring Girl’.’

GIRL AND HER BELONGINGS. “My relationship with my boyfriend had just broken up. I was very distressed, packing my things, sorting them out, yet not knowing where to go. There was a mess both in the room and in my head. After two days of indecision, I was sitting on a box and drinking red wine with a friend who was trying to cheer me up, and also trying to talk me into becoming his steady girl-friend. I felt totally confused! While chatting with him, I made some sketches of my surroundings, actually putting myself in among my things. (…). The objects depicted in the ‘Girl and Her Belongings’ [180x90 cm] are ones that important to me, e.g., my guitar, a book, my toy, make-up, bottle (corner showing), a bong fallen upside down, a man’s silhouette in the background, myself sitting “in question”, a confused expression on my face.
I really enjoyed making that picture and there was only one wish in my mind when I completed it – to make more and larger, longer drawings with pastels on canvas!”

LOST GIRL. After returning from the United States Zavisaite made an image of a girl standing alone in a deserted, dark and dreary street and named it ‘Lost Girl’. In her diary she wrote: ‘The picture represents how I saw America. Besides the huge museums and galleries, homes like castles, big, expensive cars and great wealth apparent, there were also plenty of dark, narrow streets with poor shabby houses. (…) I stayed with my girl-friend in one of these Mexican-Spanish suburbs of Chicago. The first two floors were ‘dead’ – walls peeling, pipes hanging out like monsters – dark and cold and full of screeching cats. And here she is, standing alone in this crooked street, not knowing which way to go. The picture is a metaphor for many in the United States of America. (…) In the process of making this picture I changed its shape. As can be seen, the top of the canvas is much wider than the bottom. Whilst in the midst of creating the image, I realised that the composition was wrong. I tore off the material from the board and felt free to re-form the shape of the canvas. This form was most pleasing to my eyes. The girl is standing under the street light, one shoe off, and the pavement corner so exaggerated as to emphasize the confusion. The largest part of the canvas is a black street to show emptiness and loneliness with no other vital soul present. There is the black shadow of the girl and then her glowing body in the red dress symbolising something burning with life, eager to search, to live, to bloom!”

THE TRYPTYCH. “The previous picture ‘Lost Girl’ inspired me to produce more images of these dancing girls and also I had many sketches of the ladies I met in the tavern. The idea was to make three odd-shaped frames for the drawings which could be viewed together as in one picture or separately. I built up the story to match my ‘Lost Girl’ which had to be the last panel. The middle panel presents the dancing girls in their dressing room fixing their hair and nails, resting, waiting for the show to start. There are colourful clothes hanging in the right corner, the black girl’s reflection in the mirror, make-up on the cupboard as well as a bottle. The first panel depicts a ‘Stripping Girl’ on the stage. (…) The stage lights are shining on the body, so I used lots of different colours, e.g., blue, brown, reds, purples, on the body and hair. Navy flags can be seen hanging above the colourful stage and the bar in the background. Te body and the stage floor are done by streaking with numerous pastel colours. (…) After I had finished this Triptych, I realised that I have formulated a certain style. I knew what and how I wanted to draw in the future.”

THE FUTURE. “My plan for the future is to develop and push my pastel technique further. I would like to complete more really large pastel drawings, to train myself completely with this particular technique, and subject matter – female figures.
At some stage I would like to release myself from drawing only female figures unless they develop into something significant. I know I was going to draw them for a while, exploring the colours and the shapes until one day I will have had sufficient. I believe that some kind of animal-human creature is forming in my imagination. (…)

(The full text of Akvile’s essay will appear on this site in the nearest future).

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