Only a week before Lithuania was put under lockdown, the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius was full of its regular exhibition-opening enthusiasts. They came here to meet life-long creations of Linas Leonas Katinas – an extremely colorful (and I’m not only talking about his canvas) Lithuanian painter. This bunch of people almost won a lottery of getting to see the first and the last bits of the exhibition before the isolation. Now that the Gallery is carefully preparing to re-open its doors, all culturally-hungry and everybody who skipped the lottery should go to meet the cosmic world of Katinas art. Jolanta Marcisauskyte–Jurasiene, the talented curator of the exhibition, is sharing her insights about the artist that only a good friend could know.
How is Linas Leonas Katinas different from other Lithuanian painters?
He is simply a legend. It seems like time and age don’t exist for him. Katinas is a self-taught painter. He studied architecture but got fed up with it and started painting. It’s quite a bold statement, but Linas himself often spoke that architects were better educated in Soviet times than painters. He spent most of his time at the Vrublevskis Library in Vilnius, where he had quite a success between ladies visiting the library. They happily shared the latest magazines with Katinas, so he was way better informed about the building process of Sydney Opera House than about the local Lithuanian news.
Katinas was always like an autonomous island – artistic style, and a movement himself, an artist who is way ahead of his time.
Abstraction was then a ‘statement,’ excluded from everything that ‘Lithuanian painting school’ was. Back in the 70s, paintings were commissioned to represent the truths of the Soviet ideology. However, Katinas wasn’t fighting this battle of abstract art alone. Other rebels were criticizing soviet reality too: painters Vincas Kisarauskas, Valentinas Antanavicius, a poet Sigitas Geda, writer Juozas Aputis, art critic Alfonsas Andriuskevicius and the others. Their creations are relevant to this day.
Katinas was also inspired by his activities – working in a theatre and cinema, he was also interested in Buddhism, and loved exploring the world while traveling in Buryat-Mongolia. Katinas was always like an autonomous island – artistic style, and a movement himself, an artist who is way ahead of his time. Curiosity, attention, simplicity, humor, and freedom to speak one’s voice, radicalism are the main qualities of Katinas. And the surname represents him extremely well (Katinas is a ‘cat’ in Lithuanian).
The contact with Linas grew slowly, followed by strange events. I’m easily hyped with an idea, so my imagination creates plenty of space for that idea to live in my mind. It took quite some time while Katinas of my imagination met the real one. But we got there after lengthy discussions at his studio and even visiting his most private space in Labanoras forest, a real privilege. He finally got faith in me, so I felt more confident too. Katinas told me: “I’m giving you the cards; do what you want with it.” He never asked about the paintings I chose for the exhibition, or what will be their order in the show.
It took quite some time while Katinas of my imagination met the real one.
A night before the opening, I called Katinas, afraid of his reaction to the final work. It appears Katinas was worried too, nightmares were disturbing his sleep, but he was supporting: “Go home and get some rest. While working in a theatre we had this rule – never work on the set the night before the play – it’s a bad sign”. And so on an opening day, Katinas came to the Gallery, slowly, like a shaman. The exhibition surprised him. The funniest thing is that it got into quarantine as we all did; it seemed like this whole process of making the exhibition was only a dream. But now we are getting back to where we started, so everyone is welcome at the show since May the 5th.