The shadowy paintings of Lithuanian artist Kristina Alisaukaite have an inexplicable pull, laden with suspense they draw you in with their seemingly banal scenes from daily life. A fountain, a gymnast, a close crop of a set of cufflinks, a string of pearls, a veiled bride; innocent subject matter which becomes distinctly strange in Kristina’s paintings. Her compositions convey a sense of unfinishedness, of the subjects on the brink of fading away, invoking a dreamlike sense. Kristina is deeply fascinated in the world of dreams and symbolism, and the liminal point at which these two states meet. Her work lives in this shifting, ill-defined space, between waking life, dreams and memory. The motifs and imagery that feature in her work are at once distinctly personal and universal, tapping into the language of the unconscious.
Kristina has exhibited actively in group shows in Lithuania and internationally. In 2014 she was included in the important anthology 100 Painters of Tomorrow published by Thames & Hudson, and has participated in artist residencies in Dubai and Germany amongst others.
AMM: The diluted pigments and washes in your work seems to reflect the substance of the subject matter. Can you tell us more about the relationship between your style of painting and subject in your work?
KA: In painting, I use the relationships between thin layers of paint and overlapping to show the intertwined and interconnected worlds; to show that we are linked to another reality that is no less important. We spend half or more of our time living in this alternate reality created by ourselves (we think, imagine, create, foresee, dream, rage…). It encompasses a lot and is very important in telling us many things about who we are as long as we not only listen to it but are also able to use it.
In my paintings material everyday life collides with everything beyond it – dreams, visions, fantasies, subliminal images. Psychoanalysis, common human experiences, a rational phenomenon of intangible dreams have interested scientists and artists from the times of old. This remains intangible to this day. There are discussions if dreams are a key to deeper knowledge of the person, the world of suppressed desires, or just meaningless formations, by-products of the conscious discarded during sleep. I think the world of dreams, visions, fantasies is worth more attention. However, I distance myself from the psychoanalytical point of view and although I draw on my personal experience, I do not undertake an intimate gesture of self-analysis. I look from the distance trying to convey visual metaphors referring to something personal and at the same time interpersonal. Our experiences are similar, only expressed in different forms. Therefore, I attempt to revive memories and experiences which are probably forgotten and I encourage the viewer to look into oneself.
AMM: The titles of your paintings are evocative and add to the palpable feeling of foreboding in your work. What could this hint at?
KA: Feelings and experiences are crucial to me. I have to experience a phenomenon myself in order to understand it and convey it to the viewer. The title comes within the work process; they are born together.
In such a way I give them a clear-cut form and render them into signs. Therefore, images of my works are laconically simple, but eloquent and significant: each object becomes a symbol, each motion acquires a weight of ritual gesture. The motives painted are repeated in different variations, while their meanings change with regard to the context and state.
There is a lot of personal symbolism in my work. For example, the table is an object that unites. It is a symbol of family relationships and friendship, and even reflects a person’s relationship with themselves. It is also a symbol for a conversation, agreement, or, on the contrary, dispute and disagreement. The mask motif in my paintings is usually a symbol of the flexibility, fluidity and duality of the human identity and personality. It often reflects the tension between the inner and outer self, and indicates a wish to hide, or rather to create and establish a different identity. In my recent paintings, I replace the mask with a veil. The meaning of the symbols I use changes, depending on where I put the emphasis. The repetition of motifs is neither an obsession nor paranoia. When I feel or see something that is interesting and important to me, I paint different variations of it. I think there may be more tables and masks in the future.
AMM: What are your thoughts on the way that social media has infiltrated our lives, and does this filter into your work at all?
KA: It is relevant to convey a dominant general feeling in my painting and because of the particular feel that social media has, I use it in my creative process. Currently, social networks are very relevant and have a lot of strength in the modern world, the message that they send affects and shapes us, therefore the selection of the provided information is crucial for there is a great deal of useless information which we tend to accumulate for some inexplicable reason.
AMM: Where do you source your reference material and what sorts of images interest you?
KA: From the start of my creation I care about the relation between visible reality and something beneath it. Visual arts are often recognized from images in mass culture, they give out an attempt typical of a younger generation of painters to engage in criticism of popular culture, materialism and consumerism. By exploiting fashionable images I present them in my own way: I take out from them obligatory eroticism, cheering of advertising. Covered faces, emphasized separate body parts and elements of fetishism make portraits strange, inconvenient for easy consumption. In such a way the dark nature of human desires is revealed, viewers are encouraged to revalue cultural images and their meanings through the prism of subliminal desire.
AMM: What are your creative rituals in studio?
KA: I usually start my day at 6:00 a.m. or 7:00 a.m. with a cup of coffee in the studio. I need to have a quiet environment; I usually work in silence without any music. I’m always working on a few pieces simultaneously, changing them. I spend a lot of time observing the paintings, to see the details that need to be modified and to decide the direction in which I will be working next.
AMM: Are you influenced by your surroundings? What does your studio look and feel like?
KA: Everything around us undoubtedly makes an impact on us and shapes us. In my creative work I continuously reflect upon environment, so after being in another place I will inevitably change as a person, as so in creation and thinking. To go and live elsewhere, to see, to get to know – this expands one’s way of seeing and enriches one’s world view. The greatest source of inspiration for me is my surroundings, I call it “the spirit of the time”. I believe that the reality surrounding all of us and which we perceive is nothing but our imagination. This image doesn’t exist externally, we just project it internally.
The time spent in the creative process varies a lot. Sometimes it takes long to formulate an idea, whereas the process of painting becomes like a meditation. I do not always succeed to carry out the works as I wish at first, and so will leave the paintings alone and retreat from the specific idea for some time.
In this case I pay a lot of attention to everyday details from my surroundings, combining them with a portrait or a hint of a figure. In certain cases, while showing or registering a moment of motion behind ordinary everyday life I try to convey that mystical reality as if removing limits between fiction and reality, rationality and irrationality, inside and outside.
AMM: You seem to work predominantly on small to medium sized canvases. How does scale relate to your art?
KA: The imagery dictates the choice of format. Canvas size is essential, the image may remain the same, but it might not translate into a smaller format, subtle details may become unintelligible (and vice versa in a large format). So, when choosing the canvas you need to think about many technicalities in advance. I use a variety of formats, not just small or medium-sized.
AMM: Your compositions and colour palette are restrained. Can you tell us how you work with negative space and tone in your work?
KA: In my palette, I use nearly all the colors of the spectrum, but the whole work itself gets “black and white” due to contrast. It’s a sort of a harmony consisting of two opposites and becoming balanced black-white, warm-cold, etc. We are accustomed to seeing an entirety and no longer notice the individual details, it’s important for me to split the color and show its nuances. For example, when looking at a leaf on a tree, it is green in its entirety, but it is made up of many colors not only from the green spectrum. It is important for me to convey the vibrations of the same color. The open spaces leave the works with a sense of incompleteness that becomes important to me as an idea and a component of the composition.
AMM: Do you remember what the first piece of art you sold was? How has your career as an artist changed since then? What have been some of the highs and lows?
KA: Yes, I remember it very well. At that time, I was finishing my bachelor’s degree and presented a piece titled NIGHTMARE SELF-PORTRAIT, which consisted of forty-four parts. A Lithuanian self-portrait collector bought four portraits. After graduating from the bachelor’s studies at the Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts, I decided to continue my postgraduate studies in painting.
During my rather short career I managed to be noticed in several significant international contests. I got into the top ten list of the contest “Painted faces”, organized by Saatchi, also into the final of the contest Arte Laguna Prize. But the biggest leap in my career was getting into the book “100 Painters of Tomorrow” representing a hundred most promising painters of our times, published by Thames & Hudson. When this book was presented in Christie’s auction house, London, and later in New York, everything changed. Suddenly I received a lot of attention in my country and abroad.
AMM: What is the art scene like in Lithuania? Are you a part of a group of contemporary painters?
KA: I am glad that at present the interest in art is quickly growing in Lithuania, whereas artists from our country are more and more noticed in the international art scene. Besides, this year is the hundredth anniversary of restoration of Independence of Lithuania, which is celebrated by a lot of cultural events all over the world, e.g. an exhibition “Wild Souls: Symbolism in the Baltic States” in Paris (Musée d’Orsay).
AMM: When you’re not in studio where would we likely find you?
KA: I like to walk a lot, observe the environment, I often find motifs for my work this way. I take a great deal of photos, read, listen to music, go to the gym, meet with family or friends, sometimes I simply spend the rest of the day at home.
AMM: Do you have any exhibitions coming up? What’s next for you?
KA: Currently, I’m an artist-in-residence at Internationales Künstlerhaus Villa Concordia in Bamberg, Germany. I will present my personal exhibition “ANOTHER REALITY” there on August 22. In the beginning of the autumn, I will participate in art fairs: CosMoscow and Art Verona, where my works will be presented by The Rooster Gallery.
Find out more about the artist: www.roostergallery.eu/portfolio/kristinaalisauskaite/
Text and interview by Laila Leiman for ArtMaze Mag.