book cover
"Stasys Eidrigevicius"
GGG Gallery, Tokyo, Japan 1998

Notes on the Art of Stasys Eidrigevicius
by Marek Bartelik

With the International dissemination of Stasys Eidrigevicius' drawings through countless reproductions in newspapers and periodicals, the exhibitions of his paintings, sculptures, book plates and posters, the distribution of his poetry, films, performances as well as a play, Stasys has became a contemporary phenomenon. The growing interest in his work may result in part from the West's recent fascination with Eastern European artists. More importantly, however, it springs from the original way he preserves local heritage while remaining universally accessible. Lithuanian-born (his father was Polish, his mother Lithuanian), Polish-based Stasys in an artist of popular taste who values expression over intellectual constructs. His art has a faux-naif, humorous flavour in its reductionist qualities, superimposing itself over the romantic notion of art as a metronome registering the "vibrations of the soul". Stasys' works often depict single figures, who sometimes carry simple domestic implements or furniture; their distorted physiognomies are veiled with a fan, a pair of slippers, or a basket covering the head. The schematic people in his works coexist with equally simplified animals and birds; part-beasts, part-domestics with elongated limbs and oversized heads. Their round eyes see with profound sadness, their mouths are etched with the sharpness of razor blades.

Transcending political connotations so often ascribed to art from Eastern Europe, these figures transport us back to a "prehistory" when myth, children's dreams and daily life occupied the same Zeitraum. Grounded in the popular culture and art of Lithuania, Stasys' world can be literally and metaphorically viewed as the same land that Czeslaw Milosz, another famous Polish Lithuanian, once described in "Rodzinna Europa" (Native Realm: A Search for Self-Definition) as "situated beyond the reaching of maps and belonging to the realm of fairy tales". But it is only partly a distant, half-mythical place, for, as Milosz also observes, today's world obviously contains few undiscovered areas and is thus more difficult to mythologize.

The faces in Stasys' ceuvre are often described as masks- but what kind of masks are they? The artist insists that a true mask be hidden underneath the painted faces in his work. In this he basically agrees with Claude Levi-Strauss who insisted that the meaning of the mask is not located in what it represents, but in what it transforms. In other words, meaning should be located in what the mask replaces, opposes, or paro-dies. In masks, as well as in art in general, it is critical to consider what is included and excluded. Stasys' works very consciously include as well as exclude.

Stasys' art allows us to feel nostalgie for the world of sentimentality without succumbing to banality and kitsch. It permits us to share in its vulnerability, although in doing so one risks being perceived as conventional or oldfashioned. The work radiates with the joy of making and viewing art, in that content does not override the importance of formal structure. In the context of great popular acclaim, Stasys' works can be viewed as secular contemporary icons that are predicated upon local superstitions and beliefs. As such, they enter into our experience, offering both a poignant reflection on life and a transient escape from it.
Marek Bartelik is a Polish-born art critic and art historian, lives and works in New York.

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