Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Lithuanian Story-teller: Viktoras Petravicius

Viktoras A. Petravicius (1906-1989) was born in the country of Lithuania. After winning a scholarship from the Lithuanian government in 1938, he attended the L'Ecole Nationals des Arts et Metier and L'Ecole Nationals Superieurdes Beaux Arts, in Paris. Petravicius taught at the Kaunas Applied Arts Institute, 1940-1941; and the Vilnius Fine Arts Academy, 1941-1944. He also was a member of  the "Forms" artist collective. 

Petravicius married in 1940, and four years later, because of World War II, he and his family fled to Austria and eventually settled in Germany. In 1949, he and his family emigrated once more, this time to the United States. They settled in the suburbs of Chicago where Petravičius worked in a steel manufacturing plant. It was nearly ten years before he could start making his art. "He had a hard time earning a living during this period, and he didn't do much creative work, " said his best friend, and noted photographer Algimantas Kezys.

Petravičius had four children, two girls and two boys. Tragedy struck the family when one daughter died at the age of four, and his youngest son was killed in a train accident. After his son's death, his prints became very dark. "The accident affected him greatly and he expressed his feelings in his art. He was man who could never lie. He was very true to himself, no matter what others said about him".

Petravicius’ first creative style was lyrical and romantic, revolving around Lithuanian folktales and mythological stories. His style changed when he lived in Germany and he became more affected by the atrocities of war. Later, nude figures became an important component of Petravičius' work. "He said you have to be nude as an artist; let your talent show completely. Don't imitate. Otherwise you're just a monkey," said his friend Dalia Kučėnas, a musician and writer. 

By 1961, Petravičius had his first one-person show in Chicago. "He exhibited newly created work in black-and-white woodcuts, …" said Kezys. "The woodcuts were full of symbols and images, such as the king, a girl, human figures, animals, deer, and bulls, which he used over and over throughout the years. "The idea was to take the black-and-white image from the woodcuts and then hand-color part of the image.” It was during this period that Petravicius was able to support his family from his artwork, and from teaching art. 

In 1979, Petravičius and his wife moved to Union Pier, Michigan. He had several exhibitions, including shows at the Museum of Art in Vilnius in 1983, and the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart, Indiana, in 1984. When Petravicius’ wife Aldona died in 1985, he fell into a deep, depressive state. "He went back to just black-and-white prints again, but they were not as stark or clearly defined as his earlier work. He stopped cutting woodblocks and went to making monotype transferred images. "The last prints he produced in his life were a series in which the black is almost transparent and the figures were barely visible, as if they were in a mist. It was very symbolic of his feelings, as if he knew the end was near and his health had deteriorated, "said Kezys.

Personally, Petravicius was an eccentric and had an intense and dynamic personality. "It seemed you could only be his friend if you weren't afraid of him," said Kučėnas. He made a name for himself by refusing to share wall space with other artists. He was prolific, exhibiting his work in France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Brussels, New York, Canada, Lithuania, Florida, Nevada and the United States. 

His style brings with it a naivete closely aligned with Marc Chagall, but the stark quality of his work was clear and refreshing. His forays into abstraction, burgeon on the Modernist traditions of the early 20th century and the subtleties of his monotype transfers show a personal, spiritual growth of an artist that broke away from the buoyant lyricism of his early years to a sophisticated, quiet dimension that foretold the works of Richard Diebenkorn and the Field painters.

Awards & Exhibitions:
Grand Prix & the Diplom membre du jury of the International Art Exhibition, Paris, France
10th Annual Exhibit, Sarasota Art Association at Ringling Museum of Art, FL
55th Annual Exhibition, the Art Institute of Chicago, IL
"69" Art Gallery, Chicago, IL
Gallery International, Cleveland, OH
Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL
International Institute, Milwaukee, WI
Midwest Museum of American Art, Elkhart, IN
Museum of Art, Vilnius, Lithuania
Riverside Museum, New York, NY
Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, NY
University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
Wilistead Gallery, Windsor, Canada

1 comment:

  1. I have one of his lithographs from 1948 given to the Secretary of State John McCormack in 1966 by the Lithuanian American Council. Love it