Friday, December 9, 2016

Vaclovas Ratas and the Simplicity of Linear Fantasy

Vaclovas Ratas (1910-1973) was born in the village of Paliepis, located in the area of Seinai, Lithuania. In 1930, he went to study art in Kaunas, Lithuania, and the next year became one of the founding members of FORMA, a group of seven members who declared political neutrality and devoted themselves to the formal values of art. This group of young artists sought to give printmaking a modern voice, as inspired by Lithuanian folk-art. The group included the most significant artists of Lithuanian printmaking of that era.
In 1936, Ratas continued studying in the galleries and museums of Berlin, Rome, Florence and Venice. H He took part in numerous art exhibitions at home and abroad, and in 1937 he became curator in the Vytautas the Great Museum, in Kaunas.

Ratas' artistic activity spans forty years, from 1933 to 1973. Despite differences in style and technique, the same basic approach of simplicity, sincerity and love of decorative values unifies his work. Ratas remained in the realm of fantasy and refused to be involved in drama. His illustrations have a fairy-tale quality of lightness and playfulness.
He also created several prints portraying the local landscapes in static, decorative, deliberately simple, compositions, singling out one subject.

During the war, in 1944, when 80,000 Lithuanians left for the West seeking refuge from the returning Soviet armies, Ratas and his wife moved to Augsburg, Germany. The majority of Lithuanians emigrated to the U. S. A., Canada, and South Australia. A group of ten thousand settled in Australia. In 1949, Ratas, and his family arrived in Fremantle, Australia. Ratas worked in a metal works factory, a brick factory and a construction site. Then he was transferred to Perth where he worked in a pottery workshop, Scarborough.
During 1944-1949, Ratas represented burning villages, running refugees and the general unrest in the landscape. His style lost the linear calm and confidence. Now he introduced the black blots, broke the simple line and inserted numerous fine crisscrossing strokes. In 1954, the Ratas' family went to Sydney and he immediately joined the Lithuanian artists' group called Aitvaras. Ratas found this group as well as the more cosmopolitan artistic atmosphere of the city stimulating and alarming. Ratas worked mainly as a book illustrator. In addition, his health began to deteriorate.

The Sidney period of 1954-60 is the most unproductive in all his life. Sydney's artistic scene was dominated by abstract art, and nearly all new-comers moved on its waves. Ratas was familiar with the rise of abstract expressionism in Europe. Formal elements were for him always of the utmost importance. It seems, however, that the medium of book illustration, as well as his restrained and disciplined personality, prevented him from breaking the acquired mode of expression.
His conception of art led him to what he thought were the primary sources of creativity, namely, folk mythology and legends. Ratas was intrigued by aborigine fairy-tales and the visual representation of their fantastic world. His rendering became again predominantly linear with even more fluency and precision. The rhythmicity of his compositions bestowed the works with the quality of musicality. To his previous decorativeness Ratas added elegance and gracefulness. The tonal gradation became very subtle. These are mature and sophisticated works presented in an apparently simple manner.
From about 1967 Ratas was under constant medical supervision for leukemia. By 1970 Ratas was mainly confined to bed. By this time the artist was using very complicated mixed glass technique, employing some knowledge of Japanese water-based color pigments, unknown to Western printmakers.

Ratas created a graceful, refined and joyful world. His work underwent a great transformation, from linear graphic illustrations to his German Expressionist period, then on to ephemeral prints. He was the first and only artist to combine the Lithuanian graphic art with Japanese color techniques. He was one of those artists whose personality was fully and sincerely reflected in his works. In life, he was an extremely elegant man. He appreciated beautiful things, was an unassuming, hard-working and disciplined person with a great sense of duty. He worked intensely and regularly. In his works there is no place for accident, chance or subconsciousness. Everything is deliberate and well thought out in advance.

Public Collections:
Vytautas the Great Museum in Kaunas, art museums in Vilnius, Telšiai and Šiauliai, the National Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, Western Australian Art Gallery, Perth, Newcastle Art Gallery, and numerous private collections.
1937, prix d'honeur, International Graphic Art Exhibition, Paris
1946, established his own Art School in Augsburg, Germany
Art editor of the Augsburg Lithuanian weekly Žiburiai
1961, Founding member of the Sydney Printmakers Society
1965, received the silver medal from the Australian Fashion Fabric Design Awards

No comments:

Post a Comment