Spain has Pablo Picasso and Lithuania has – Kikasso. Such is the playful nickname given to graphic artist Elvyra Kairiūkštytė by her colleagues at the Vilnius Art Institute. Kairiūkštytė’s unique, Picasso-like improvisational style is once again at the center of considerable attention, but very little ribbing. Even among exceptional artists, Kairiūkštytė was singled out and given numerous different epithets: artistic loner, talented eccentric, creative Amazonian, and Lithuanian artistic outsider.
Kairiūkštytė became a master of the linocut technique, producing prints on paper from etched linoleum. She created expressive, large-format works full of exotic figures. As we look at them, we might begin to think that Kairiūkštytė inhabited the world of some ancient civilization, and not Soviet-ruled Lithuania – so rich is her work in frenzied, erotic spontaneity and the destructive draw of death.
After her health began to deteriorate in the late 1980s, Kairiūkštytė turned away from graphic art and began to sketch monumental drawings with a brush and ink on rolls of paper. One masterful line would stretch down expansive, sometimes three to four-meter-long sheets of paper, intertwining people, animals, fantastic creatures, gods and demons, destroying the distinction between virtue and sin. Drawings that depicted unique rituals became, in turn, a ritual in and of themselves – a means for Kairiūkštytė to convey her emotional tension and inner conflict. She once wrote in her diary: “I must draw. The tension is growing.” This was not only art – it was also therapy and prayer.
Kairiūkštytė’s expressive drawings and insistent lines appear as if created in a moment of ecstasy. One can see within these works a connection to automatic drawing, used by surrealists to induce a flow of free subconscious imagery and association. A recluse, Kairiūkštytė drew at night, and no one could ever imagine her true creative power. After her death, more than eleven thousand drawings alone were found in her home.