Interior of the Technical School of Art at Night, 1981
Arūnas Vaitkūnas was twenty-five years old in 1981. After returning to his native Kaunas after completing his painting studies in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, Vaitkūnas probably had no inkling that, ten years later, he would become an instructor at the Kaunas Art Institute and a renowned painter. But, at the time, he was certainly contemplating a stairwell at the Technical School, illuminated at night not by any grand expectations for the future, but by one dim electric light bulb.
Of course, all colors fade in the darkness, so portraying the vivid interior shown here was a real challenge for a colorist painter. But, as he did in many of his later works, Vaiktūnas displayed his talent for experiencing an atmosphere, rather than simply recreating it – feeling instead of documenting. Vaitkūnas would later return to the stairwell theme many times, intrigued as he was by neglected spaces steeped in the past: old objects, buildings, and historic sites in Vilnius and Kaunas.
The space portrayed in this painting is both symbolic and significant. In the years between the two World Wars, it was in Kaunas where the Lithuanian art movement emerged – the expressionist, colorist style of painting that Vaitkūnas later continued, expressing emotion through color, engaging in a conversation with the world and oneself, and finding the eternal in the quotidian – this was what was most essential.
And what is essential and most intriguing in this particular painting? Perhaps the unrealistically curved walls? The painting was done at night, however – a time for dreams. Is the painting at right turned to face the painter and the viewer? Or perhaps it is a mirror in which we can see the darkness of night and the memory of the painter who switched on the light at an art school in Kaunas forty years ago?