The French poet François Villon was not only known for his poetic genius. A wandering vagrant and frequent thief, the poet was prone to brawling and was imprisoned and condemned to death. While awaiting his sentence, Villon penned a quatrain (later translated into Lithuanian by Sigitas Geda):
I am François, wich weighs on me, born in Paris by Pontoise, and at the end of a six-foot rope, my neck will know what my arse weighs.
We don’t come across the word “arse“ in poetry very often. The entire quatrain, which inspired Povilas Ričardas Vaitiekūnas to paint Scarecrow and Cloud, was described by Villon himself as meaning nothing – much like death itself. The quatrain traveled from a fifteenth century Parisian gallows to Mardasavas, a village in the southern Lithuanian region of Dzūkija, where Vaitiekūnas spent his summers working.
Death is one of the central themes explored by this renowned Lithuanian modernist. In his paintings, death is understood as a natural inevitability. Yes, it may give rise to tension and anxiety, but are we compelled to resist it? Vaitiekūnas would likely respond in the negative, adding that death is an epic story and man – merely one of its characters, capable of changing the story but knowing in advance how it will end.
The body of Vaitiekūnas‘ paintings attempts to associate the European tradition with Lithuanian ethnography and myths. It very closely approximates abstraction but, as in this painting, everything that is essential remains recognizable: the omnipresent sky, the blood-red earth, the gallows and a body.
Where is the body hanging? In Mardasavas or in some other corner of the world? Villon would probably respond – what does it matter? The poet and his “arse” avoided the noose in 1463, by the way, and Villon was banished from France instead. We don‘t know where and how he ended up living, but let‘s just say it was a long and happy life.