By Chris Kearin
Sunday, April 24, 2011
There are some disadvantages to living in the shadow of a cultural capital, and one of them is not being sufficiently exposed to work by artists who may have long been well-known in their own countries and elsewhere but who through whatever whim of the art circuits never seem to earn comparable notice here.
Stasys Eidrigevičius is a Lithuanian-born artist who now resides in Poland. His work first came to my attention sometime in the 1990s, when at least three of the children's books he illustrated were published in the US by NorthSouth Books. Those titles, all of which now seem to be out of print, were Johnny Longnose, The Hungry One, and the best of them, Puss in Boots. (At least one other children's book, Little Pig, has been published by Viking Press; it too appears to be out of print.) Children's books, however, represent only a tiny fraction of Eidrigevičius's output, which includes painting, drawing, posters, political art, sculpture, photography, theatre design, and performances. As far as I can gather from the list of exhibitions on his website he has never had a significant show in New York City.The images below are, respectively, from Puss in Boots, Johnny Longnose, and Little Pig. The images in the last-named work aren't paintings but photographs centering on painted masks.
There is a distinctive Eidrigevičius look in his picture books, and much of it has to do with the eyes, which are nearly almost wide-open but alarmingly expressionless. As in the stop-motion animation of the Quay Brothers, the worlds of animate and inanimate objects blur disturbingly into one another. Many of his subjects are being held against their will -- perhaps a reflection of his childhood under Communism -- although, as in the images below, it's not always clear exactly who is the captive and who the captor.
It's a fair question whether or not Eidrigevičius's work was ever really marketable for children. I suspect that it may well be in Europe, but perhaps not in the US (though my daughter enjoyed Puss in Boots). It would be nice if the full range of his work could get fuller exposure here.
A Journey Round My Skull has some additional images, and there are many more at the artist's own website. For those with the wherewithal there is a new retrospective collection of his work, Stasys 60, which can be obtained from ABE Marketing in Poland.
I'm not sure what the original purpose was of the image shown at the top of the page, which I found through image searching on the web. The cat's eyes are so mesmerizing that at first I didn't even notice the beaks of the birds, but I think it's the mouth, at once so realistic and so alien, that is the most unnerving.