art 2002/1

Rimas VisGirda. Beveik 8
Keramika, mišri technika, h 36, 2000

Rimas VisGirda. Pokalbis
Keramika, mišri technika, h 33, 1997

Rimas VisGirda. Viltis
Keramika, mišri technika, h 152, 1992

Rimas VisGirda: Looking toward the Future, Thinking about the Past

by Catherine Jacobi


A tour of Russia in 1988 as an exchange artist with Soviet Artists Union routed Rimas VisGirda briefly to Vilnius, Lithuania - on the first of many trips to his homeland he fled with his parents in 1944.
VisGirda spent his formative years on both American coasts, later he has traveled extensively throughout the United States and abroad as a lecturer and visiting ceramist. As a traveler he understood his odysseys were necessary if he wanted to find meaning in his experience as an artist who only knows his homeland as nostalgia. This first return, which could only have been another point of departure, would later turn into a powerful influence on his work.
In 1966, a major in physics, VisGirda started his career as a physicist, and a partner in a pottery in the Sierra foothills, yet returned soon to California State University to complete his graduate degree in Ceramics and Sculpture. Initially, he was heavily influenced by technological and scientific studies, also by his mentors Ruth Rippon and Robert Arneson. He borrowed their methods of surface decoration (like white engobe on stoneware, sgrafitto, etc.), used the lusters and commercial colors. Shortly, themes of American experiences emerged on the surfaces of VisGirda’s vessel forms; this technique and subject matter would dominate his work for the next twenty years.
In 1989, VisGirda was invited to attend the First International Ceramics Symposium in Panevėžys, alongside with three other international participants and twelve Lithuanians. For five weeks the artists worked using the clay and kilns of the city’s glass factory. The selected pieces were afterwards exhibited and donated to the city’s Civic Art Gallery.
The gallery’s director Jolanta Lebednykienė, with the help of VisGirda, eventually developed this event into an annual
Symposium, which in the years of regained independence started hosting a broad spectrum of international talent.
The industrial kilns at Panevėžys and the amazingly strong factory clay (called Chamotte, white clay with 40–60% grog)
in ample supply provided opportunities and even made it necessary produce large work. The artist also had to reconcile, on this huge space, the abundance of cultural iconography: religious and political symbols began to make way into his pieces in a unique way. Moved by the fact of returning the bones of exiled Lithuanians to Siberia, he used bones as a symbol for change. He also manipulated portraits of the Soviet leaders, used actual medals, incorporated the idea of sculptural busts into his pieces.
After the first return in 1988, Vizgirda has been to Lithuania six times. He is by self-proclamation an “official born-again Lithuanian”. His association with the Panevėžys Symposium helped it to become a successful international event and promoted exchange of artists to and from Lithuania.
In October 2000, VisGirda exhibited his most recent work at the Lithuanian Museum of Art within the Lithuanian World Center in Lemont, Illinois. The exhibition is a combination of transitional pieces incorporating new iconography and technique and the next generation of these influences. The transitional work is more intimate in size and is focused on internal struggles versus the social heroism of later work. Earlier this year, VisGirda began a body of works where heroic busts and political irony have given way to human poignancy. The influence of the heavily grogged Chamotte is referenced by the use of a feldspar grog, while surface decoration became secondary to form.
While more personal in nature, these pieces are not memoirs. They are instead realizations of the power of subtlety and the intimacy of universal expressions. But they still maintain the ultimate realization of human condition - in which we all eventually get home.