Monday, October 26, 2009

Eduards Kalnins

The contemporaries of Eduards Kalnins (1904 -1988) gave his art the stamp of "classic" while he was still alive. The "Kalnins legend" is a combination of many notions – talented landscapist, pupil of Vilhelms Purvītis, the first winner of the Latvian Academy of Art Rome Prize, grand master of marine painting, consistent advocate of the principles of plein air and tonal painting, long standing teacher at the Academy of Art, a professional who demanded much of himself and others, influential figure in art circles, a sovreign, lively and wise personality. The hazy grey Baltic Sea marine paintings and the celebrated figural works "Raftsmen", "The New Sails" and "Latvian Fishermen in the Atlantic" have become the centenarian’s unmistakable signs of recognition.

The literary portrait of the artist by Jānis Melbarzdis in his book "Ciesi pie veja"1 (Close to the Wind) brings alive the legend of the old master, just like the racily related episodes of "individual mythology" – the bohemian escapades and the exciting sporting and travel stories. Despite the large amount of 20th century publications on the artist, there has yet to be a serious work of research on the phenomenon of Kalnins’s art and his generation’s relationship with the complicated times.

Behind the openly visible facade of official publicity and the well-known frame of biographical facts, the artist had his personal "territory" dominated by two passions – painting and the sea. With the former he carried on a constant dialogue throughout his long creative career circling around the changes in his individual style, setting himself difficult professional tasks, observing the set rituals of his craft, enjoying and living the painting process itself as well as the concentration required for plein air studies or the long hours of loneliness in the studio. In an interview Kalnins once concluded: "And what is painting itself? It’s probably a kind of meditation when a person frees himself from all that is superfluous and remains alone with his thoughts and feelings."2 His other fateful passion, the sea, gradually became the basic subject matter of the artist’s work.

Certain character traits have united at the core of Kalnins’s artistic individuality: the features of a realist and a romantic, emotional and rational origins, respect for the traditions of the national school and openness to innovation, the ability and will to change flexibly in following the demands dictated by his inner self or by the age. His views on painting honed by long experience and observations of nature help us to understand his feeling for art and his working methods. The dream of his youth, to become a virtuoso painter, was, over time, substituted by a consciously formulated desire to free himself from his acquired dexterity in the frozen-in-time manner.

In his work Kalnins progressed from the intuitive capture of the visible world to self-defined more complicated professional aims. He strove to achieve absolute spatial illusion in the plane of the canvas and to depict the visually imperceptible – the impression of silence and the presence of the infinite in the everyday. His most outstanding successes combine a trained eye and a deft hand – an amazingly precise tonal and sophisticated perception of colour; his perfected brushwork recreates an observation of nature that can be felt in the mood and he fascinates with his ability to transform thematic realities into the appearance of a painting.

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