Sunday March 17, 2013
Learning through life
By NANTHA KUMAR
Ernest Zacharevic’s mural paintings are a blend of his education in his native Lithuania as well as some outwardly wayward experiences in London.
Three words mingle easily with artist Ernest Zacharevic: passion, purpose and perception. This is perhaps down to the education and experience that he gathered as a student in Vilnius and London. At least that is the summation pulled together after a conversation with the lanky Lithuanian at the opening of Art Square Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur gallery last month.
Two sets of varying cultures – both academic and lifestyle – helped shape his creative nexus. Zacharevic, 26, graduated with first class honours in Fine Art from London’s University of Middlesex in 2009 after completing his intermediary learning at the Vilnius Art Academy between 2005 and 2006 and the M.K. Ciurlionis National Art School (1996 to 2005).
He then set out on a half-year South East Asia sojourn and stopped by in Penang in 2011 to reconnect with his college friends and sample the state’s Chinese New Year celebrations that he had heard so much of – and never left. The mottled building walls in the island’s inner streets drew him in and he dabbled in mural painting that finally led to the state government acting on his proposal to have a series of works for the George Town Festival in 2012.
The most famous of Zacharevic effort is the Little Children On A Bicycle, an expressive piece featuring a cheeky female cyclist and a terrified boy riding pillion and “supported” by a real old bicycle for a touch of installation art. Other notable paintings include an almost wall-to-wall portrait of an old man – also on Armenian Street – and two broken hearts having a chat on opposing telephone booths on – where else? – Love Lane.
Zacharevic’s passion for street art stemmed from his childhood and later grounding in a traditional art school where rules and restrictions reigned and the emphasis, unsurprisingly, was rigorously on the technical aspects of painting. Exploring his interest in graffiti was not only a form of rebellion for Zacharevic but also, knowingly or not, forged a purpose for his art. London, interestingly, provided him with a focus and sense of control.
“(In) the first year at the university, you kind of freak out because nobody teaches you anything … go and maybe do your painting or there will be a class on Friday but you don’t have to attend. That kind of attitude and it really freaks you out at first. Then, you actually get it. It builds up self-discipline … you just go and learn what you want to learn,” said Zacharevic.
“You have all the necessary equipment and tutors for you to learn from but it is up to you how much you’re going to get from (them). It taught me different things in term of art and lifestyle … both experiences are different but just as valuable. It was quite a shock to move from Lithuania to London. They are two very different kind of cultures … you could really feel the East-and-West bloc up to this day in the continent and (there was) a different point of view to everything, including the arts.”
“I was quite passionate about exploring and bringing my skills forward but it took a while, when I was in London, to get rid of the restrictions in your mind about art. What art is supposed to be, how it is supposed to be, how it is supposed to look and what people are supposed to think and say about it. But in terms of skills, I really appreciate I grew up in the environment (at home) where I managed to get it, keep it and actually adapt to whatever I have later on.”
This resonates through Zacharevic’s penchant for mixing up mediums and employing them not the way they were supposed to be used – especially after moving to London – and sated his hunger to create innovative paintings. An artistic amalgamation of the Vilnius-London years, after he had abandoned the drudgery of graffiti “writing” and embraced mural art, was his early explorations of the traditional techniques in charcoal drawings in an unexpected environment: on the walls on the streets.
It is not inaccurate to say that his perception of art and accessibility to art is very much a credo that pushes his paintings to remain in the communal domain. Zacharevic believes in transporting art works from the studio and institution to the public wall as he had always maintained his own vision and view on art from his days in school and university.
“I have a feeling that I should be for everyone rather than selected people. In the last 30 or 40 years, the whole art market twisted so much and turned into a kind of machine that produces art works for the sake art works. Staying in London, you realise how manufactured (it all is) and just being able to expose your work to not the art community but the actual people, the public.”
The experience and environment, Zacharevic said, affect his paintings the most and stimulate him to try to make them relevant to the community that surrounds him. His art has been acknowledged in Lithuania when he was nominated under the arts and culture category for the Global Lithuanian Award – which salutes individuals who have significantly contributed to the global promotion of Lithuania – last year. It was an “incident” that created a huge domestic buzz.
“At first, I did not get any attention from the press back home but, after my nomination for my achievements in spreading Lithuanian culture abroad, people did research and figured out that I’m a graffiti artist (and they were surprised). Graffiti art is so controlled there, banned and people are sitting in the jail and here I am doing the same and gaining recognition.
“Lithuania is kind of behind the global arts and culture scene, as you would imagine in any little country, and everything comes about like 10 years later. Lately, graffiti art was banned … it was big in New York in the 1970s and 1980s and in Lithuania it was big five years ago! There was a close community of graffiti artists but it was super active.
“They would paint a wall and the authorities would scrub it off in the next week. It was great practice (because it is like you have a blank canvass). Graffiti control enforcement is hilarious back home: they impose fines on the building owners who do not repaint over the graffiti,” he smirked.
The situation appears to be changing. During a homecoming in 2012, Zacharevic did “little paintings and installations here and there” without the lavishness of time to actually produce “something more constructive.” He did not assign his signature to them or even post them on his Facebook page and claimed that nobody would be able to trace their authorship. These creations, however, were found to be circling around government web sites and blogs.
“Back home, the art community is a funny phenomenon … it is really 20 people who know each other, work for each other and they don’t care about anything else. (But for me it is about making) your work accessible and open to everyone, for free and to enjoy the little quality of surprise when you don’t expect it.”
Currently, Zacharevic is at the preliminary stage of looking at the details and scope of possible projects in Singapore and Colombia. Art enthusiasts in Kuala Lumpur could view his work at Art Square Bangsar, which includes postcard-sized and other replicas of his mural paintings in Penang. Visit www.art2.com.my for details.