Both character and art of the versatile Jānis Pauļuks have always been surrounded by legends and scandals, yet, despite the collisions of time, he was able to safeguard and develop his inimitable artistic handwriting, which is best characterised by dynamic, virtuoso brushstrokes and an unlimited, bright colour palette.
The artist is one of the most brilliant personalities in Latvian art after World War II. His artistic output has had a significant influence on Latvian art history, developing and perfecting the breadth of artistic means, invoking restlessness, an atmosphere of movement, vitality and joy, using rich, radiant colours.
Jānis Pauļuks painted in oil. He experimented widely with paint application - it was poured, dripped, vigorously daubed with a putty. He painted landscapes, still-lifes, figural compositions, seascapes, portraits and self-portraits. He has also made abstract works without denying the natural reality.
Born in Riga on September 2, 1906 in a family of Lithuanian workers, Jānis Pauļuks initially worked as a calligrapher for the Division of Surveying at the Department of Land Planning, taking state orders. He enrolled in the Art Academy of Latvia in 1938, but was expelled. Later, in 1944 he enrolled in the academy again, but this time left voluntarily. In 1945 J.Pauļuks was admitted to the Artists’ Union, although, due to his unorthodox character, he was expelled and readmitted to membership several times.
His oeuvre can be divided into three periods:
• The first period (1930-40s) is characterised by turning to classical artistic values. This was a time of considerable searching. Initially it was directed to the past, to the studying and application of classical values - exploration of painterly form in icon painting and the Renaissance, and the inspiring examples set by Latvian artists Valdemārs Tone, Jānis Tīdemanis and Kārlis Padegs, as well as impressions of the Old Masters - Titian and Velazquez. During this period Pauļuks was mainly interested in portraits and self-portraits, figural works. He also painted landscapes, although the artist tried to prove himself as a figural painter, believing that those who represent the human form in their work are superior in attesting their professional ability. Significant to this first period are portraits of his wife, Felicita, who became the ideal image of woman throughout the rest of his career. This period is characterised by dark colours and restrained tonality.
• The second period (1950-60s) is distinguished by paint becoming the dominant formal means in the master’s paintings. It also turned out to be the most anxious and unstable period, as curators, motivated by Soviet ideology, tried to channel J.Pauļuks art into the norms of Socialist Realism. A large number of studies remains from this period, testifying to the artist’s well-cultivated sense of composition in paintings of subjects approved by the Soviet regime - football players, relay runners and fishermen. This period also saw the creation of a wealth of scenes with the sun, the sea and people on the littoral. Eventually the sun became a major compositional and narrative element in his art. His artistic freedom developed, the colours became light and luminous. Using his calligrapher’s skills, in the second part of the 1950s he started using the palette knife, through which stormy and serpentine lines entered the canvases, that later became one of his most recognisable characteristics, and brought a restless mood to the works. Extensive experimentation was made with lacquers and paints, creating vibrant and turbulent surfaces. In the latter part of the 1960s J.Pauļuks proves himself as an innovator in Latvian art, organically fusing the expressive means of realistic and modern art.
• The third and final period is the 1970-80s, when the master’s art reaches maturity. In this period the range of genres and subjects becomes especially extensive, it is characterised by free, uninhibited composition and a dynamic manner of painting. In the 1980s the artist’s creative capacity gradually fades and the master keeps his standing in the public eye mostly as an imposing and controversial figure, who can afford to be independent of the opinions of others.
It is believed the artist has created around 600 - 700 works, although his studio was robbed and vandalised in 1975, and the location of several important works remains unknown.
Jānis Pauļuks died on June 23, 1984 in Riga. He is buried at Meža Cemetery in Riga.
The exhibition from the holdings of the Mūkusala Art Salon will include works from different periods of the artist’s activity - urban views from the 1940s, landscapes from the 1950s, figural compositions of the 60s, which reflect the artist’s attempt to fulfill the thematic requirements of socialism, colourful, sketch-like cityscapes from the 1980s, as well as several portraits. The exhibition will provide an insight not only in his oeuvre, but also personality, illuminated by documentary films from the archives of Latvian Television, made in 1981 and 1987, which will form part of the exposition.
Diāna Barčevska, art historian
Image: Jānis Pauļuks. Neighbours. 1962. Oil on canvas. 105x134 cm (Photo by Jānis Pipars)