Waiting for Daliute‘s work to arrive from Lithuania was a bit anxiety provoking – the prints were shipped flat-packed rather than rolled. Quite a few of her pieces are as long as 90 cm– a rather large size for colour linocuts.
“I am a large format printmaker”, – says Daliute Ivanauskaite. And though she does create occasional smaller prints, , her large scale linocuts provide the most spectacular visual feast.
What is a linocut?
I was really surprised that Daliute’s prints are linocuts and she confirmed that often they are mistaken for screen prints, and sometimes, even for original paintings. I realized that if it was not obvious to me that they are linocuts, I am probably not alone and it may be worth writing a few words about the process.
A stereotypical image of a linocut for me was typically black and white or sometimes having one or two background colours, with rather thick cut lines – not something I tremendously admired. Daliute informed me: “ that was in the 80s… now linocuts can be in colour”. When she graduated from the J. Naujalis art college in Kaunas, with a specialty in linocut prints, Daliute’s thesis/ diploma project was actually black and white linocut. She was then admitted into the Lithuanian Art Academy (Art Institute at that time) to major in graphics/ prints, though she also had some interest to study architecture.
In creating a linocut print, the artist starts with a plain sheet of linoleum, often the same kind of material that is used for flooring. While some artists may have original size sketches done on paper and transfer them onto linoleum, Daliute draws directly on the linoleum. Then the first layer of cuts is made. That which is cut into the linoleum – lines, marks, patterns -will become lower areas, and when the ink is applied to the linoleum to be pressed on paper, these areas will be lower, and will either not receive any ink when it is brushed onto the linoleum or the ink will not reach the paper, because it will sit in the lower areas.
With the very first layer of ink to be applied to the linoleum and pressed onto the sheet of paper, the artist has to decide how many originals he/she wants to make. In most cases (though not always) linocut is a reduction technique – the artist continues to cut the same sheet and there are no more opportunities to make more ‘originals’ beyond the ones that were printed the very first time. Hence, linocuts, unlike collograph prints or screen prints, can’t be re-editioned at a later time.
“Cutting linoleum for reduction prints is such a long process that at the beginning, the final result is nowhere in sight”, says Daliute. There are not many artists doing similar work precisely because of this.
By the same token, it is also very difficult to know if the final result will be a success or a disappointment. To ink each layer and to run it through press, takes time, materials and precision. It is mainly for that reason Daliute lately makes only 5 to 8 original prints. In some earlier works she made as many as 20, but that is certainly not the case now. Her latest original print “Nocturne” has only 5 editions.
The first layers of linocuts are typically lighter in colour. Depending on the inks, sometimes it is possible to overprint lighter colours at a later stage as well. Then the artist continues to cut the linoleum and produces a new layer that is overprinted on the sheets with the previous layer/s. Sometimes only part of the entire drawing is inked, if only a certain area calls for that colour. Great care is taken to make sure that the linoleum sheet is placed onto the paper in the exactly same place as the first time. There are various techniques to make registration marks to make sure that the alignment is as precise as possible.
On the other hand, seeing minor misalignments along the edge gives a glimpse into the process and authenticity of the artwork. Alignment and depth of colour (how the linoleum was inked and how well it was pressed onto the sheet of paper) creates minor differences between prints in the edition. Hence, some prints in the same edition can technically, be more valuable than others.
Art and Life
Daliute’s works have been exhibited in many museum and galleries. She has had 16 solo exhibitions and participated in over 90 group shows in Lithuania and abroad. Her original prints are in various collections, including the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the Sakimi Art Museum in Okinava, Japan, and the Instituto ECOA in Sobral, Brasil.
Unlike many artists who maintain a day-job, Daliute, for many decades, focused on creating linocuts. Only recently, about a year ago, she took on the position as director and curator of the Kazys-Varnelis House-Museum. However, creating linocut prints, often late into the night, remains Daliute’s primary occupation.
‘My artwork is justification for my being. If I spend a week without doing any linoleum work, I feel like my time on Earth has been wasted,’– says Daliute.
Daliute is also an avid gardener and takes great pride in her own garden. It is no wonder her art is full of poetical metaphors and symbols that stem from the sacred beauty of nature and thematically are void of any human existence and activity. Her colour pallete is mainly soft, pastel tones, but she is also very comfortable in exploring subtle nuances in dark tones, that make her prints dramatic and mysterious. Branches, leaves, roots, cracks in ice appear as fragile and temporal elements of a boundless and infinite universe, comparable to intricate melodies appearing and vanishing into a rich orchestral background.
Daliute also creates pastel drawings, but rarely exhibits them. ‘Pastel drawings are difficult to display. On the one hand, it is essential to fixate pastel and protect it with glass, but on the other that diminishes its‘ vibrant colour. It is also quite difficult to adjust lighting for pastels‘ – says Daliute. Some day, however, she does hope to exhibit them. When asked if any other art technique fascinates her, she admitted that she also has some interest in calligraphy.
Daliute is an amazing printmaker with a humble and mild demeanor, yet her work speaks volumes. Many conversations and exchanges with Daliute did not make her a less mysterious artist. Despite the amazing quality of her work – technically and artistically – there is not much written about her on the internet. Her generation of Lithuanian artists was taught that their artwork must speak for them.