Kaunas Picture Gallery
Kaunas Picture Gallery

A great deal of everything seen, experienced, suffered – threatening, boarded-up carriages, death camps guarded by a barbed wire and watchmen with dogs, the depth of mines – that was a ghastly Golgotha for the condemned to torture and death. Such is the painting of a military pilot, a political prisoner, and naïve artist A. Kostkus-Kostkevičius (1912–1999), which bears witness to one of the most painful phenomena in Lithuania’s history and people’s lives – the Soviet camps and the exile.

A. Kostkus-Kostkevičius was born in 1912 in Kaunas. From 1935 to 1938, he studied at the Military School of the first President of Lithuania. After graduating, a young man became a military pilot of Independent Lithuania, obtaining the rank of a lieutenant. When the Soviet Union reorganised the Lithuanian army, he joined the 29th Corps. On 23 June 1941, Kostkus-Kostkevičius disobeyed the Soviet order to fly to Gomel and withdrew from the occupants’ army. As a result, when the Soviets returned, he was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment in the Vorkuta camps. It was there that his artistic nature came to light.

At first, he was drawing portraits of other prisoners. Later, he started painting flowers on scraps of torn underwear, proposed an idea of designing posters. Soon he was transferred from the position of a miner to that of a carpenter. His sister, art historian Irena Kostkevičiūtė sent him art supplies periodically.

For A. Kostkus-Kostkevičius, his artistic occupation in the soviet camp was an escape to another, better, a more just reality, a temporary oblivion from the painful reality, an opportunity to survive. Pushed to the margins of life, but by means of his creative activity the artist managed to define the limits of his interaction with the environment, within which he was able to preserve his national and human identity.

After returning from Vorkuta in 1956, A. Kostkus-Kostkevičius settled in his native town Kaunas. His good friend Aloyzas Stasiulevičius had played a special role in his life, appreciating his artistic talent and encouraging him to return to creative work, which he had abandoned in the face of difficult circumstances. Encouraged by his friend, Kostkus-Kostkevičius devoted himself fully to his artistic work from 1980. The most frequent topic of his paintings is aviation, Lithuanian history, religion and exile. In 1991–1992, he painted a series of works dedicated to the events of the 13th of January.

Of particular importance are his autobiographical paintings on the theme of exile and the Soviet camps. The artist can rightly be called one of the first artists having depicted the history of exile in art from a personal perspective.

A. Kostkus-Kostkevičius’ work distinguishes not only for its historical and documentary value, but also for a strong emotional impact, which is achieved through the skillful management of artistic means: colour, musicality (the author played various musical instruments, was a member of an ensemble), the use of original techniques, and specific compositional solutions dictated by the sight of a pilot looking out of the clouds.

The author’s son Rimantas and daughter Edita have preserved the exile memories written by himself. Fragments of this valuable authentic material and memories of his relatives make a context of the author’s work in the exhibition, enabling the visitor to immerse in the experience of exile and the Soviet camps and to share his feelings and thoughts about exile in specially arranged “bubbles of feelings”.

A. Kostkus-Kostkevičius’ works have been acquired by M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, Vytautas the Great War Museum, the National Museum of Lithuania, Lithuanian Museum of Aviation and Kaunas 9th Fort Museum.

Curators: Vilma Kilinskienė and Janina Savickienė

Partners of the exhibition: the Kaunas 9th Fort Museum, Vytautas the Great War Museum, the Lithuanian Museum of Aviation, the Lithuanian Special Archives, the Central State Archives of Lithuania, the Kaunas Regional State Archive, the Lithuanian Union of Political Prisoners and Exiles.

The exhibition works: 12 04 2023 – 11 06 2023