Reading the walls of Kaunas, Lithuania

Kaunas Lithuania. pic by James HainsworthOur first full day in Kaunas, Lithuania, was flooded with bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies, so we took the chance to follow one of their excellent tourist maps, Wallographer’s Notes.

Street art began to emerge in the city as a form of protest during the years of Soviet Occupation from 1944 to 1990. Today, the City Municipality regular invites applications of ideas for new artworks, and so every month new creations appear. Here are ten of my favourites.

Insects of Ladislas Starevich. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley1. Insects of Ladislas Starevich
Rotušės Aikštė, 15, Kaunas
If you begin at the town hall, you will soon happen across this trio of gigantic insects: an ant, grasshopper complete with violin and stag-beetle created in honour of pioneering puppet animator Ladislas Starevich.

Dogs Fountain, Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley2. The Dogs’ Fountain
Rotušės Aikštė, 19, Kaunas
Created by sculptor Vytautas Narutis in memory of the canine guardians said to protect the sleep of emperor Napoleon when he stayed in Kaunas Old Town, Fontanas Šunys (Dogs’ Fountain) was installed in the Kaunas Town Hall square in 1987. The dogs have lovely friendly faces rubbed shiny in places, presumably from people patting their noses for luck.

The Freedom Warrior. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley3. The Freedom Warrior
Pilies G. 17, Kaunas
Located between the 14th century Kaunas castle and the Neris River, this exuberant statue is named the Freedom Warrior. The figure of the armour-clad knight on horseback mirrors the one of the city’s heraldic shield, known as Vytis. It stands an imposing seven metres high. I love its celebratory air, but feel its triumphant air is rivalled by the tot scooting around the monument’s base in my shot.

The Wise Old Man, Kaunas Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley4. The Wise Old Man
Jonavos G. 3, Kaunas
Turn to the right with your back to the castle, and you’ll spy The Wise Old Man, or The Master, a gigantic portrait smoking a pipe apparently in his pyjamas. We visited on a Saturday when the square below was laid out with stalls selling freshly unearthed root vegetables, cheese, honey, cured fish and the eponymous tree cakes. The 440 m2 creation by artists Tadas Šimkus and Žygimantas Amelynas overlooks it all with a benevolent air. Ironically, he’s painted on the side of a former footwear factory, and though you can’t see his feet in this photo, he has no shoes. He’s said to be an homage to George Maciunas, one of the pioneers of the Fluxus art movement.

Monument to Abraham Mapu. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by James Hainsworth5. Monument to Abraham Mapu
Mapu G., Kaunas
This jaunty chap stands on a chair inthe courtyard of the Ars et Mundus Gallery. He is the sculpture of a beloved Kaunas-born author,Abraham Mapu, who is credited with writing and self-publishing one of the first Hebrew novels in 1853. I love the cheeky character sculptor Martynas Gaubas has achieved. With his hand held just so, he looks about to doff his cap in greeting.

Owl on Owl Hill, Kaunas Lithuania1. pic by Judy Darley6. A whole flock of owls
Pelėdų Kalnas, Kaunas
These concrete and sand owls mark the perimeter of Pelėdų Kalnas, or Owl Hill, and were created by sculptor Vincas Grybas in 1922. The owls are the symbols of Kaunas Art School, the hill and the city below.

Owl House on Owl Hill. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley

We followed tourist map to visit the owls, but spotted the above en-route to Owl Hill. What is that? An owl-shaped building?! So fabulous. Wonder if it’s on AirBnB,

The Cabin. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley7. The Cabin
Putvinskio G. 36, Kaunas
This gorgeous rainbow building springs out of its surroundings as a reminder that art rests on every corner of Kaunas. Once an abandoned and weather-beaten house, it’s now a vivid slice of life set almost midway between the Devil’s Museum and the Žaliakalnis Funicular (which was closed when we visited, with no explanation as to why). There are two chairs on the cabin’s roof, perhaps in case the devil or his wife fancy a rest.

Levitator. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley8. The Levitator
Nepriklausomybes Aikštė, Kaunas
Situated close to St. Michael the Archangel’s Church, this sculpture resembles a miracle caught in mid-moment, as a figure rises, harnessed to its long-locked plinth only by a swathe of cloak.
I’ve since seen photos of children pressing themselves beneath the hovering body, but when we saw it rain poured down and all that caught there was the suggestion of clouds. By the way, apparently the Lithuanian word of Levitator is levitatacija. Beautiful.

Yard Gallery Kaunas1 Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley9. Yard Gallery
Ožeškienės G. 21A, Kaunas
Begun in artist Vytenis Jakas more than a decade ago, the Yard Gallery is a constantly evolving creation, with new artworks being added by a range of artists, neighbours and passersby all the time. It aims to bring life and a sense of community to this space surrounded by residential homes. An astonishing space crammed with evidence of narrative and imagination.

Pink Elephant Kaunas Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley10. The Pink Elephant
Ožeškienės G. 18A, Kaunas
Just up the hill from the Yard Gallery, you’ll find a vast, resting elephant depicted in power pink. That large ear seems ripe for secrets, better than any church confessional. It’s by artist Vytenis Jakas(yep, him of the Yard Gallery, and to me seems to represent all things joyful and accepting in this quirky creative city. It was actually inspired by a graffiti slogan that translates as Love Conquers All.

Find out more about Kaunas, Lithuania, at visit.kaunas.lt/en/ 

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Art on the street

You can't hide homelessness by John D'ohIf you live in the Bristol area, you may well have already glimpsed work by urban artist John D’oh. Now the author of the freshly published Street Art And Graffiti: A Dissertation, he explains how he reached this new chapter in a life of creativity.

“I used to do street art as a kid but got into a long-term relationship so gave it up for a long time,” he says. “Back then I got into street art and graffiti because of hip hop and I considered them to be part of that culture. These days my style and art has changed and now it’s more about getting a message in with the art.”

From Dreams to Nightmares by John D'oh

These messages can be prompted by a wide range of environmental, societal and political issues. “I follow the news and politics but sometimes I cover other issues like homelessness or environmental issues, which are close to my heart. If I see something that I feel would benefit from my street art then I start thinking about the logistics.”

These include social issues “like civil rights, poverty, racism, bullying, inequality, immigration, and homelessness. There are a lot of politics in my art and some that are just done for humour.”

His aim, he explains, is to encourage views to question what they read in newspapers and online. “People noticed during the last election that there was a lot of bias one-sided right-wing journalism,” he comments. “It’s nice just readdress issues and get people talking and thinking and not just believing the fake news that’s out there in abundance.”

Vote Corbyn Momentum

He adds wryly: “How many people voted for Brexit just based on the extra 350million a week promised to the NHS, which was all lies and deceit which has helped put us all in the mess we are in today?”

killer clown craze cr John D'oh

John describes his creations as “pretty much similar to advertising, as I only have a few seconds to catch the public attention with my art. Hopefully my artwork will make people smile as they go about their daily lives, but also maybe start debate or discussions as they talk to friends, work colleagues or other members of the public, if shared through social media.”

The humour inherent in his work is an essential element, he explains. “I feel we all need a little humour in our lives and it’s often better than the forced advertising that we are forced to endure on a daily basis.”

John D'oh artwork

Often the idea for a new work takes shape thanks to a news story. “I think about how I am going to adapt that to fit into an image, with maybe a short quote that can instantly grab attention of the passing public,” John says. “I then cobble the artwork together with a mixture of photoshop and paint software, which I use badly, and freehand and draw the rest.”

What offshore accountsThe biggest challenge is the speed at which a new idea needs to become an existing work of art in order to be relevant.

“I find the news changes quickly, so the timing has to be right – if you miss the headline or the story then it’s too late; there’s no point in putting it out a week later.”

The design stages are the most crucial. “You ask yourself where you’re going to paint it; whether there are any CCTV cameras; how big you can make it; how many layers it needs; whether it should be pre-made or maybe be an art installation…”

Once it’s completed, John has one goal in mind. “All I hope to do is get that one descent photograph before my artwork is removed, painted over, jet washed or tagged. I consider what I do as a temporary art form and am not too precious about my work once it’s done.”

Street Art And Graffiti A Dissertation book coverThe idea to produce his debut book, Street Art And Graffiti: A Dissertation, was prompted by students and academics asking for insight.

“The book took me six months to put together so a lot of thought has gone into it,” John says. “I’ve read many books on the subject and I feel mine is like nothing on the market. It’s an insider’s view and where most artists produce what I call generic coffee table books with just page after page of glossy photos of their art, mine is different and balanced with about 50% text.”

The book covers and raises a lot of questions about the nature of street art, he says, “like should street art be protected and if so how do you choose what to protect? And the re-appropriation of street art, should art be removed from the streets? If you take this art then and stick it in a gallery or a museum, does it then loose its integrity? And lots more.”

Peope Think I'm Banksy. By John D'oh
John’s trademark wit shines through too.

“I’ve included some funny stories, some background information about myself that’s not common knowledge and many unseen photos,” he says.

John is hoping that the book will be used as an educational tool for teachers and students, “as the subject is becoming more common place in the school curriculum. I hope it will be something teachers can use in the class room to generate discussions between teachers and pupils and for students to maybe read.”

Tony Blair Bear Pit Bristol

Plus, as the title suggests, he’d like to see his book provide support for anyone writing a dissertation on the subject of street art. “My book may make it easier and highlight some interesting topics from which to base their work.”

The book is also bound to appeal to anyone who appreciates art in its myriad forms.

You can see original street art by John D’oh all over the UK. “In some areas it stays up longer than others,” he says, listing: “Bristol, Burnham on Sea, Manchester, Liverpool, Cheltenham, Worcester, Upton upon seven and Gloucester, to name but a few. And I’m always on the lookout for new locations, opportunities and walls.”

Street Art And Graffiti: A Dissertation By Street Artist John D’oh is published by Tangent Books and available to buy here.

Reykjavik street art

Reykjavik street art_Elle with Ulfur Ulfur, photo by Judy DarleyResiding in Bristol, I’m an ardent admirer of street art, providing it’s done well. A recent visit to Reykjavik revealed the capital of Iceland to be riddled with the stuff – and rather fabulous it is too.

Much of the best of it appears on Laugavegur, one of the city’s oldest shopping streets. My favourite was the one above, of the wolf family, but this squiggly fellow below on another street took my fancy too.

Reykjavik street art photo by James Hainsworth

According to the excellent website www.iheartreykjavik.net, the artwork below is titled Caratoes and Ylja, inspired by the song Óður til móður by Ylja. Much of it seems to be inspired by local folklore – well worth a gander!

Reykjavik street art Caratoes and Ylja photo by Judy Darley

If you happen upon this beautiful city, I recommend you wind your way through the central network of roads, looking out for the exceptional street art for a taste of the locals’ wild side.

I’ll be posting a full travel feature about this amazing trip on Thursday. In the meantime, find out more at www.visitreykjavik.is