Jurgis Janavičius
Explorer, Poet, Photographer and Painter

Jurgis Janavičius
JURGIS JANAVIČIUS (1926 - ) is a self-taught painter, art photographer, poet and writer. His approach to art is casual and carefree. His swift sketches are like snapshots from the window of a speeding car, and capture the essence of particular moments or places. It seems that Janavičius neither has the time nor feels the necessity to labour on intricate compositions or the studied application of paint. By never correcting or changing anything he retains spontaneity and simplicity in his work.
Jurgis Janavičius was born, the second of three sons, in Šiauliai on 28 June, 1926. His family had a long socialist background: his grandfather had financed the publication of Karl Marx's Das Kapital in Polish; his father, an engineer, had supported many socialist writers, among them the famous poet, Jonas Biliūnas. But when the Soviets occupied Lithuania in 1940, the father was among the first to be arrested and the family property was seized.
Fearing for their lives, the family split and each member lived separately. In this way, they succeeded in avoiding arrest and deportation and in 1944 were able to flee to Germany with the father who had escaped from the custody of the Russians.

Jurgis Janavičius, "The Dragons of the Peak Hour"
At that time Jurgis Janavičius had completed his secondary education in Lithuania. He continued to study different subjects, economics in Germany in 1946 and 1947 and ancient history at the University of Sydney in 1951 and 1952. During his early years in Australia, to which he migrated with his two brothers in 1948 and where all three worked as labourers on the Warragamba Dam Project, he associated with many literary and artistic people and was a personal friend of Šalkauskas, Bistrickas, Šimkūnas and Kubbos. His elder brother, Vytautas, is a well known writer and has been the stimulus for Janavičius and many other prominent poets and writers, to express his feelings in poetry as well as in painting.
Married in 1953 to Jolanta Garolytė, he has three children. In 1966, he graduated from the Snowy Mountains Authority Field Course and began work as a hydrographer. Janavičius's artistic activities fall into two categories: visual art and literature. In visual art he is active as a painter and art photographer.
His paintings can be divided into two groups: landscapes from the sixties and cityscapes from the eighties. Janavicius's work as a hydrographer gave him many opportunities to discover the beauty of the Australian landscape which he painted or sketched on the spot, without corrections or additions. Although his style is influenced by the free, fluent line of both Klee and Miro, he does not intend or pretend to investigate either the conscious or the subconscious human mind. His intention is to render his first impressions of visible reality in linear, sketch-like drawings.

Jurgis Janavičius, Crows Nest Junction, 1985
ink and pastel, 90 x 65 cm
In 1964 he and his countryman geologist Kazys Kemežys held a joint exhibition at the Garema Hall in Canberra. An example from this exhibition is A Hump in the Plain South of Bonley Creek, 1964, which consists of a single, horizontal line with several patches of colour hastily and casually applied. The Black Mountain West of Blayney, 1964, although containing more objects, is treated in the same hurried manner. Both works have an open composition, both are linear and colour is applied either flat, as for the sky in the latter, or with minimal modulation of tone. In spite of, or possibly because of, such a reductive approach Janavičius's work has a primaeval vitality. Art critic Donald Brook describes some of Janavičius's pastels as '... quite magical. Janavičius's strength lies in the resolute exercise of what one can call a visual sensibility.'
In 1981, after retirement, Janavičius returned to study, spending the next two years in a Fine Arts course at the University of Sydney. From 1982 his interest in visual art intensified and he began to paint and participate frequently in group art exhibitions in Sydney. In the eighties his subject matter was urban life with its fast rhythm and the impatience of frustrated drivers. Crows Nest Junction, 1985, is representative of his cityscape drawings. With a few simple lines and patches of colour, he captures traffic hazards with a sense of humour. To intensify the impression of crowding and confusion Janavičius selects an upright format, stacks one vehicle on another, and completes the picture with a multi-storey building as the pinnacle of all.
He has held two photographic exhibitions, the first in 1976 at the Old Bakery Gallery in Sydney. This comprised exotic pictures of New Guinea, mainly of native chiefs and warriors in full attire, with spears and shields. His second photographic exhibition was at the North Sydney Public Library in 1981 and included photographs of Sydney and European cities.
In the sixties in Canberra, Janavičius began to write in English. A book of his poetry, Journey to the Moon, was published in 1971. He and his friend Kazys Kamežys then decided to collect and publish the work of young Australian writers. The result was a publication called Poetry and Prose Broadsheet which Janavicius edited for fourteen issues. This put him in contact with young Australian writers and gave him, he says, a feeling of belonging in Australia. When later he moved to Sydney the publication of the Broadsheet was continued in Canberra by Australian writers.
In Sydney, in conjunction with poet Almis Juragis, Janavičius began publication of Poezijos lakštai (Poetry Broadsheets) in Lithuanian. The publication ceased after six issues for financial reasons, but Janavičius continued to contribute to the Lithuanian press in both Australia and America. He invented a comic character, Umph, and began drawing a comic series which was published in booklet form and also in the literary magazine, Aspect, of which Rudy Krauss was editor. Janavičius has contributed to Australian and Lithuanian cultural life in both visual and literary artistic fields.

Jurgis Janavičius, "Tada ir mes"
The latest book by Jurgis Janavičius "And Even Us: Letters from Australia" ("Tada ir mes: Laiškai iš Australijos" in Lithuanian) has been published by Tyto Alba Press in Vilnius, 2001. The book was reviewed by the noted Lithuanian poet Sigitas Geda and the literary critic Alfonsas Andriuškevičius.The well illustrated stories by the author were originally sent to the newspaper "Šiaurės Atenai" (The Athens of the North) in Vilnius/Lithuania.
"And Even Us: Letters from Australia" is a collection of 31 very short stories with an unmistakable Australian flavour, dealing mainly with people: Aborigines, Anglo-Saxon and other immigrants, their way of life, surroundings and nature. Occasionally there are some perspicacious remarks by the author. However, he abstains from moralising. Thus the reader has the comfortable feeling that the author acts like a camera, objectively documenting happenings, interrelationships, nature vistas and sights.
The author’s style is pared of any verbosity. It is concise, deft and sometimes wry. He has the knack of choosing a precise turn of phrase to describe people, situations and events. Then with a few bold strokes he paints the harsh and exotic nature descriptions of their surroundings. The endings of his stories are surprising and quite unexpected. And yet, nothing else needs to be added to make their meaning clear.
Lithuanian literary critics have lauded the book for its style and content. The critic Sigitas Parulskis reviews the volume of short stories as follows: "...best in his book are the descriptions of small events in time and space, especially space in geographical terms. To us this space is pure exotica outside our experience, for instance: 'In Western Australia no one brags about having covered the distance of 1000km.' The style of the stories is minimal, tongue in cheek. These letters can be considered as small works of art, stripped of embellishment, overstatements and frills". The themes of some stories are: "The westward escape from war torn Lithuania; the smuggler carrying 2 drums of spirits while crossing the border river, being attacked by a night bird; the story of the guard sitting naked in a vat of warm chocolate to escape the cold". The stories reflect the fate, the destiny of humans on this planet, and maybe that is the reason why they seem familiar to us. Sometimes they contain a dash of sadness, departure of friends, subtle humour. They never moralise or generalise. Despite the small size, the book seems to tell more about Australia than the TV "Discovery" channel. Maybe marginal, maybe understating its own case this book provokes me to say that it underlines the importance of human values. The drawings remain etched in memory...". (Translated by J.J.)


Sources:
Genovaite Kazokas, "Lithuanian Artists in Australia 1950 - 1990", published by Europe-Australia Institute, P.O. Box 14428, Melbourne City MC, VIC 8001
"Lithuanian Artists in Australia 1950 - 1990" is now available for purchase at Sydney Lithuanian Club Library, Sundays 1 -3 p.m., or direct from the publisher, Email: niky.poposki@vu.edu.au

Review of "And Even Us" by Isolde Ira Davis AM