Sigitas Staniunas Says Traveling to Distant Cultures Inspires His Art

Lithuanian artist Sigitas Staniūnas has organized more than 50 exhibitions all over the world. He was awarded the Order of Oranje-Nassau by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Order for Merits in Lithuania. Sigitas’ paintings have been acquired by such famous people as Sting, Hillary Clinton, Kenny G, Bruce Willis, and others. He has developed a unique style and artistic expression by creating a mystical symbiosis of music and painting.

Meeting with Sigitas is an exceptional experience in itself. His art studio, situated in the heart of Vilnius old town, is full of impressive paintings, scattered paint boxes, acoustic guitars, and canvasses with nascent deep colours. He offered a seat at the bohemian table and a cup of coffee as we started our journey through ancient cultures, unexpected encounters and inspiring travel stories.

What do you love about travel?

Mostly I travel with the intention of creating something. When you find yourself in another culture, it makes an impact on your work. For many years, I traveled as a pilgrim in various cultural contexts. It's not a secret that Brazilian and Indonesian cultures are very different, but related through symbols and myths. I am particularly interested in meanings of colours and symbols. The beautiful thing about traveling is that different places and cultures make you see things in a different light and you can approach your work from various angles. This inspires me.

Do you have a place that you always want to come back to?

Undoubtedly, these places exist. I am interested in places such as Indonesia, Brazil or Formosa (former name of Taiwan). Some would call those countries exotic, but I see them as ancient cultures that are less familiar. If you create something on the Baltic seaside and think of the most distant Eurasian point - Formosa - where there is nothing but the ocean, you get an image of the sea that is close and distant at the same time. The place that you want to come back to depends on subjective experiences and how you succeeded in exploring its treasures. Through my own cultural identity, I try to reach out to other cultures as well. However, this might be only possible when you develop your own style, colour palette and uniqueness over many years.

Distant and Close Sea Art Project (2009)

What is your most memorable travel adventure?

Adventures are happening all the time (smiling). There was both disappointment and joy. I’ve met people who don't understand much about art and think of paintings as colored rags. Some of the most beautiful moments happened when I found myself alone somewhere, like Taiwan, and witnessed the typhoon. Or you find yourself in some place dry place where conditions are not suitable for life because of drought.

If you are not buttoned-up,everything is interesting. For an artist it is important to travel because it expands your imagination. There are some artists who scowl at the thought of creating art in other places than your home. They ask, "How do you manage this?" I guess it depends on the person - as in Kobo Abe's "The Box Man," one person can live in a box that is the size of a fridge box, and another one only in a box the size of the universe. I think that traveling is important because it helps to develop fantasy, vision and experiences. Through this you get inspiration and personal power.

What is your the most preferred nature scenery - mountains, sea, deserts?

I love everything. But if you have stayed at the sea for a while and don't feel inspired or ignited by the infinite love, you should travel to the mountains or the desert. There are people who prefer watching Discovery or other tourism channels, because they take a viewer through different experiences. Others want to feel the essence nature and are searching for something themselves. There is a huge number of studios dedicated to art and creation in various sites of the world. For me, the exceptional experience was to create in Brazil, in Instituto Sacatar. It's a private place, 100 meters away from Atlantic Ocean where nobody else is allowed to enter except for artist's assistant.

I think it's essential to get to know a culture directly and not through the internet or any other media. For example, in Istanbul many coffee-houses have signs, "We don't have WiFi, talk to each other." Another example that left an imprint in my memory comes from South Taiwan, where four preserved indigenous tribes rarely use the phones even though they have them. They say, "We look up at the moon and communicate through it." It's important to know the world first-hand. Because what we don't experience directly, disappears from our memory very rapidly.

Instituto Sacatar (2012)

Have you ever experienced any curious or unexpected incidents when transporting your paintings?

Sometimes you need to throw things out of a suitcase so you can bring your paintings. But usually, there are large tubes for canvas transportation. Since almost every country can provide you with suitable wooden stretchers, you can wrap your paintings and bring them quite comfortably in the tubes. Later you just need to mount your canvases on the frames. Still, transportation of this kind is risky and could harm the painting in a long run. You need to be quite resourceful when finding the best ways to transport your work.

What’s the one thing you cannot go without when traveling?

You always need the basics - passport, visa, and some cash. But imagine the situation - I guess it could be even an idea for a performance - you put someone like me in a random unfamiliar country with little amount of cash, just enough for a taxi and small expenses. What should I do? How would I survive? Well, firstly I could drive to the nearest art supply store and buy a notebook and a pencil. On the same day, I could start painting portraits on the streets for additional cash. Later I could go to a gallery and try to ask for some canvases and so on. My idea is that if you can look at any situation creatively, you can survive in any context with nothing much in your pockets.

Have you learned anything valuable during your travels?

Undoubtedly, you learn something very valuable if you spend longer time living in a foreign culture. I would say it’s very important to know what you cannot do in certain countries. For example, it’s a taboo to show the soles of your feet in Thailand, as feet are considered to be filthy. There are some dos and don'ts you need to read about in order to avoid a faux pas.

I would say you need to closely observe the situation. Even if you don't know the language, watch the body language of the locals. Once I got into a situation where no one spoke English, and a British woman who was vegetarian panicked because she didn't know how to tell people that she can't eat animal products. I told her, "Calm down, come with me, show a fish sign with your hands."

In some places, you should avoid sudden movements. Once in Myanmar, I went to visit local tribes. I asked one historian who knows their language to come with me. I understood that in this place you need to behave carefully because the tribes have their rules and are armed with specials guns - blowpipes. After we approached the shore where they live, I felt the strangest silence and I couldn't shake the feeling that we were being watched. You feel that there is someone and you don't know how to get off the boat because every hasty movement can be fatal. In the end, we managed.

They don't have medicine thus we brought a box of aspirin and showed it to them. Also, there is no electricity. Buddhist monks walk for miles in order to teach their children.

But still, these people looked happy to me - their eyes were glowing and they were all smiles.

These kind of encounters change your perspective on life. You start to think differently. I am happy that I was there still in time to see such places because in a few more years they will disappear, just like endangered animals. But the most interesting thing is that such untouched oases still exist. Their colour palettes are very beautiful. Ornaments and curiosities are very interesting, and their food is clean and healthy.

Four Sides of Wisdom (2007). Oil on canvas. 175x230

What do you loathe about travel?

I don't like when custom officers in the airports look at you and your luggage suspiciously (laughing). Also, sometimes you find yourself in places where everything isn't like you expected it to be at first. But I have learned that you don't need to rush and be guided by preconceived notions. In such situations, you need to take time to adapt in order to better understand the place you are in.

Which travel trends do you notice?

I see the trend of theme-focused traveling when you don't need to run around all the city to see everything at once. For example, I met some travelers who are interested in art and when visiting France went only to the places where Paul Cézanne painted his works. Or people who decide to visit only one museum at a time like the Prado, the Hermitage or the Louvre. I believe that thematic travelling is a good option for those who want to learn things on a deeper level.

Do you have some future travel plans?

I am preparing for an art project in a very special place, in Ukraine. It's called Frumushyka-Nova village. This place is located 200 kilometres from Odessa in the moors of Bessarabia. There you can find unique silence and immense horizon. Another interesting thing about this land is that it’s home to one of the largest sheep farms in the whole of Europe. I recently came back from there and my next visit will be followed by an art event together with Lithuanian composer Paulius Kilbauskas.

What is the special ingredient that makes traveling memorable?

It's always important to read a little about the place you are going to. It could be interesting to think of some fantasy that you could fulfill when traveling. It's essential that you find what is interesting to you.

Dreamer (2009). Oil on Canvas. 131x211

After having few more laughs and a small exchange of insights about painting and traveling, our first journey to ancient cultures, breathtaking places, and unexpected discoveries has come to an end. But not for long, just until the next meeting. Until the next journey.

Sigitas Staniūnas
Sigitas Staniūnas is one of the most prominent Lithuanian painters and representatives of interdisciplinary art, integrating painting, music, photography, dance and video installations in his work. Sigitas’ multi-layered oil paintings created with the techniques of old European masters are inspired by Asian elements invite the viewer to engage in mysterious visions by entering into a unique aesthetic world. Sigitas is actively involved in national and international projects and has held more than 50 exhibitions in Canada, USA, Finland, Switzerland, Brazil, Indonesia, Ukraine, Taiwan, and other countries.