On the Frontline of Art
Ceramic Artist’s Vilis Vasariņš Centenary
Vilis Vasariņš (1906–1945) represents the range of artists who, in the 1920s and 30s, studied at the Ceramic Master Studio, established at the Art Academy of Latvia by Professor Rūdolfs Pelše. His brief, though brilliant creative work, until he was called up for military service in the Latvian Legion in 1944, characterizes contemporary developments of the time and manifests brilliant individual artistic style, refined taste, and highly professional technical execution of artworks.

Vilis Vasariņš created his artworks by using different ceramic materials such as porcelain, semi-faience, faience, stoneware and clay. The shapes of vessels he created could be functional, simple and curvilinear. At times the silhouettes of his vases manifest wavy, softly modelled double-curves or the shoulders of vessels are expressly accentuated. In order to create innovative silhouettes for ceramic bodies, he also applied mathematical geometric shapes: the triangular forms, the stepped forms and the circle, so much favoured by the Art Deco style. Vessels, designed by him, have finely finished surfaces, covered with different glazes, made after authentic recipes. Whereas, in the late 1930s his designed shapes and ornamentation demonstrate the artist’s interest in historic styles. The artist was also inspired by Latgale pottery.

 

Vasariņš’ first steps towards becoming an artist began while studying at the Art Department of Cēsis Crafts School. In 1924 he moved to Riga to continue his education at the Art Academy of Latvia. Initially, he studied oil painting, but in the fall of 1928 he changed his area of focus to ceramics to master the varied world of this discipline. In 1933, Vasariņš presented his graduation piece, an artistic design of a fire-place, and earned his Degree of Artist in Ceramics.

 

Vasariņš also had a beneficial partnership with the famous Kuznetsov Porcelain factory in Riga. He made numerous designs for décor painting on porcelain ware. He also executed orders for representation. The City of Riga commissioned a noteworthy 240 piece porcelain service which depicted various battles fought during the War of Liberation and presented it to the Latvian Army General, Jānis Balodis. Another elegant service was commissioned to commemorate the special dedication to the 15th anniversary of Latvijas Valsts zemes banka (Latvian State Land Bank). Due to the fact that the young artist showed deep interest in ceramics and the ceramic technology, in 1937 Rūdolfs Pelše invited him to be his assistant at the Ceramic Master Studio.

 

Since his student years, Vasariņš was also engaged in the creation of set design projects at the Latvian National Opera Theatre. He was also the chief of the stage work, implementing ideas generated by Latvian artist Ludolfs Liberts. Afterwards Vasariņš made stage sets for Drama Theatre in Daugavpils and the National Theatre of Latvia. The artist also made oil paintings, designed furniture and silverware.

 

On 29 October 1941 Vasariņš was appointed Deputy Head of the Ceramic Master Studio and continued the educational work commenced by Rūdolfs Pelše, and in doing so, he supplemented teaching with his own methods and vision of the role of ceramics in the future. Documents testify to the fact that once, during his lecture, he summoned his students to get inspiration for hard creative work by drawing a parallel between the artist’s mission and the soldier’s physical and spiritual self-abnegation on the frontline. Ceramics was his job, lifestyle, and, moreover, it was the passion of his life. In August 1944, the artist was called up for military service in the Latvian Legion. Fighting in the so-called Kettle of Kurland (Fortress Kurland), Vasariņš was killed on 23 March 1945.

 

The display contains his lesser known artworks from the collections belonging to the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, the National History Museum of Latvia, Peter Aven’s collection and the Academic Library of the University of Latvia.

 

Rūta Rinka

exhibition curator

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