RIGA - It's every washed-up piece of driftwood's dream - to one day be dragged from its resting place on the lonely ocean shore. To be freed from the eternal roll between sea foam and sand and turned into a living piece of art. Yet, the bitter truth is, this dream will become a reality for only the most fortunate bits of driftwood.
What may be the Baltic's luckiest pieces of driftwood, rescued and transformed by intricate carving and vibrant oil paints into magnificent works of art, can be found this month at LU Basteja Gallery in the fifth annual "Objekti, Glezna uz Koka" (Objects, Painting on Wood) exhibit.
The exhibit, which is currently running until Jan. 24, is a collection of work from various aspiring and established Latvian artists who share one common canvas - wood. Whether it's gnarled logs of driftwood, splintering barn doors, old and broken cabinet drawers, clunky pieces of lumber or abandoned and stringless violins, the artists have transformed this natural element into breathing works of art.
A winter tradition started by gallery director Baiba Morkane five years ago, the exhibit is now eagerly anticipated by students from the Latvian Academy of Art, as well as prominent painters and craftsmen from all over Latvia who use wood as their artistic element.
"I think that this exhibit is more interesting to our people," said Aiga Bajare, a young art historian who works at the gallery. "It's something not so traditional. All of the time art is expressed on canvass, but wood is a live material. During the winter we bring wood into our houses - for the fireplace or a Christmas tree for the winter season."
Shimmering acrylic and oil paints vibrantly revitalize this once living canvass. The smooth inside of a curled and burnt piece of tree bark is resurrected to life with an oil painting of abstract dancing stars and colors entitled "Electricity," by Karlis Zalitis. A few feet away, a once discarded old washboard now frames a colorful portrait of a laughing jester entitled "Flakes of Snow," by Kristine Abika. Right below the washboard stands a carved totemlike human figure covered with a protective layer of protruding nails entitled "Mistress of Hedgehog," by Dmitrijs Lavrentjevs.
As for our rescued slabs of driftwood, they will be forever indebted to their hero, the artist Andrejs Majevskis. Perhaps the most beautiful of his creations is the sleek and elegant face of Anubis formed from a once rotting piece of washed-up wood. The twisted end of driftwood was transformed into the mythological Egyptian's deity's thin jackallike nose. A knot in the wood was vibrantly painted with glowing acrylics to create a flickering blue eye.
Another lucky piece of driftwood mounted in the center of the gallery depicts Greek images of hunters at sea. Each of the log's crevices and holes, still dotted here and there with broken barnacles, is subtly transformed into the wrinkle, smile or eye of a human face with oil paint.
Overall, the use of splintered, sanded or naturally coarse wood adds texture to what otherwise could be a dimensionless painted canvas. Rusty door hinges, protruding nails and broken screws add even more character to the carvings and paintings on show. "Objects, Painting on Wood" is truly an alternative to the more traditional canvas exhibit and should not be ignored by even the most vengeful lumberjack. If not for yourself, find it in your heart to visit this exhibit for those liberated pieces of driftwood which, without art, would be nothing more than abandoned ocean debris.
"Objekti, Glezna uz Koka"
LU Basteja Gallery
12 Basteja Bulvaris, Riga
through Jan. 24