Born Kaunas, Lithuania, 1968 / Diploma in Fine Art and Restoration, St. Zukas Technium of Applied Arts, Kaunus, Lithuania / Lives in Beverley Hills, MI
Lithuania, Renata Palubinskas confides, was the last place in Europe to embrace Christianity, maintaining its pantheistic pagan beliefs as late as the fourteenth century. A similar sense, of being out of sync with prevailing currents, and instead embracing the richness of the distant past, pervades Palubinskas’s own extensive body of paintings. She is an especially wholehearted artist, making full use of a rigorous Eastern European education in traditional painting and drawing techniques to take on big topics, such as mortality and the search for enlightenment, with great joy. Her quest is a spiritual one, drawing insights from all religions, but finding the most compelling answers in writings from the Hindu tradition. She talks of the beauty she finds in martial arts, and if pressed will admit to having a black belt in karate.
Palubinskas’s works are allegorical, but have a lightness of touch that often belies their intense subject matter. In her worlds, human, mythical, and animal characters appear and re-appear in different combinations. She makes particular use of pubescent children, whom she sees as symbolizing the transitional stage at which the Self starts to emerge, and begins to question the purpose of life. For Palubinskas, the path beyond this point is paved with threats of many kinds and uncertain emotions, but must be pursued in order to potentially transcend the limited existence of the material world. In her paintings, the threat of the unknown is often represented by “monsters lurking in the dark,” and the possibility for transcendence is often expressed by a ray of light breaking through a hole in the clouds.
It is the tension between the “light” and “dark” that is at the base of many of Palubinskas’s compositions. See, for example, 2005’s Captured, or 2000’s Death Chases Time, or especially 2004’s Unexpected In the latter, the young girl is shown both in the glow of, and staring through, a hole in the clouds; her hands are shown cupped in a seemingly devotional gesture, while at her feet a skeleton and a clothed mammal-like figure wearing a party hat peer under her dress threateningly. The rabbit, another common presence in Palubinskas’s work, tugs at the fabric, and displays sharp teeth – even the most benign creature may pose an unexpected hazard on life’s journey. The light, as with many of Palubinskas’s paintings, has a bright, but unsettling, dream-like quality; the girl’s shoulder glows with a pre-Raphaelite intensity. The overall effect is a haunting combination of masterful painting and both psychological and narrative prompts.
Other of Palubinskas’s paintings are still more mysterious. In From the Little Girl’s Diary (2006), a young, archaically dressed, woman stares impassively, perhaps even knowingly, at the viewer, while gently holding the hand of a skeleton sitting beside her in a windowless bedroom. In the background stands the Tree of Knowledge, while at the girl’s feet, a rat reaches out to touch her. Or see also, Outsider (2006) in which a barefooted young girl protectively cradles a cat, while surrounded by a circle of finger pointing rats. In the background, two windows look out across a medieval cityscape. There is a Gothic quality to the works, but not gratuitously so.
Although Palubinskas draws extensively from Eastern philosophy, the themes she considers are universal, and hence she is able to frame them using Western symbology familiar to a local audience. More recently, she has started to directly incorporate Hindu deities and symbols into her work, and also to explicitly address specific contemporary issues. The triptych Monoculture Domination (2014) illustrates this latter point by including contemporary material issues, such as genetic modification and the risks of prioritizing the demands of capitalism above the need for crop diversity, alongside universal themes such as life, death, and the need for harmony.
Most recently, Palubinskas has indicated a desire to create large scale works, and has started the process with the triptych Desecration of the Self (1999/2015) which tips the scales at a little over 11 feet wide. Created for a general audience at Grand Rapids’ annual ArtPrize competition, it conflates the classic Adam and Eve tale with the contemporary cautionary-tale of British comedian Russell Brand. Palubinskas is fascinated with Brand because of his openness about his hedonistic past, and his attempts to replace it with a more spiritual quest. Most likely she hopes that we see the work and question our own materially-centered lives.
Steve Panton, September 2016