Kaunas, Lithuania 1922 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 2001
Tower of grief c.1957 Materials & Technique: sculptures, carved wood, stained and oiled, hessian, enamel
Tower of grief was carved from a single block of wood by Lithuanian-born artist Vincas Jomantas in about 1957. Although only a little over a metre high, the work has a totemic quality which gives it a commanding presence.
Jomantas’s sculptures, usually carved in wood or cast in metal, have a strong emphasis on textures and technical skill. But his forms are symbolic rather than abstract, the projection of complex human emotions into bold, simple forms. Like many Baltic artists who emigrated to Australia, Jomantas found his forms in traditional motifs, in his case those of Lithuania. Vertical images that strive towards an image of the sun predominate, symbolising rebirth and fecundity after the darkness of winter.
Born in 1922, Jomantas trained with his father, a leading Lithuanian sculptor, before going on to study at the Lithuanian School of Fine Arts in Vilnius from 1942 to 1944 and the Academy of Fine Art and School of Applied Art in Munich, West Germany from 1946 to 1948. Jomantas arrived in Australia in 1949 as part of the displaced persons scheme and spent the following 11 years working in a variety of jobs. In 1960, he became a lecturer in the Fine Arts Department of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology where his virtuosi carving, which displayed the intrinsic qualities of materials, was appreciated. In that year he also became a founding member of the Centre Five group of sculptors, along with Clifford Last, Lenton Parr, and fellow émigré artists, Julius Kane, Teisutis Zikaras and lnge King. This group’s commitment to creating art works for public places revolutionised the role of sculpture in Australia.
In 1961, Jomantas supplied a photograph of Tower of grief for Lenton Parr’s small book, The Arts in Australia: Sculpture. In this photograph, he buried the base of the sculpture in sand next to an old sea wall, where it rose up like some strange new plant against the backdrop of a moody sky – a metaphor perhaps for his own exile from Europe and the ever-present grief caused by this separation.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002