Antanas Kazakauskas: all is programmed

Exhibition of graphic art, book art, and graphic design commemorating Antanas Kazakauskas (1937–2019)

Vilnius Graphic Arts Centre

September 30 – November 13, 2021

All is programmed. This was the phrase that Žygimantas Augustinas, who had had a close relationship with Antanas Kazakauskas for the last 30 years of the latter’s life, pointed out in his recollections as having been one of the main pillars of Kazakauskas’ philosophy. “I remember his explanation of what art is: “Say, a man is walking in the meadow, and he starts singing. Maybe he can’t sing very well, maybe he even does not have an ear for music, but still he is singing.” [...] Antanas was a fatalist who insisted that nothing depended on a person, that all was programmed.”.

This phrase by Kazakauskas became the foundation of the exhibition and the book concept. Programmed events, style codes, quotations, various ciphers, and links were sought by examining the newly discovered graphic works, posters, examples of book design and magazine graphic art by Kazakauskas, preserved mostly in his personal archive.

The first advertising graphic artist. In 1962 Kazakauskas graduated from the Graphic Art Department at the present-day Vilnius Academy of Arts, and became the first one to defend a final work in the field of advertising graphic design. At a time when, according to Juozas Galkus, “everyone wanted to be an artist and went for engraving or book illustration”, Kazakauskas unexpectedly chose the direction of advertising and thus “changed the history of the Graphic Art Department”, as his choice led to the introduction of the industrial graphic design programme at the then Vilnius Art Institute. After creating several compelling posters, he hardly worked in the field of advertising, because, as Rimantas Dichavičius aptly put it, he was a “lone wolf”. However, a successfully accomplished advertising commission – the catalogue for the 1968 London exhibition – earned him a permanent place in the history of Lithuanian graphic design 50 years later.

Creator of book art. Having started working for the Vaga and Mintis publishing houses already in his study years, Kazakauskas was most active in the field of book art in the 1960s and 1970s. He designed over 140 books by Lithuanian and foreign authors, and created the design of the popular book series Drąsiųjų keliai (Paths of the Brave) and Noriu žinoti (I Want to Know). Kazakauskas paid great attention to every book’s architectonics and the slightest details: colours, font, front cover and dust jacket, as well as their relation to the back cover and the flyleaves. The artist mostly used collage compositions, hence his main tools were scissors and scalpels, while many of the illustrations were “borrowed” from foreign magazines. His works show influences of futurism and constructivism, as well as of pop art and the new typography.

Designer of Mūsų gamta Kazakauskas’ main field of activity was related to his “retreat to nature”: during the period between 1965 and 1996 he worked as the art editor of the Mūsų gamta (Our Nature) magazine. Designing the layout of the monthly publication dedicated to the worlds of animals and plants, environmental protection, and hunting, Kazakauskas turned Mūsų gamta into a decades-long project of personal experimentation in graphic design. Every year he proposed new cover ideas, changed the layouts of pages and columns, the positioning of illustrations and the compositions of headings, and created original dividers, fonts, photograms, and advertisements. 

Creative self-isolation. While creating modern graphic series during the Soviet era, Kazakauskas followed certain self-isolation principles in order to distance himself from the ideologised world of official art. Hence, his most interesting discoveries in the field of graphic art from the 1960s and 1970s are only now being presented to the public for the first time. Kazakauskas would not sign his graphic works, and did not tend to indicate dates and titles. He never had a single personal exhibition and took part only in several group ones, therefore his obscurity can also be considered “programmed”.

Creator of graphic abstractions. Kazakauskas followed the strategy of withdrawal and, following the declaration of independence of Lithuania, destroyed a part of his works, claiming that “they had soaked in the Soviet stench anyway”. However, around 2009 he himself selected 16 graphic works which he framed and hanged on the three walls of his apartment. A folder with another 40 graphic sheets was discovered after his death. Those are spatial compositions of refined minimalist forms and lines that look stripped of any information of the time. Kazakauskas’ book and magazine design was full of rhythm, movement, and play, while his graphic sheets contained only silence and metaphysics. They reveal a peculiar world marked by otherness, which speaks more of the beyond than of the earthly plane. One can discern abstracted human and angelic figures, shapes of birds and plants, symbols or typographic elements emerging from black backgrounds. Kazakauskas referred to it as “soul composition”; this was also the title he of his unpublished literary work.

Kazakauskas’ codes and methods. Even the graphic abstractions contain details of Kazakauskas’ recognisable style and simultaneously evoke a sense of déjà vu. Those are photographic inserts and recurrent motifs – numbers, arrows, exclamation marks, question marks, quote marks, as well as clocks, crowns, hats, angels, and feathers. Collage, quoting, and appropriation are the creative methods of Kazakauskas, based on arranging, pasting, and using “something created by others” rather than creating something new, or, as he himself would say in his trademark humorous and self-ironic way, “I cut to make my work easier, it’s nothing much”.

Programmed foreignness. Kazakauskas mentioned that Polish art and culture, which he had followed through literature, films, and exhibitions, had been his “grand school”. A separate case study deals with Kazakauskas’ appropriations based on quoting fragments of works by the graphic design master Roman Cieślewicz. Next to Polish examples, Kazakauskas’ bookshelves contain neatly arranged specialised magazines in Czech, Hungarian, German, French and English, among them the Swiss Graphis. Kazakauskas named Shigeo Fukuda, the Japanese graphic designer, as one of the artists who had influenced him. Maybe that was the source of Kazakauskas’ minimalism and Japonisme.

Kazakauskuitis. This name with a rare suffix -uitis was one of Kazakauskas’ pseudonyms. He often used it for signing his humorous sketches and cartoons that were printed in the Šluota (The Broom) magazine in the 1960s and 1970s. Kazakauskas designed cheerful New Year’s postcards for the Mintis publishing house, but the most interesting were his sketch projects and limited-edition Christmas and New Year's postcards that he sent to his colleagues and friends. In these, Kazakauskas was intentionally skittish, just as in writing his creative autobiography, which he ended with the phrase “I don’t remember anything else”.


dr. Karolina Jakaitė



Most of the exhibits are from the artist’s personal collection.

Objects were also lent for the exhibition by the Lithuanian Artists’ Association, Martynas Mažvydas National Library, Julijus Balčikonis, Karolina Jakaitė, Maratas Tairovas, and Dainius Liškevičius.

Curators: Julijus Balčikonis, Karolina Jakaitė

Exhibition architecture: Julijus Balčikonis

Graphic design: Tadas Karpavičius

Exhibition design objects: Julijus Balčikonis, Marija Repšytė, Paulius Vitkauskas

Creative Hours dedicated to A. Kazakauskas: Sigutė Chlebinskaitė

Project coordinator: Jurga Minčinauskienė

Financed by: Lithuanian Council for Culture, Family of Antanas Kazakauskas, Vilnius Municipality

Media sponsor: „7 meno dienos“

Partners: „Design Foundation“, Design Forum, Ekspobalta, „Knygų šalis“, Vilnius Academy of Arts, Lithuanian National Museum of Art National Gallery of Art, Lithuanian Artists' Association, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, Publishing house LAPAS, SODAS2123