Baltic Artists in Australia – Celebrating 100 years

Baltic Artists in Australia – Celebrating 100 Years is a retrospective group exhibition of artists living and working in Australia, with origins from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

2018 marks 100 years since all three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – first declared their independence. These have been rather eventful 100 years and unfortunately following the World War II all three countries were occupied for several decades. During the war, many people escaped its horrors and afterward the pressures of an occupied society in search of freedom and peaceful life. By now a third generation has grown up calling Australia their home, with origins from one of the Baltic countries.

The exhibition is showcasing works by selected artists with Baltic origins with different backgrounds: some may have fled their country during World War II as children or youths, others being descendants of Baltic origin or moved here in more recent times. Over decades they have integrated into Australian society and many have made significant impact on Australian culture.

The selection of venue – Fountain Court of NSW Parliament – is also a meaningful choice for the exhibition as it was designed by an architect of Latvian origin, Andrew Andersons.

The exhibition will be open for public viewing:

Tuesday 29 May – Thursday 28 June 2018, 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday
Fountain Court, NSW Parliament House, 6 Macquarie Street, Sydney NSW 2000
It it free entry for viewing the exhibition during the above times

There is also a ticketed official launch event:

Wednesday 6 June 2018, 6pm
Fountain Court, NSW Parliament House, 6 Macquarie Street, Sydney NSW 2000
$10 TICKET, including drinks and nibbles
CLICK HERE to buy tickets for the launch event


Below are a few introductions to the artists represented at the exhibition.


Vaclovas Ratas dedicated much of his life to raising the awareness of graphic arts and printmaking in Australia. Among many things he was responsible for establishing the Sydney Printmakers Society in 1960. In Australia Vaclovas’ work is represented in the National Gallery as well as major state art galleries. He has exhibited extensively throughout Europe and USA, his works also form 
an integral part of the collection of Lithuanian Art Museum.

Arriving in Perth 1949 as an established printmaking artist, Vaclovas Ratas was surprised to find little to no awareness of this fine art form in Australia. Upon moving to Sydney in 1954, he joined the Contemporary Art Society and started working towards the first graphic arts exhibition in Australia.

Back in Lithuania Vaclovas drew much of his inspiration for woodcuts from folk art. Upon arriving in Australia, he started looking at Aboriginal myths for inspiration. The most varied and complex part of his career was the Sydney period. Vaclovas began experimenting with using colour to its full potential, developing a distinctive style in the medium of monotype. Unifying elements of Vaclova’s work throughout the years are simplicity, stylisation, hierarchy of composition and precise attention to technique.


Tiiu Reissar has done much for raising the awareness and standard of printmaking in Australia. Tiiu was the President of Sydney Printmakers Society 1986-1993 and has been a member of the organisation since 1982. She has also worked as a lecturer of Drawing, Printmaking and Painting at TAFE NSW, passing on her fine skills to next generations.

Born in Estonia before World War II, Tiiu’s family migrated to New Zealand when she was a young teen. In 1960 Tiiu moved to Sydney and soon started to hold regular solo exhibitions as well as participate in many group shows. Tiiu Reissar has been exhibiting since, both in Australia as well as Estonia, she is also a member of Estonian Artists Union.

“Since moving to live in the Wimmera, I have worked on a series of etchings attempting to express the effect of droughts and floods on nature. I have observed how the dead and broken trees have been sculptured into new dynamic forms of life. I use the medium of drypoint as this is a form of intaglio technique which enables a most spontaneous expression of the the theme.”


Gunnar Neeme was born in 1918 Estonia – year when the country first declared its independence. In 1944, together with his wife, he fled the invasion by the Russian army to find refuge in Germany. Subsequent to the Allied occupation of Germany, Gunnar worked for the American Red Cross as a teacher of painting, drawing & sculpture. During this time he participated and exhibited with various artist in exile groups as well as with local artist societies.

In 1949 Gunnar Neeme migrated to Australia with his wife and two sons, eventually settling in Melbourne. He joined the Victorian Artists Society in 1952 commencing a long association with them as a teacher, exhibiting member, respected art judge and adjudicator. In 1992 he was made a fellow of the Society and in 1994 was made an Honorary Life Member.

Driven by his passion for color, light and form Gunnar revelled in the difference of the Australian landscape to that of his homeland by sometimes combining, sometimes creating discrete techniques to capture the individual characteristics of these two worlds, one from memory the other from the land in which he now lived. Gunnar’s work covers a vast spectrum of sculpture, oils, watercolor, hand printing & graphic design. He is also a published author, poet & playwright.


Vella Pihlak is well known amongst the Estonian community in Australia for her enchanting works in her favourite medium, monotype.

Vella was born in Estonia before World War II. When she was a young child, her family fled to Sweden to escape the Soviet occupation. They arrived in Australia in 1948. Upon graduating from the National Art School with a diploma in design, Vella worked as a designer in Australia and Sweden. She found her calling in painting while living in Fiji 1969–1975.

“I am exploring the thread connecting me to my distant ancestors, the Finno-Ugric people of the far north, where the climate is harsh, the winter long and dark, the summer short but intense. Racial memory connects me to these people, whose life was a struggle, yet they still found time and energy to express their sense of beauty in everything they made, their garments and their artefacts.

I have always been interested in how the indigenous culture of Estonia has absorbed foreign influences over the centuries. My works express preservation of cultural heritage and its susceptibility to new trends. I feel a deep gratitude to these people, my ancestors.”


Evan Indrek Pank is an emerging printmaking artist and the winner of last year’s prestigeous Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award. Evan was born in Australia to a father of Estonian background and a mother of Korean background. Having been surrounded by Estonian culture throughout his life, after high school Evan spent seven months living and working in the Estonian capital Tallinn.

The artistic practice of Evan Pank stems form his interest in football (soccer) and politics. Being an avid Sydney FC fan Evan loves the atmosphere generated by sport in Australia as well as globally and how it reflects the local communities, politics and cultures. Furthermore, he likes the way football helps connect people in our local communities and with those overseas.

“The three works at the exhibition explore the connection of football between countries and myself. “Sydney Derby Day” and “Tallinn Derby Day” both depict the passion of the fans in their local derby fixtures. “Christmas in Bohemia” also shows the connection of a European team with Australia. Bohemians 1905 was the first European team to visit Australia in 1927, bestowed two kangaroos to take home. The club adopted a kangaroo for their logo after this trip and have represented a link between European and Australian football since.”


Leeka Gruzdeff-Kraucevičiūtė has been an Associate Member of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales since 1990, has held over 20 solo exhibitions over the years as well as participated in many group shows.

Leeka was born in Kaunas Lithuania in 1939. When she was only five years old Leeka’s father, who had been a major in the Lithuanian Air Force, was deported to Siberia as her mother escaped with the kids to a refugee camp in West Germany. From there Leeka, her mother and brothers migrated to Australia in 1950. After first graduating from the Metropolitan Business College, Leeka decided against pursuing a career in business and continued her studies at the National Art School instead.

Australian landscape has been the recent source of inspiration for Leeka Gruzdeff-Kraucevičiūtė as she loves painting ‘plein air’.

“I wish to express the bright sunlight of the Australian hot countryside and the fresh colours of the seaside. I prefer to paint my present day surrounds as the memories of gruesome World War II are too distressful, having escaped the war as a 5 year old child.”


Bernadette Pilli is dedicated to promoting the work of Estonian artists in Australia. She has been actively involved with the Estonian community and the latest project she has been working on – Living Space – brings contemporary Estonian art to Australian audience, which is a great initiative in strengthening the cultural ties between the two countries.

The inspiration for her Mapping series comes from journeys she has taken, before and after her late husband’s death. The earliest maps are thought to have been created to help people find their way and to reduce their fear of the unknown. Bernadette’s intention is to revisit the feeling of places she has travelled through, to transform memory and to record something specifically recalled from that experience.

“I have travelled to Estonian a number of times to participate in festivals and to visit friends and relatives. In this particular painting series, MAPPING THE BALTIC, I have explored the question: Did the Estonian refugees 60 years ago have maps, either in hand or in the mind, of where they had been and where they were going and how they would return?”


Vambola Veinberg is best known for his design of the ceremonial scissors used by NSW Premier Jack Lang at the opening of Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932. Vambola migrated from Estonia to Australia as a young boy and in 1926 set to learned engraving at Young Men’s Christian Association. He designed the ceremonial scissors when he was just 16 years old, working for Angus and Coote jewellers in Sydney. The scissors are a monumental part of the collection of NSW Parliament.

Later Vambola Veinberg became the first artist-engraver at the Royal Australian Mint. Prior to the establishment of Australia’s first government engraving section in 1964, led by Vambola, all official engraving took place in London. Along with hundreds of coins and medals, Vambola has also hand engraved the official seals for High Court of Australia, Supreme Court of Australia and the Grand Seal of Australia.

The story of Vambola Veinberg is that of a young migrant boy, from one of the Baltic countries, with creative mind and enthusiasm to learn new skills integrating into the Australian society and culture.


Juta Puust regularly exhibited with Contemporary Art Society of South Australia as well as The Royal SA Society of Arts, displaying her works alongside the likes of Nora Haysen, Roland Wakelin and John Coburn. Apart from the Australian art scene, Juta exhibited continuously in all Estonian festivals and exhibitions throughout Australia.

Juta was born in Estonia 1904 where she worked primarily as a teacher. In August 1949 she arrived in Australia with her husband and kids, settling in Adelaide. This marked the start of a creative peak for Juta, which lasted in its prime for a decade.

At the time Juta Puust was mentioned by Australian art critics as an artist who was genuinely creating a style of her own. Using built up textures and swirling paint, Juta painted romanticised landscapes and figurative compositions in a blur of soft curves and golden colour.


Aside from being one of the organisers of this exhibition, Virge Nielsen is currently also involved with establishing the Estonian Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Virge came to Australia more recently (18 years ago) for the love of a man and has ended up loving the land as well. Although her country of origin, Estonia, seems quite opposite to Australia in scale, weather and many other acpects, she has also found many parallels in the two.

“Despite its small size, Estonia is a country still half covered by forests. The roots of everyone growing up there are deep under the moss intertwined with the roots of trees in those forests. Estonians feel very deeply connected to the nature and environment, thinking of it as a place of respite from troubles of life. I find the same solace and refreshment connecting with the Australian bush.”

Virge has been exploring the ways to push the boundaries of ‘plein air’ landscape painting. Works exhibited here are part of an ‘action painting’ series which involves wearing paper strapped onto hiking boots and recording the impressions of environment by mixing dirt from location with more traditional medium of watercolour.

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