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The 1,700-mile journey that Evanston resident Mindaugas Vitkauskas will make to Scottsdale, Ariz. in a few days is just one of many the Lithuanian-born artist has made in his career. This time he will carry with him a mosaic of Jesus’ last supper that he created in his Evanston studio.
The 32-foot by 10-foot piece, two years in the making, is modeled on but not a replica of the Leonardo da Vinci painting “The Last Supper.”
Its home will be St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic Church, where it will join other pieces Mr. Vitkauskas has created.
As a student at the Vilnius Art Academy – now the Vilnius Art Institute – Mr. Vitkauskas created stained-glass windows for the summer home of the president of Lithuania in 1991.
Even before that, he was taken by the possibilities of colored glass. At age 5, the young Mindaugas threw a stone that hit a stained-glass window, not the pigeon at which he was aiming. “The pigeon wasn’t hurt, but the experience of breaking colored glass left a significant mark in my artistic development. My first thought was, ‘Colored glass is so beautiful!’” he wrote on his website, glasslabyrinth.com.
Mr. Vitkauskas visited the United States three times before becoming a permanent resident. He worked for a time at the world-famous Botti Studio of Architectural Arts and opened his own studio, Glass Labyrinth, here in 2008.
The artist and his wife, Lina, hosted three visitors at their home and studio recently, where he described his work on his own “Last Supper.”
As described in the Gospel of John, the last supper was the simple meal Jesus shared with his 12 disciples the night before he was arrested, tried and crucified. The ritual plays a significant part in Christian theology and is the center of the Catholic mass and other Christian services.
“To me the scene is very dramatic,” said Mr. Vitkauskas. “Nobody was there. Nobody knows how it happened.”
The church gave him freedom to make the piece according to his own creative vision, but there was one exception. When he showed a charcoal mockup of the piece, in which the head of each of the disciples was encircled by a dark-green halo. “They asked me to remove the halo from Judas,” he said. The green halo is gone, and the Judas’ head is limned by the same gold tiles as his and the other disciples’ bodies.
A reclining, almost sleeping figure next to Jesus is, according to the Gospel of John, “the disciple that Jesus loved.” Some have speculated that da Vinci intended the figure to be the disciple John; others, Mary Magdalen. In Mr. Vitkauskas’ mosaic, the figure is deliberately androgynous, and no one at the church questioned that, he said.
The mosaic is for the most part composed of tiles cut in the studio. The hands and the faces are the exceptions. These he painted on white glass then fired in his kiln.
“When you paint on glass and fire it, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” Mr. Vitkauskas said. “Jesus’ face I did four times. … It’s nice to find when they look like this. … The hands were the most difficult things to do, because they had to look alive.”
Although the piece is created from glass, this is not a stained-glass window
to filter light but a mosaic mural.
Mr. Vitkauskas says glass to him is “an inexhaustible source of inspiration and the most powerful tool of artistic expression.” In just a few days he will pack the sections of this unique and sacred piece of glasswork into a frame he has built in his truck. He will deliver this mosaic that reflects his love and creativity to the church named for the saint in the valley of light.