Lithuanian artist Shaltmira makes sinister, psychedelic illustrations reminiscent of old-school punk-era DIY flyer art. Often, her aesthetic extends beyond the frame and onto the artist herself, who transforms her own body and way of life into a type of canvas for her compellingly transgressive ideology. Whatever her medium, Shaltmira's style is deeply imbued with meaning and a powerful passion that calls attention to the world's mysterious inner workings as well as its myriad injustices.
Shaltmira grew up in a small Lithuanian town called Griškabūdis. There, she experienced firsthand the curious isolation endemic to the Baltics, which has never truly been considered part of continental Europe, Eastern Europe, or Scandinavia, yet its northern European geography makes it a region that is actually all of the above. As the last pagan empire stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, Lithuania is a complex country that strongly embodies elements of the old world and the new, not unlike Shaltmira's art.
A precocious child, Shaltmira claims that drawing came naturally for her, as did interacting with much more mature people. "I felt like an old soul trapped in a child’s body. I found it easier to talk with adults than kids my age," she recollects, adding that she was always "aware of the fact that every individual interprets the same world differently, with a subconscious set of mental filters formed from his or her beliefs and experiences."
Wary and mistrustful of the dogmatic type of history being taught in her school, Shaltmira recalls always believing that there's no real ultimate truth. Shaltmira found herself becoming immersed in the world of art instead. At the age of 14, she left her hometown for an artsy high school where tongue-lashing was practically a course of study. She says, "I was motivated to perfect the art of rhetoric."
At the time, Shaltmira and her crew dressed in clothing they made themselves, never having any money except the paltry allowances they received from their parents. They'd meet in the shadowy outskirts of town, "under the bridge or near the morgue, or in a cemetery." It was a Dead Poets Society for millennials, in which everyone would discuss film, literature, and exchange mixtapes and CDs. The ragtag group of misfits might also smash some television sets or burn images of well-known politicians, depending on their mood.
Inspired by artists such as Francisco Goya and Albrecht Dürer, Shaltmira studied graphic design at the Vilnius Art Academy in Lithuania's capital. For her, it quickly became apparent that printmaking would make the ideal medium for her message. But in art school, Shaltmira found herself trading drawings made in blood for tedious mandatory assignments. She felt like she didn't fit in academia, having been a goth/metalhead hybrid since the 9th grade who'd always been "interested in explicit content and all forms of visual terrorism," including taboos and the macabre.
Growing more and more aware of gender-based discrimination, she discovered Riot Grrrls, guerrilla feminism, and the SCUM Manifesto penned by feminist and would-be Andy Warhol-murderess Valerie Solanas. Shaltmira turned her back on her colleagues and instructors and set out to find a new crew of artists who shared her mounting interests. With help from a crowdsourced campaign, Shaltmira launched a fanzine called Excessive Voyeurism, which featured works from 15 artists from 12 different countries. It explored the philosophically aggressive, grotesque, and taboo aspects of humanity.
Now, Shaltmira is a full-fledged practicing tattoo artist who's designing a series of illustrations called Cosmogenesis. She is interested in gaining access to the spirit world through ritual, divination, and healing. She has also been fulfilling a high school dream with commissions to design album covers, spending the rest of her time working on a limited-edition silkscreen-printed art book as well as learning about VR. She says her magic wand is a stylus, and her computer monitor is her crystal ball.
According to Shaltmira, there is one constant that characterizes the socially-minded artist: whenever he or she introduces new visual ideas, those ideas can often be viewed as incomprehensible or shocking. "However, with time, the best and most effective of these ideas are accepted," Shaltmira says. “There is nothing harder than trying to grasp what was shocking or illuminating about certain images, or ways of making images, once the shock is gone, and we have all absorbed this bit of visual data into our own vocabularies. Artists show us new ways to see familiar things, and how to interpret new situations and events."