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Great Gulfcoast Arts Fest features Lithuanian-born Emerging Artist from Niceville

Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival

As part of the Pensacola Foo Foo Fest10th anniversary event, various forms of visual art will take center stage in the city. Highlights include the blown-glass art installation Poseidon’s Garden at Maritime Park, the Magic Carpet “living” Mosaic at Museum Plaza, and the Pensacola Mural Fest at multiple locations.

Anchoring the first weekend of the 12-day art and culture celebration is the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival, now in its 51st year, at Historic Seville Square.

A few years ago, GGAF organizers found a way to get more local artists involved by creating a category for an Emerging Artist who is from this region.

“It’s a grant situation provided by Great Gulfcoast, where we search for an artist who has a body of work, a lot of experience, a good amount of talent, but they're trying to emerge into the festival scenario of selling their work,” said sculptor Randy New, who chairs the Emerging Artist committee.

According to New, Ruta Janiulis, a professional artist from Niceville, was the perfect choice.

“I've seen her show at Artel Gallery and Gallery 1060, I've seen her enter competitions around the area. She always does well,” New said. “She always either wins a prize or sells her work. Or in the case of Artel, she has three pieces that have been selected for the permanent Cinco Banderas Collection, which is pretty prestigious.”

Lithuanian-born painter Ruta Janiulis, who lives in Niceville, has been chosen as the 2023 Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival Emerging Artist.
Courtesy Photo
Lithuanian-born painter Ruta Janiulis, who lives in Niceville, has been chosen as the 2023 Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival Emerging Artist.

Janiulis, who prefers simply to be called Ruta, is a Lithuanian-born artist who has lived in the United States since 1994, after studying art in her youth in her homeland. She graduated from the Fine Arts Gymnasium in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1992, studying for two years in Vilniaus Dailės Academy in Kaunas faculty before dropping out to move to the United States.

Before relocating to Niceville, she lived in the Chicago area and worked as a full-time artist for 19 years.

“And I paint, right now in oils, larger scale paintings,” said Ruta. “And I’m just trying to bring the things out that I see around me, the people around me, and the travels that we do. So, that's what's reflecting in my work right now.”

Despite her accomplishments, what the professional artist lacks is festival experience.

On the very competition arts fest scene, where only about 200 artists have been selected from more than 600 applicants, being chosen as this year’s Emerging Artist can provide that breakthrough.

“What she gets for that is a free entry into the show,” said New. “And we also provide her with the walls to hang her work and the tent. And we also give her support if she needs it.”

It also includes mentorship from last year’s Emerging Artist Joe Vinson.

 “So if she has questions about things, like as an example, last week she was questioning how the hanging system works,” explained New. “And so she called him and he sent her pictures and talked to her about how the hanging system works for that particular space."

New said Ruta will be the mentor for next year's Emerging Artist, because she will have gone through it and she'll be able to tell them what things to look out for.

Immigrant Artist Finds Freedom in America

According to Ruta, her specialty in art school back in Soviet-controlled Lithuania was black and white print or ink and pencil drawings, less expensive than painting. Coming to the United States in the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, use of color and other options opened.

“Because there was so much more freedom here and so much more ideas, you can be like anybody you want in the States. You don't have to be confined by tradition, whatever was there,” she explained. “Here I was finding so much more, how should I say, I got a little bit more brave with things.”

As part of that freedom to experiment with her art, she says her style has evolved away from a strict focus on realism.

Painting by Niceville artist Ruta Janiulis, who's been chosen as the 2023 Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival Emerging Artist.
Courtesy photo
Painting by Niceville artist Ruta Janiulis, who's been chosen as the 2023 Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival Emerging Artist.

“I just kind of changed last few years into more exaggeration of reality and breaking up what is real and giving it a little bit more twisted, distorted view for the people to see,” she stated. “I feel like photography does the good job of doing reality; I would like to do a little bit of fantasy.”

While Ruta likes the ability to try new things, her paintings are still influenced by her European background, including her love of portraits and architecture.

“That was what came with me from school. And, that's what kind of, stayed with me,” she said. “I still love painting, architecture, cities, landscapes, and cityscapes.”

At this weekend’s Great Gulfcoast Arts Fest, Janiulis will display her work in the Emerging Artist tent near the Gazebo. It’s a prime spot, not far from the area typically reserved for the Invited International Artist, which has been a highlight of the event since 1999.

Unfortunately, this year’s invitee from South Africa has been prevented from traveling to the U-S.

Although the native of Lithuania has proudly lived in the U-S for about three decades, she says she’s okay if some people view her as filling the “international artist” gap.

“Well, I think of myself as an American,” declared the Niceville resident who came from Europe at age 22 and said her homeland will never leave her. “I feel part Lithuanian. And, the things that I learned and I knew will always stay with me.”

The 2023 Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival runs Friday, Nov. 3 through Sunday, Nov. 5 at Seville Square. More information about Ruta, the Emerging Artist, and other festival highlights is available online at ggaf.org.

Also, find a full listing of events included in this year’s Pensacola Foo Foo Festival at foofoofest.com.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.