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Sense of Enthusiasm

Vytas Sakalas is ready for world peace. He's also ready for the end of the intolerance and rudeness that he often sees around Tucson, which only cause "destruction," he said.

Sakalas doesn't think his goals are too lofty, either.

"Art can play a role in facilitating the development of inner harmony and peace," he said. "It's important for people to learn to live with a sense of mutual respect and compassion--even love for each other."

Sakalas' latest art exhibition, Together (At Last), is on display at the Art Institute of Tucson, 5099 E. Grant Road. The exhibit includes 16 paintings of abstract and cubist work.

The abstract work focuses on clouds, and the cubist work focuses on landscapes and Southwestern subject matter, Sakalas said.

"I can't say that I have a favorite work," he said. "It's a showcase of what I've been doing for the last five years. ... (I want the viewers to take away) a sense of connectedness to the world around them--a sense of innate beauty in life. A sense of enthusiasm, even."

Each work is "extremely detailed" and therefore takes a considerable amount of time, Sakalas said. Some paintings take two to three years to complete, but Sakalas said he is normally working on several works at once. He also teaches drawing classes at the Art Institute and hopes his exhibit benefits his students.

"I want to show them a variety of approaches and styles in art," he said.

Sakalas said he's enjoyed facilitating the students' artistic growth.

"I enjoy watching the students develop their individual visions," he said. "I (help them) by pointing out what they don't see on their own."

He said he's happy to be teaching again after a 15-year hiatus, and that is another meaning for his exhibit's title. Sakalas said his colleagues have been very supportive of his work.

"The people at the Art Institute are just wonderful people to work with," he said. "I'm grateful to have the opportunity to show my work and to teach; I feel truly blessed."

The Art Institute has provided Sakalas with a safe haven from what he sees as the difficult artists' community in Tucson.

"Truthfully, it's been very difficult for me here," he said. "It's a wonderful place to create work, although not the best place to sell work."

Sakalas said there is a sense of competitiveness among Tucson artists, and he thinks people can be resistant to anything different--although he includes himself in that criticism. Sakalas said his Lithuanian descent and his "unusual work" may contribute to the xenophobia he sees in Tucson. But this hasn't deterred him.

"I definitely plan to remain here," he said. "I love the landscape, and the city is just big enough to have interesting things going on."

Sakalas grew up in Los Angeles in a Lithuanian community and later moved to New York to study. Sakalas then lived in Boston, where he really began his art career. After taking a vacation to Arizona, he "fell in love" with the state and decided to move here in 1989. He lived in Sedona for three years and moved to Tucson in 1992 after deciding that Sedona was "too small and touristy." Sakalas went to Lithuania to teach art classes in 1992 and 1993, his first teaching experiences.

"I've been involved in art since I was 3 years old," he said. "There's nothing more that I love to do."

That love is alive in Sakalas' work. "I love humanity and all people on the deepest level," he said. "My work is an act of love and gratitude for being here, for this life."

The Art Institute will host a reception for Together (At Last) from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., next Thursday, July 24. Admission is free, and Sakalas will be on hand to discuss his work; light refreshments will be served. Together (At Last) will be on display through Sept. 27.

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