“The City of Otskheli – This (Not) How They Talk About Artists”




Author: Mariam Mebuke

“These Are Artists for Life” – Guram Rcheulishvili

Being an artist on a real stage is hard work. Especially when neither the country nor the city, which has left important names in the complex but interesting history of painting, can be concealed. This time, the goal is to, on the one hand, remember the work of artists born in Kutaisi in the 20th century, and on the other hand, discuss the work of contemporary artists living in the city of Otskheli. This will either create or negate the contrast between them. The mention of Otskheli is not accidental, as he can be considered one of the main “predecessors,” and “guides.” The poetic attitude towards the external world and the dramatic relationship to depicted objects (as Ketevan Kintsurashvili writes) are so reflected in his painting that they have become a form of expression and have survived to this day. Then came the “fifties,” whom we can consider “sharers” of the ideas and visions of Petre Otskheli. After World War II, in Soviet Georgia, especially during the so-called “barracks socialism” period, Jani (Jango) Medzmariashvili’s creativity from Kutaisi also serves as a bright expression of individualism among artists living during this time (one of the features of which was the politicization of culture). His style and vision (along with his peers’) did not necessarily imply depicting the “indefinite optimism” of the Soviet people in his paintings, turning out to be a turning point for the painting of that period. If we recall his works, such as “The Upper Floor,” “Poster Hanger,” and “Kurdish Janitor,” with their influence of urban elements, we will notice a wide palette of colors and an attempt to create an artistic perspective. His works also exude poetry. In the April issue of the newspaper “Artist” in 1971, where Georgian artists are congratulated on their anniversary, Medzmariashvili’s creativity is mentioned, and a poem about him, “Salagobo,” is written, in which the author writes: “The genre of Jano is painting, in which there is a sharp sense of color,” this description is witty and not devoid of meaning. Another artist worth mentioning in this list is Beniamin (Beno) Gordeziani, born at that time in the Kutaisi province, who called himself a futurist and was part of the same direction group “H2OSO4.” He participated in several extravagant events along with other members of the aforementioned group. If we take into account his creative career and a note made by an unknown person in one of the issues of “H2SO4” next to the artist’s name, he can also be considered a Dadaist. The synthesis of these two movements also indicates the artist’s worldview and ideas – the rejection of traditional forms of expression and the freedom of the author to express his own feelings. If we look at his paintings, it will not be difficult to recognize scattered objects and fragments of plots. At the same time, it is worth noting that, despite the small number of his works that have reached us, a parallel can be drawn with the graphic and pictorial drawings from the works of Emma Lalaeva-Ediberidze. 

Kutaisi has long remained true to artistic traditions, the same can be said now. It is not easy to step out of the shadow of the past. If we want to see the contrast or deny it, we will have to look at the works of contemporary artists from this city.

Despite numerous discussions about artistic fields slowly dying and being replaced by simpler means of expression, pop culture has a significant influence on our lives, and among them, painting is at risk of disappearing, let’s talk about what “remains” (or what will eventually remain). Moreover, we should follow in the footsteps of one “new generation.” Sometimes it happens that in the process of exploring the past and searching for historical contexts, we miss something that should have connected us with the present. Giorgi Phakadze, as an artist, attracts special attention with colors and plots that narrate certain stories in series. The contrast is great – in his work, you will find both black and white paintings and various techniques, as well as colorful images. Interestingly, we can learn something about the artist’s life through the paintings. Today, when life offers us a less romanticized reality adapted to the “modern” idea and subjecting us to a harsh routine, we all fight this routine differently. It can be said that his works are a fairly successful attempt to overcome such a routine. If we look at his marine landscapes (paintings depicting the sea. Prominent artists of this genre include Ivan Aivazovsky, Théodore Géricault, etc.), we, to some extent, become accomplices in breaking this routine. The idea of space in all paintings is revealed differently. For example, in one of the latest cycles entirely dedicated to marine landscapes, the colors are so mixed with each other that it creates both a sense of calm and an illusion of orderly chaos. “Revival” is the word the author himself and we together with him are searching for. You should feel both a sense of magic and lightness. The feeling of comfort should intensify and become stronger than loneliness when looking at this artist’s works. It is probably logical that the freedom and expression of feelings in his painting are synonymous. “As you create yourself, so is your art.” It turns out that the process of creating oneself and one’s art goes simultaneously, parallel to each other, making his art what it is. In his paintings, you will encounter scenes of existence where we can imagine people depicted as ourselves, and see ourselves in them because the feeling of loneliness is familiar to everyone. Colors, emotions, and compositional diversity – this is how his style as an artist can be characterized. It is important to choose one of the definitions of art and build your worldview on it.

 Despite the complexity of the choice, none of them excludes conveying the ideas and feelings of artists. If you manage to do this so that, along with your own situation, it resonates with the world, its problems are also reflected in creativity, it always turns out to be very interesting. 

The next artist worth mentioning is Tornike Kochreidze. It can be said that his paintings include tangible and quite human aspects. If you consider that an artist can depict a room with completely different people with the same passion, and on the other hand, an environment where you are completely alone, this humanity becomes more palpable. Interestingly, his paintings seem to bear traces of human weaknesses and life’s hardships, and he conveys all characters in such a way that you can see the surrounding reality in them. The selfish nature of a person often makes him an egocentric individual and rejects all possible attempts at empathy. Looking at his paintings, you can feel not only empathy but also a desire to sit next to the character sitting by the door, hugging his knees, barefoot, with disheveled hair and sadness on his face, sit next to him and talk endlessly, talk about both hunger and love. Then let’s repeat Raymond Carver’s question: “What do we talk about when we talk about love?” or what do we talk about when we don’t know where and how to sell paintings? Let’s go to the publishing house, like Knut Hamsun’s nameless character, maybe they will print an article for us and live on the hope of ten crowns. This artist can bring hope, although this hope has another, unexplored side. For example, painting a room where a boy is holding a blue balloon raised to the sky, scattered objects around like a rag toy, a chair, and a bucket, and the character is not looking at us, averting his gaze and looking disappointed, so the viewer also thinks about this disappointment. Strangely, discussing all the details and symbols still leads to the fact that for this artist, art is a reflection of the struggle with human passions and hope, which is constantly lost and then found. It can be said that our artists deprive themselves of everything to live and live only for art. Renewal, purification, and renewal again. Therefore, the statement that creativity is based on ideas reflects the artist’s worldview and is not devoid of meaning. 

Giorgi Kvavadze is also an artist of this generation. The variability of his work is easily explained if we consider that painting, as a living organism, can be characterized by various interesting manifestations and styles. On the one hand, in his work, attention will be drawn to paintings focused on shadows and light, lines, and on the other – landscapes creating the aforementioned sense of comfort. Among his latest works, the plein air “168” stands out, depicting an ostensibly utopian space. The main character, appearing as a shadow, a silhouette, is depicted outside this space, playing the role of an external observer, but at the same time, the shadows reflected from the floor are depicted as a cage, and this person also becomes an object of observation, a participant in this story. This allows the viewer to observe this silhouette from another angle, and on the other hand, observe the events depicted behind him – the yellow light, the strange, dream-like environment. At the same time, this artist is not unfamiliar with the idea of the sea, with traces of industrialization reflected. The sea and the surrounding promenade, on the contrary – multi-story buildings, which divide the painting into two parts. 

When we write on this topic, no matter how hard we try to be objective, in talking about the artistic values of a painting, context and subjective perception of the viewer are still important. The main thing that the artistic act can do is to evoke a strong emotion and at the same time understand at least part of the feeling the artist experiences in the process of creating the painting. The city of Otskheli today does not lack interesting people. There is always some secret, unexplored mystery, art is greater than people. Let the reader judge the rest. One thing is clear: these are indeed “artists for life” here.