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ფიროსმანი [pirosmaniPirosmani
He was tall, scraggy, solitary man, carelessly dressed, taciturn and laconic, with a melancholy expression, at one time a railway conductor, then an unsuccessful petty trader, who died without kith or kin once he reached sixty at the end of World War One, and whose grave can no longer be located.
Niko Pirosmani was his name: he was a self-taught artist, a genius and a magician who for a long time would have been inconceivable outside Georgia. If Georgia was hidden away somewhere and if Pirosmani’s canvases were the only proof of its existence, there would be no need for anything else to tell us about Georgia.
But Georgian representative art does not begin or end with Pirosmani. Pirosmani is backed up by many centuries of Georgian fresco art, by the Tbilisi school of portraits in the 19th century, by a whole cultural space and tradition. Pirosmani’s time was a period in which Georgian art was booming. This virtually defines the country’s short-lived independence (1918-1921). Hitherto, at the beginning of the 20th century, Georgian artists had been going as far as Paris, and then came the Georgian avant-garde, the Society of Georgian Artists, which was created largely in order to gather together what was precious in the nation and to ensure its preservation. For a conquered country this was always something important.
It was this quality that determined from the start a peculiar, but significant distinctive feature of European and Georgian avant-garde art. One theoretician, Davit Kakabadze, emerged among the artists, and Georgian art has to be ‘contemporary and national’ and, at the same time, it had to have invisible threads connecting it to Europe. At that time Georgia was part of the global artistic process.
But then came the Soviet epoch, a period of pressure, oppression, imprisonment, of secret exhibitions, with decades of official and unofficial art, after which, inevitably, freedom finally came. Freedom meant the liberation of creativity and an entry into the world’s processes.