Art World of Paata Merabishvili
In the 1980s, Georgian sculpture saw the birth and development of a new sense of plastic volume and willingness to experiment with materials — a search for new and examination of untapped possibilities of traditional ones. The development of classical sculpture coincided with the emergence of expressiveness that was achieved through the generalization and abstraction of sculptural form. It was at that time that Paata Merabishvili came to the Tbilisi Academy of Arts.
Young and talented, he was fortunate to meet legendary representatives of the "Fiftiers," a generation of Georgian artists and sculptors whose work had stimulated radical changes in post-war Georgian art. They inspired a yearning for renewal of the art form and triggered the process of redefining the purpose of art and creating a new perception of reality. All of them contributed to the emergence and flourishing of new creative trends that developed Georgian art and defined the formation of the artist's individuality. The "Fiftiers"-teachers shared their deep knowledge of the history of the world and Georgian fine arts with young, passionate students. They passed on their experience to them and, while giving their students complete freedom, discreetly instructed, corrected their mistakes, and honed their skills. Two of such masters, Gogi Ochiauri and Merab Merabishvili, ultimately determined the creative formation and individuality of Paata Merabishvili's artistic language.
Merabishvili's small sculptures of the 1980s and 1990s particularly vividly and originally synthesise tradition and innovation — the features of ancient Georgian small plastic art organically intertwine with the search for new expressiveness of line and form. The ornamentation of silhouettes, fluidity of the line, and the complex texture of the surface all allude to ancient works of Georgian art, such as bronze plaques and belts. Stylised figures of people and animals amaze with the brightness of images, expressiveness, and decorativeness of lines and silhouettes. But even in rapid movements, the figures remain enclosed in an oval silhouette and do not violate the wholeness of the composition. Not only do these sculptures bear formal resemblance to ancient monuments of art, but they are also full of the mystical power of primitive nature, mystery, and enigma. Such are his "The Hunter" (1992), "Centaur" (1996), "Lyre" (1997), "Watering Place" (1993; 1996). The latter work captivates the viewer with the compositional originality of the simultaneous depiction of the figure and its reflection. The characteristic features of the artist's future oeuvre are clearly visible in his early works: stylisation, unexpected combinations of various materials and processing methods, play with colour, and use of additional techniques — enamel and inlay ("Dance" (1993), "Matador" (1996), "Torero" (1997), "Heaven" (2018)). The young sculptor's figurines were exquisite and original.
Merabishvili's creative nature and rich artistic imagination determine the originality and plastic and emotional expressiveness of his works. The sculptor's personal method is based on his deep understanding of the artistic image and plastic possibilities of form and material. By focusing on the present or delving into the distant past, Merabishvili conveys the archetypes of fertility, hunter, warrior, and woman in modern light. Paata modernises tradition and creates expressive artistic images with different characters: lyrical, expressive, and sometimes with light humour. All of them surprise the viewer by the accuracy of temper and artistry of performance ("Eve, the Last Apple" (2009), "Eve's Torso" (2013), "The Abduction of Europa" (2009), "The Tree of Life" (2013), "Adam's Apple" (2008)).
Entirely different is Merabishvili's approach to the problem of constructing monumental sculptures, where he reveals his craving for a generalised volumetric form. The sculptor's passion for ancient art was already manifested in his thesis at the Academy of Arts. Subsequently, this experience undoubtedly contributed to a freer, more logical processing of form and the transformation of a real visual image into an abstract symbolic composition. Growing interest in modernism and deep acquaintance with works of great masters influenced the further development of Paata Merabishvili's pictorial language. Thus, in "The Vine" (2003), one can sense the sculptor's concern with volume, so characteristic of Aristide Maillol, with whom Gogi Ochiauri, Paata's mentor, was fascinated. In this sculpture, Merabishvili achieves a harmonious combination of volumetric masses and sensuality of plastic form. This is not merely a naked woman decorating her hair with a vine but a symbol of fertility. To me, the figure represents the image of the artist's homeland and an embodiment of the soul of Georgian wine. In "Sagittarius" (2005), the forms are more abstract and monolithic. The architectural structure of this work is based on the harmony of dynamics and statics. The play of vertical and horizontal volumes, as well as the synthesis of broken and rounded contour lines of a horse and rider, who pulls an invisible bow, enrich the image with dynamism. The surface treatment of the stone with geometric lines is inspired by the motives of Cubism.
In his later works, a real, three-dimensional form gives way to an abstract flat, ribbon-like, spiral form, which is dynamically positioned in space. The endless movement seems to consume the viewer into the spiral of modernity. One of Merabishvili's works — "Infinity" (2019) — is a perfect manifestation of this method. Thanks to the well-chosen location of the sculpture, the impression of movement is enhanced through the reflection on the mirrored floor and daylight that streams from tall showcases and plays on a metal surface.
Merabishvili's experimental passion is vividly and originally manifested in both painting and graphics. It should be noted that drawings created by sculptors often echo sketches of their future works. However, in the case of Merabishvili, they stand as independent easel compositions. The diversity of his activities in this area is amazing. Paata Merabishvili's fascination with modernist art, namely, with the oeuvres of Alexander Archipenko and Jacques Lipchitz, is thoroughly revealed in his sculpture and easel works. The artistic images of ancient Greece, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque, which have long become classics, constitute the basis of his artistic world. They inspire the author to create images replete with sensuality and expression: female figures and portraits, compositions and collages. Volumetric-tactile forms, soft modelling, lyricism of the image, and fluidity of the line are replaced by stylised figures, intersection of lines and volumes, and decorative composition. Artistically, expressively, and without losing individuality, the artist employs polystylism of the postmodern era as one of the methods of depicting and achieving an artistic whole in all types of art. He uses it to set guidelines for the development of his own creative manner.
Deep knowledge of the potential of materials and impeccable mastery of various techniques enables Paata Merabishvili to freely choose and utilise those that most accurately embody the author's concept. In addition to sculpture in stone, bronze, wood, and metal, these materials and techniques include pencil drawings on tinted paper and cardboard, oil and acrylic compositions on canvas, collages, and pictorial and sculptural works made of three-layer cardboard.
With a peculiar and sometimes unexpected disposition of formal elements from different materials and the arrangement of local colour spots on a plane, he achieves a pictorial and decorative expressiveness in both painting and graphics. I would like to highlight his masterfully executed portraits of friends and acquaintances: the images of the artist's wife, Rusiko, screenwriter and director Irakli Kvirikadze, gallerist Olga Sviblova, artist and director Sergei Parajanov and others. These works not only vividly convey the psychological characteristics of the model but also resonate with the author's personal feelings. The spiritualised images of the poet Bella Akhmadulina, ballerinas Maya Plisetskaya, Irma Nioradze, and Nina Ananiashvili amaze the viewer with their sharp character, gracefulness of image, and artistry of style.
It is important to note that Paata Merabishvili never rests on his laurels and always remains a passionate seeker of new opportunities for creative expression. This is how a mixed media series of painting, graphics, and new computer technology appeared. Images in the form of QR codes, inspired by the motives of the Russian avant-garde of the 1910s, contain texts that reveal the history of their creation. The concept and form of this series create an organic artistic whole.
"The life of a creator and his work is a genuine miracle." For Paata Merabishvili, being a sculptor connotes "an internal state of perceiving surroundings in space, when the idea has volume and even colour." The embodiment of this idea in the language of art both on a plane or in space echoes his perception of the surrounding world. A miracle that becomes visible thanks to the artist's creative pursuits, disappointments, and victories.