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Queen of Spades

Vladimir Kandelaki


Ten Years of My Life in America 

            My records are founded on documentary facts and the names of the characters and places are also real. The days I spent in the Central prison of London intermingle with the facts of the ten years of my life in America, and also with the recent events that come to my mind in the process of recollections – and complete it with what they almost reveal as its source and the beginning of what happened to me. 

            What is left unwritten – that is most fearsome and remains even impenetrable for perception. As for me, I retreat from the tragedy.

            In 1990 I left for America for several months by the invitation of the Soviet-Georgian-American Company Lileo Art. The representatives of the company had visited Tbilisi several times during the year, frequenting the studious of many Georgian artists. They decided to choose me. Later on I understood the reason: what they were trying to find was a solitary artist who kept his works of various periods and was in fact their first collector. In spite of their obvious reluctance – and even embarrassment to make my planned trip to America public – the reason of which I failed to understand then, they still had to appear on the Georgian and also on the all-Union television, describing their attitude towards my works and the program they were pursuing in America.

Yet, in spite of these details, everything seemed to me sufficiently convincing and I considered them a good enough proof of the reliability of the contact. The contract preconceived providing me with lodging, studio, and interpreter, service that included car-service and organization of exhibitions in Philadelphia and other major cities immediately after my arrival, along with the publishing of an album, prints and colored reproductions.

As I was to discover it later, the deceptions began from the very stage of transportation of my paintings. Telling me beforehand that their packing was to be done in secrecy on the weekend, and without other people’s assistance and without the presence of the staff of the gallery, the representatives of the company induced me to take off the canvas from the subframes haphazardly, almost tearing them off – which was absolutely out of question – even those that were done in tempera, that presented a complex technique of multilayered painting. And what made the things worse; I did my packing alone somewhere in the blind alley, in the street, and without the assistance of the professionals.

But there was no need of them and I could cover the expenses myself, both the packing and transportation of my works in containers.

The situation in America was misconcepted right from the start. We stayed at a hotel for several days. The one who was in charge of the money – I called him a Treasurer – he would leave the place together with the interpreter and I had to stay alone without the faintest idea where to have my meals and what to do.

Then we moved to a flat that was rented in an ordinary district that consisted only of a single long room and a bedroom. Next to it they opened an unofficial gallery for the works of Georgian painters, but the place was absolutely unsuitable for that purpose. A signboard would appear only before the visits of some mysterious clients – but then it was immediately removed and the windows would be covered again by curtains. My paintings rolled into pipes, without their subframes, were kept separately at Edward P.’s place, the so-called sponsor of mine.

As for me, nothing changed and I was sitting alone again in solitude while the others were busy with their own affaires. Apparently there was no question of exhibitions and the prospects seemed the same. After my many requests I was given a chance to visit a store and select the things that were indispensable for my work. The room was so narrow that I hardly found the place to put up my easel.

Trying to clarify the uncertainty I began to ask them questions but provoked only their embarrassment.

- Now, look at him, he is not going to switch to another topic... – they used to address each other.

Yet, when I tried to demand the answer to my question, Treasurer’s response was insulting: “Let me remind you that we have pulled you out of that muck… Can you imagine what you would do there now? But still you don’t feel satisfied…“ His words seemed too much for me: “How dare you call my home – dirt? My home, and my studio – and my homeland?! Not a soul has a right to talk to me this way!”.

However, in spite of his youth and physical fitness Treasurer turned out to be a faint-heart. After some seconds of scuffle no trace of him could be found anywhere around.  So, he moved down to the basement gallery and I was left alone with my interpreter. Everything went on the same way. They spent the whole days wondering somewhere while I kept on sitting alone in the room. The inactivity was unbearable and the general situation was incandescent day by day. But soon, after their spell of shopping my escort asked for another injection of money to buy the rest what they wanted and then started their preparations for departure back to Tbilisi.

Treasurer was very consistent in reminding me of my dubious conditions, at the same time presenting himself as a benefactor:

- Just try to consider what are you? Did you have any chance of selling your works in Tbilisi?

Frankly speaking, before I left home the things went well and the proposals for exhibitions were not a few. In fact, I had even a wide choice of them. Were it not for the exhibition they promised to make in Philadelphia museum, I had no intention to come to the United States.

A day or two were left before their departure when I dropped in at their basement. My appearance signaled them to close their chockfull suitcases. Their answer to my only request to take a Barbie doll to my daughter was a blunt “No”. Exactly that: they had no more place left in their bags. That was a last drop in our relationship. I left them and went home.

I had my Circassian coat with silver gazieres and old belt, a dagger and akhalukhi shirt, Asian soft high-boots – the things that I brought specially for the opening of the exhibition where I was planning to appear as an artist of the national character. The Circassian coat is still there, proudly hanging on the wall of my studio in Philadelphia together with the Khevsurian caftan and my paintings; they make an organic part of the studio, its foremost element that unyieldingly attracts people’s interest and attention.

Later that night, already in my flat I made another attempt to discuss the same Barbie-doll issue with my interpreter. I expressed my embarrassment and anger at the attitude they displayed towards me, and also at the violation of the terms of the contract. Being much younger than I was and somewhat experienced in fighting tricks he thought fighting with me would be easy, so he insulted me not expecting to be punished for that.

- Just sit where you are and never mention again either your rights or wishes – he said bluntly. That started the fight. I was quick in making his eye blue but instead of continuing the fight, I grasped the dagger mechanically although without any inclination to use it and warned him:

- Now, keep it in mind and behave yourself, because I can’t stand insults! And remember, I am not just a painter – I bear the name of Kandelaki, which implies fame and tradition! So, you have no chance against me, understand?!

But he turned out to be a stubborn guy and lunged at me. I stood there motionless while he ran against my dagger with his thigh and buttock.

- Why did you do that? – He asked somewhat at a loss.

- Why did you do that? – I retorted, - Why did you try to grasp the dagger? Do you think it’s that easy? It’s your entire fault.

Apparently feeling no pain and quick in his movements, he rushed down to Treasurer in the basement gallery. I followed him but found them both already in the street, awaiting Edward P., my sponsor. Trying to evade possible complications, my escort guys were eager in calming me down. My interpreter even jumped a couple of times, to assure me he didn’t feel any pain. I saw no point in waiting for Edward again, so I left them and went back to my room. They left next day. Then at last the sponsor appeared. Pointing at his eye and buttock, he asked me giggling: “How on earth you managed that?” I was in no mood to share his laugh. The point was, I was left alone. Not a single promise they had given me before was realized, neither any help was felt in the arrival of Jhana and my son. They did not want to waste the money they spent on me and were not inclined to let me out of their hands.

The next day after that incident an acquaintance of mine, Madelyn Clause came to see me. She worked as an art agent involved in the sales of the works of artists. With the still youthful energy she took me to Father Marc in the Russian Orthodox Church, whom I had met before. Soon Father Marc became a frequent visitor of my place. Whenever some other visitors would appear, Father Marc played the role of the interpreter. In fact, my home was permanently under siege, people coming and going, obviously failing to bargain with the sponsor. That was what happened with the well-known businessman, the former president of Rolling Stones, who arrived from Los Angeles with his wife. After expressing his admiration for my works, he left without giving some definite answer. Well, I have seen a lot of that type in raptures since that.

Troubles followed each other non-stop, trying to save me from boredom. All of a sudden my extra key disappeared and to be on the safe side, I left my very costly slides and Circassian coat and $1000 in cash (the money that I received some time before from the Soviet export salon in Moscow) to Edward.

He never gave me back those slides, the fact that caused some complications when the case of my album’s publication in America was raised. As for the passport, I was not to receive it even after my arrival.

Once, when Treasurer and my interpreter were at the restaurant together with Edward, I paid for the bill and the fact made my escort angry. They rebuked me:

- That was foolish of you. Why did you let Edward see you have some money? Don’t you understand he can stop paying you your daily allowance!

They were right. After receiving the money, the crook sponsor Edward left for Florida for his personal business – and left me without a penny for the successive nine days.

All those days I was on a diet of hunger. The sparse remnants of products that I had at home vanished on the sixth day of my artistic imprisonment: I switched to tea-drinking and plunged into creative activity. That was certainly hard thing to do, plus the working process proved very strange: my brush tended to stick to the paint that refused to dry. I tried to use my palette knife and returned to my old method, the one that I abandoned even at the period of my student years at the academy. Father Marc took an interest in my work and used to visit me punctually at five o’clock almost every day. And my new piece on the folding easel would always there to meet him. The irony of the situation was that hunger became to me a familiar matter long before, at the period when my native Tbilisi still enjoyed the inertia of normal life.

It was the fourth or maybe the fifth day when I asked Father Marc to lend me some money and he gave me $10 that I immediately spent on sandwiches and cigarettes.

Before this period, when I did have some money, they used to invite me to café or to the dinner at some restaurant. But now everything changed and it was futile to await someone’s help from somewhere.

Before he left, Edward let a friend of his to live in the basement gallery and remarked that my role of Robinson Crusoe had come to end as my knew partner would help me in my strife to survive. That guy, a friend of Edward‘s found a chef job at some restaurant and I could see him on rare occasions. Whenever I asked him about the date when Edward was coming his invariable answer was always the same – “Every day”. Obviously he meant “one of these days”, while I preferred to take it as “next day”, or “tomorrow”. I remembered my home and the past when I could go down to the street and ask any passer-by for a cigarette, but to do the same thing here was out of question.

I would knock at the guy’s door in the basement time and again, all in vain. But the seventh day proved lucky. After I glimpsed the light in his room, I went up to my place to take a small piece of bread, even a morsel – to use it as a visible example, since I forgot the English word for bread and came down again to his place with the breadcrumbs on my open palm as if on a tray. His answer to the scene was curt and simple: “No money. Edward every day.”

Unfortunately, a scandal was also out of question and my wish to hit him in the face remained unrealized. Those nine days of my hunger I crowned with the painting “The Road to the Temple”.

The tenth day brought Edward in person. He was quick in his reaction when I raised my voice and attacked me according to the principle that the best mode of defense is an attack. He was logical in his attitude: reluctant to pay me my due $20, he seemed unhurried in giving me back my own money. Once, after a long-time search of a Russian restaurant that sported a Georgian cuisine, we – Edward, a lawyer that we called Boss and me – finally did find it. That evening I was not in the mood of either eating or drinking. The restaurant singer Marik sang nostalgic romances and played the harpsichord. When the proprietors of the place learned about my profession, they tried to slip their business cards – and tried to do that unnoticed by my companions; their offer was simple: “Why not let us sell your stuff instead of them“.

When in the car, Jonathan, i.e. the one we called Boss, demanded to give him the business cards that the owners of the place gave me. I had to restrain my emotions and  handed the cards to him; still, in a sense that was logical because I had no telephone at home – and was not to get it as well because: “You don’t have to call anyone or anywhere at all!” – Their message was clear enough.

That evening at the restaurant we continued in the lawyer’s villa that was surrounded by a huge park. The three-storied mansion with an interior lift was crammed with antiques, a variety of Buddha statuettes, elephants, and old models of vessels, carpets and so forth. Orient was his major obsession. The lawyer was attracted by my illustrations for “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” by Shota Rustaveli, the Georgian poet of the XII century. Still, I was not inclined to make them a present. Instead I suggested something exotic that could correspond to his taste, the thing he could hang over his mantelpiece. In one of his immense halls there was a magnificent lighted aquarium, several meters long, lit from the inside, with hordes of exotic fishes fantastically colored. We used the interior lift to move to the second floor. Then we were given the chance to visit the heated garage with a Rolls Royce and a Jaguar. I was told that one of the lawyer’s ancestors was a Russian who was involved in sugar trade. That must have been the starting point of their richness. The lawyer planned to surprise me, but my collection was second to none and besides, it represented greater historical and cultural value, and finally – its purposefulness was obvious.

The lawyer turned out a great miser and he proved that quite a few times. At that visit he was extremely caring and before I left he gave a paper bag with a couple of pears, a couple of plums, and also a couple of two apples and two bananas – as if I was a kid at the New Year party. Our relationship was spoiled once and for all and Edward understood the situation perfectly.

Now, back to my story: I was kept constantly locked up in flat – and in solitude; along with other people neither Madelyn, nor Father Marc were given a chance to see me. On the other hand, Father Marc’s service as a translator was easily appreciated, and soon various producers and sponsors began to appear, although in secrecy.  As for my sponsors, their policy was to use me as bait, hoping to catch some really rich person and make a fat profit. Once, with the help of Father Marc, Soviet consul A. Storozhenko visited my place and expressed his embarrassment at the existing conditions and so shameful dependence of mine. It did not escape his attention that a list with American visa in my passport was torn out and missing. “We are not going to leave you unprotected like this” – he said and suggested to take me back home, but this was not quite the same what I had in mind. Doubtless, I did was in need of support but coming back to Tbilisi empty-handed and with zero results – no, I was definitely against that. The scene of my departure from Tbilisi, with well-wishing and kind words that our artists and creative intelligentsia generously expressed – that scene was still vivid in my memory and I hated the idea of betraying their hopes and expectations. Madelyn still succeeded in reaching me – she introduced me to Peter Steiner who was the head of the Department of Russian language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania where I was invited to celebrate the 7th of November that Americans called Seven & Eleven, humorously hinting at the name of the popular stores chain that are opened from 7 till 11. There I was introduced to a number of Russians who worked there as teachers and postgraduates. After the banquette the whole group of us, together with the new acquaintances moved to the restaurant where Marik sang and the moment he noticed me, he switched to the old romances. I was dressed in my Circassian uniform and was in perfect mood. Then, all of a sudden – and unexpectedly to myself – I went up onto the stage and asked Maric to accompany “Don’t get upset, poruchik Gallitzin” – a popular romance widely known for its nostalgic mood. According to the reaction of the audience, my performance was appreciated. Under the sound of the applause I went back to my place while people from the neighboring tables around us began chin-chinning and toasting.

Next day I found out from one of the women who were present there that she was given $50 by the audience who decided to pay for the pleasure, since they enjoyed my singing. I felt very uncomfortable but indeed, the money was very much in time. Later I reconsidered my attitude to the fact and tended humorously to be proud for my first honoraria in America that I received after the four-month solitude in the US.

Several years passed and then I learned about the tragic death of the proprietor of the restaurant and his wife, they were both found dead in their bedroom; as for Maric – he underwent an operation on throat, but after the operation when he recovered he began to work at the jeweler shop.

Then came the moment of Jhana’s arrival – the matter that reminded a kind of epic. Some friends of ours helped to include her in the Friendship Force campaign of Family exchange that was rather active at the period. She was sent to another part of the country and another part of her travel was still ahead to reach me at the other end of the state. Finally she arrived and Father Marc and I met her at the airport.

Jhana spoke some English, admittedly not perfect because she lacked practice but still, certain chances and prospects immediately appeared along with art critics and journalists interested in my works, which were soon followed by new sponsors with new proposals.

After some unpleasant routine they gave back my works to me again but unfortunately in a bad state. As I found out later all that time they had been literally on the floor of Edward’s flat, but for some reason my illustrations to “The Knight in the Tiger’s Skin” were stored in the wardrobe, under an overcoat.

My works were doomed, that much I knew because they were not meant to be rolled at all – but making a roll of them, plus from the inner side – that was plain crazy! So, whenever they were to demonstrate a piece, they behaved barbarically folding the upper side of the piece and simply breaking the painted canvas. That was explained by the absence of space to look at the painting properly.

Our life with Jhana turned into nomadic wanderings: we embarked on a sponsor changing routine: we would meet some sponsor, then the other who always started with indignation at the attitude and behavior of the previous one, but as a rule the latters’ behavior always proved much worse. Finally, we found ourselves next to New York, nearby Long Island – but without a car – and practically, any link with the outer world. After noticing that we made a number of calls every day, they cut out our line. Every time when I tried to express my indignation, a call for the police followed but the police would leave the moment they came – and I was told that was their usual manner. Long Island became my home for the successive six months with Greg’s family.

Since they were interested in selling my paintings, they cancelled their immediate commitments and took Jhana and me to Atlanta on the celebration day of Georgian Culture. I asked Greg to bring along an old model of Columbus’s caravels Santa Maria, that was presented to them long time ago and that I was so much in love with.

I liked the place immensely; I adore nature and the place around us was beautiful. The most surprising was forest with its trees all covered with fireflies that glimmered like electric bulbs; the illuminated forest was wide and deep and all a-flame for many kilometers. While staying in Atlanta, we had a number of interesting shows and meetings and an exhibition in a prestigious gallery was organized largely with the help and initiative of N. Rukhadze, a well-known TV reporter from Georgia. Still, the result was strange because not a single work was sold or bought.

The next stage of our active movement was again in Philadelphia and the meeting with a successive sponsor followed. I was on guard, and not inclined to trust any living soul. My chief aim was to ensure my prolonged stay at the sponsor’s place – although in the matter of deceiving he was second to none. The place he allotted to us was something special: we had to live under the roof of an ill-equipped building with windows broken on other floors. I decided to work on the second floor in an apartment without partitions – the place seemed fine to make there a studio. The third floor of that wreck of a house seemed somehow suitable for living, and was certainly better than our flat under the red-hot roof that made our existence unbearable because of the heat. The visitors never managed to remain there longer than five minutes. At last we managed to bring to our house Jonathan Jhiang together with his girl-friend: I was anxious to find out what exactly that was that he was so much in need of from me. Jhana hinted at him that I would paint the piece I had promised provided I would have a particular type of the canvas. Jonathan’s answer was evasive: he had no idea of the kind of canvas I needed. My pride prevented me to retort that the matter concerned only money because I could easily buy the right kind had I had the sum to buy it. Finally, they ran out of my flat, totally wet and crazy because of the heat and rode off in their air-conditioned car in a hurry.

That was the last time we saw them. Then came the turn of Thora Jacobson, director of the Fleisher Art studio and Musical school who appeared on our horizon. She never made a secret of the appreciation she felt towards my works and me, and some time after she became my curator. At the times when I felt really bad they used to cheer me up: “Don’t worry, it may just never happen for the painter like you to be left unnoticed”. Yet, my conditions were simply dramatic; there was no flow of money. The only income was based on a few visits when the buyers were ready to spend twenty or forty dollars to buy some drawings. But still there was no sign of a truly Big Buyer. I could do nothing except keeping on working totally confused and muddled up. Trying to save my old works I made their replicas.

Once a new buyer was brought to my studio who bought an old piece of my work. I was running our of paints but nobody offered to buy a new supply. So, I switched to the wax crayons favored by children, but one of them – the one I needed most of all, became completely worn out. Then I ventured to substitute stealthily in the shops the violet crayon in the packs with light-brown and ochre color– the deed that I did not consider a mortal sin – in the hands of my sponsors I could be easily pushed to the worse. The paints that I needed most of all were quickly spent, too. I switched to a different technique of laisering hardly covering the canvas with a fine thin layer of transparent oil paint.

Our successive sponsor Anthony seemed not in hurry to get us out and away from the semi-demolished house. He did nothing except talking endlessly, mostly blah-blah. Not long before the Moscow coup, the Soviet consul suggested my quick departure to the USSR but I could not agree to that. The Soviet Union was destroyed. There was no sign of the consul as well. The coup attempt was followed by the establishment of the Russian consulate, but the likewise step for Georgia was still ahead.

Mister Potiomkin, the new cultural attaché – not tovarishch anymore, hinted at the Russian citizenship as an option but I did not agree. I refused and asked him: “Just don’t press me”.

I was offered an exhibition of my paintings to be carried out in the Balch Philadelphia Institute of Ethnography where Thora Jacobson worked. The exhibition was preceded by the publication of a lot of booklets and invitation cards. The event proved a success, and all media – with papers, TV and radio – was active in its coverage. I keep my notes that describe the details how I ended the evening in the hospital with a bout. That was the period of war in Georgia and the TV report on my exhibition was accompanied by the documentary stills that provided the scenes of the battles going on in Tbilisi. We asked a lawyer for advice and he considered it better for us to leave the country. At that period I had no statute in the United States. The Lawyers Copyrights Association that I appealed returned to me part of my works that were kept by me previous sponsor. Since we were left without any place to live, we gave all the money we had for an agreeable apartment in a prestigious district – and according to the local rules paid for three months in advance.

The exhibition gave a signal to many buyers who were very much alike in insisting on buying my paintings for insultingly small sums. Then Robert Leigh appeared an owner of a large collection of paintings, a true collector and art-lover – his collection of paintings included also a Toulouse-Lautrec poster. So, he was the person who set the fashion to the process, paying a fat sum for one of my recent works. His bold step was responded by a few other customers – and among them the owners of the apartment building where we lived – Mr. and Mrs. David and Jennifer Le Vaughn. They choose to buy my “A peacock with its tail spread”. The money we received for it turned sufficient for us to survive for almost two years.

Later Mr. David Le Vaughn bought not a few of my paintings and “The Roofs” among them. The money I got was enough to cover the expenses for our apartment and for living. At last we managed to possess our own base and became free from false sponsors. I also succeeded to get the license for the right to sell my works from the studio.

And since we mentioned “The Roofs”: my curator Thora Jacobs announced – “Your “Roofs” series paved a golden road to yourself”. That was true. That series opened to me the road and gave me an opportunity to survive and to get on my feet.

I have been developing the roof theme in various arrangements since 1962, when still a student of Art College, I painted my first painting of a roof that belonged to an old building that was seen from the fortress of Narikala in Tbilisi. But now here in America I was to repeat the same motif not a few times.

That series reminds me the best period of my life – the period of my student days and artistic practice. There were four of us then, the students of the department of Monumental painting, then climbing uphill crowned with the ancient fortress of Narikala and made the open air in the Botanical gardens. Our young teacher, Gogi Totibadze – Head of the Georgian Academy of Arts for many years afterwards, was practically always with us.

He coordinated the aspects of our creative practice and encouraged us, giving his moral support as well. For us, the beginners and first-year students both these matters had the decisive role on the issues of schooling and support. This was what my cherished teacher, Sergo Kobuladze used to repeat. Only encouragement ensures a proper spirit and disposition of a creator – whether a painter, a musician – giving stimulus, energy and desire to work. A true creator is prone to any instructions and orders.

The press coverage on my exhibition was mostly positive but E. Sozansky’s review in the Philadelphian “Inquirer” introduced a different note because he suggested to me to change my profession – and as if trying to make his escapades not very sharp, he reminded to me that artists in America are never capable to support themselves by their profession.. His letter was not left unnoticed and soon followed the answers of American readers: “Remain true to yourself, Kandelaki, go on with your struggle and face any challenge! Remember that people tend to leave presidents to oblivion – but the painters remain in our memory and their paintings are exhibited in museums all over the world.”

Apparently the matter was a sore spot for the public; plus, the vindictive tone that was generally characteristic of his articles annoyed the people not for the first time. But the criticism that he aimed at me ignited indignation of the readers, especially of those who were acquainted with his previous critical articles and now turned their special attention to me in person.

My attitude was straight and simple: I can deal with praise and I can deal with scorn – the only thing that mattered was to be noticed and mentioned. Any article, be it critical or appraising, plays the role of advertising. Equally those who responded instead of me without giving me a chance to express my own attitude – they, too, did that as a kind of self-advertising.

Soon proposals followed on opening exhibitions in Washington, D. C. and Philadelphia. After my previous experience my attitude to contracts was suspicious; on the other hand, without the assistance of sponsors or managers it was difficult to achieve anything. Jhana managed to find some work somewhere out of town. Staying at home alone I surrendered myself wholly to work. Time and again Jhana used to phone me to criticize: “Your hand’s again trembling because you don’t stop drinking”. Out of a sudden I switched to another series of mine, the money-bill series that required a special scrupulosity. 

When I depicted the soviet ruble, already depreciated and pitiful, I presented it to the prestigious PVLA that defended my rights and carried out great annual auctions with catalogues and wide media coverage. My present included other works as well that I named as “Series of depreciated objects”: a cork of a bottle of champagne, cigarette butts, coins, etc.

The auction was held for the middle class buyers. The works were sold for $200-300. Unexpectedly my ruble theme surpassed all expectations. The prices skyrocketed from $300 to $1500 that million times exceeded the cost price of a ruble at the moment. The case of selling one ruble for $1500 was proclaimed one of the funniest records of Guinness. My money-bill series was done with the exactness so amazing that many people began to compare a genuine dollar with my replica – and then expressed their surprise at the identity they revealed. At the same time, the naturalistic style of the painting did not affect its artistry.

Then Thora Jacobson appeared accompanied with her colleagues with the question that sounded then so familiar and asked: ‘Well, how is your hand? Not trembling, I hope?” The irony of the situation was in my works already done and waiting for the audience: “Lenin in Washington”, “Gone with the wind” and other works. Yet, I felt that the general situation was still far from being stabilized. I had to reject a number of proposals that did not sound reliable, and the same could be said about the faked contracts that could not be trusted – and the same concerned the sponsors who deceived and lied constantly. Among the proposals several suggested various places to live and work at various places.

The Georgian Embassy was still missing, and meanwhile the Russian government repeated its earlier proposal to me to apply for the Russian citizenship.

When my fans – those who were attracted by my art – visited my studio, I would present them my graphical works and paintings, hoping that that would ensure the further propaganda of my works, as well as responses from my acquaintances, the people I knew, who belonged to the category of possessors. In that way I distributed my 150 works.

I worked according to the principle: the giver’s hand is destined to charity; and that is not in vain. The buyers appeared who had made their share in filling my budget. Thanks to me Jhana received the green card and the right of the permanent American residence. As for me, I was attributed to the special F11 category card, which meant a case of particular need for American economics and culture.

Only then, for the first time during the last three years did I get a chance to go home. On coming to Tbilisi I found my studio robbed and pillaged, the major part of my collection of utensils, arms, paintings and sketches was lost. Apart from that, I had to cover the debts of my close and kin. So I decided to leave all my belongings and to return to America via Moscow. I appeared in the Russian capital after three years of absence, and was in for a surprise. The authorities of the Central House of Artists presented to me 100 posters and 937 catalogues published for the planned but unrealized exhibition that was to take place there, but my departure to America changed everything. The touching side about the whole matter was that they apologized for the tiny missing part of the publications – the one that was used for advertising and similar needs to make my works more popular. Then I found out they considered me lost and vanished. Meanwhile, finding myself in America once again in desperate conditions, I tried to get out of the mess for the thousandth times in the best way possible. Part of my catalogues and posters I took to the USA but most of them I left in Moscow in the hope that some time in future the exhibition shall take place. But the poster is still in the corridor of my humble studio in Philadelphia as a reminder of the farewell token that the former Soviet Union decided to make to me.

Unfortunately, I missed the presentation of the first issue of the “Creative Art” magazine that was brought back to existence after a long period of silence. Its editor was Mikhail Lazarev, art critic and my close friend whom I first met at the opening of my first personal exhibition in Moscow in 1973 when he expressed great sympathy and appreciation of my paintings and Georgia in general.

Finally cam the day of my son’s arrival. My first step was to help him to enter the prestigious Philadelphian Academy of Arts. Still, I felt that the years of my absence from Tbilisi that coincided with period of Giorgi’s growth and spiritual formation, played their role and the precious period was lost.

My humble existence disappointed my son and he found his expectations of life in America were wrong. So, his reproaches followed: “I had in Tbilisi everything that I needed – a car and a studio. But here I see that we live worse than any other family around. As for your manner principle of teaching is based on the principle to use the least amount of paints possible!”

Like it happened to many others who came to America, he wanted everything – plus quickly and immediately. I have no idea what prompted him the idea about the possibility of becoming rich fast – especially in view of the fact that Americans work day and night, literally non-stop. A transformation of a poor soul into a millionaire is mostly a movie-reality. So, people have to prove their own applicability constantly, and each time they start from the beginning.

Philadelphia seemed too little to Giorgi, he was anxious to move to New York. But me – I felt different because I became accustomed to the city, its streets, everything. Besides, what I needed, everything was practically right under my hand, shops and – whatever. The period was really complex: I was permanently upset from my routine while what I did need and strived for, was work – work and work. Giorgi was never tired of repeating the same question: “Do you call this life?” Well, for me life indeed is work and permanent waiting. America made money quick to dwindle and the horizon of expectations was always changing from brightness to gloom. It was too early for me to be ripe for New York. Four years passed that way. After spending a year in the Academy, my son quit in spite of the fact that I paid all my money for tuition fee beforehand.   

The vivacity that the Philadelphian exhibition brought into my life attracted the buyers but their flow was not fast which means it took them a few years to demonstrate their interest. For me that kind of lull was maddening. It takes long to reach the foreground, elbowing one’s way for the public attention and then wait – and be prepared to wait for a long time because it usually takes long for a public resonance to make a qualitative change, everything needs time for ripening. Later came the period when even my drawings began to be sold for bigger sums. There were moments when I refused to sell my works for the price that I found inadequate. And of course, it took time for me, too, to understand how important it was not to be forgotten and to be always in the limelight, and make you a popular theme for the press and television.

During the first years of my life in America the Georgians were rare birds in the country, maybe only a few of them in Atlanta. Then came the torrent of them from literally any place – not only from Georgia; the people who ventured to stay without any legal status, lacking everything even money for the round trip ticket. They were coming by groups, bringing after them bunches of job seekers. In order to help their families, people were ready for any work displaying no aversion to practically anything, absolutely!

Then I had to take Jhana and my son home to Tbilisi. I was back in the US in the fall of 1994 and immediately set to continue my playing card houses series that Americans pay attention to because of the actuality of the issue. Later I paid to the theme greater attention and tried to develop it and make a thorough study of the topic.

I sold the pictures that belonged to the series that I brought from Georgia. The process of selling my works, and generally all the goings-on that are related to selling and buying always embarrassed me. While in Georgia I had never experienced that process because I always gave them to the galleries and museums. But to continue the same in America was wrong and unprofitable because more that 60 % of the sales belonged to the owners of galleries. What artists can get finally is certainly not much. And the artists have nothing else to do except waiting patiently, without imposing themselves personally but leaving the task of their fame and appreciation to the papers. Stability is needed equally in business and propaganda.

After providing the financial help to my close and kin in Tbilisi, I was again left without a penny. I tried to ignore all problems and to make a change in my life-style. To feel physically fit I began to jog along the Delaware River embankment hoping to increase my vitality to intensify my work. I was busy with my pictures from morning till night, paying attention to the card house series.

Jhana moved to the suburb to a friend of hers to make some money. When I asked her friend the reason Jhana had left me, she answered: “Money”. It was true, I did not have any. So I was left alone. I met the New Year eve in solitude. No wonder, my habit of drinking revived.

That winter was snowy, roads were closed and the traffic limited. People had to stay in their houses – leaving the buildings was literally impossible. Jhana used to call me from time to time and I would rail at her – only to start begging next moment not to leave me alone.

My son Giorgi lived with his friends. He favored a different life-style with fun, and often made big parties with lots of guests. My solitude lasted for almost five months. I hardly had any proper meal, not because the lack of money but because of my inaptitude to make meals, the skill that I had never possessed and enjoyed.

The life of newcomer-emigrants was characterized by frequent rows. In fact, we underwent the same process that affected many before. As a rule, only close and friendly families survive the families where all the members do their best to support their leader in his attempts to enter the American life and become its full member, who implies re-passing one’s exams in English and re-defending one’s doctoral thesis; in short, a person undergoes all the essential stages. During the periods most difficult for the family, many members have to take any job on any terms. When the head of the family feels he is already safe and well-established in the new environment, the family commences a more or less normal life and family members begin to pursue their proper activities: they either begin to study or try to get the job according to their professional fields. What happens with the major part of the families is their destruction: families become to break, husbands divorce their wives and children flee from their family nests. Those who simply venture to solve their daily problems without considering their future – loose.

Right after the first exhibition of my works they suggested to me to study English that would enable me to teach at the Academy of arts. I was provided with a private tutor who used to come to my place. Then for some period I attended the courses of the English language. But I found that the studies distracted me from my work, my pictures, and so I decided to put an end to those attempts of mine. Apart from that I believed strongly that “my paintings make my language”.

My recognition in America I took for an expression of their respect to my country, the country that I represented. I knew that the pushful sponsors did not represent America – but America was the country that offered its help, set me on my feet and endowed me with ability to extend my help to other people.

My home country was hardly detectable on the American map; time and again it was constantly mistaken for the state of Georgia, USA, and I had to tame my pride and self-esteem and explain shyly that it was the Republic of Georgia, USSR.

My work at the Academy of arts was possible in case my son, who spoke English, would agree to assist me. But he refused both options – those of studying and of waiting. On the other hand, I suspected that embarking on a teaching career could negatively affect my creative work. And besides, I inclined myself in favor of a different matter: I wanted to establish some basis in Tbilisi and visit America on the days of exhibitions, i.e. instead of working in Philadelphia – and in solitude.

The successive prestigious auction of “Copyrights Protection” brought the news that the dollar I painted in the “Money” series was sold for $500.

Meanwhile, I continued my search of artistic agents and managers everywhere; I tried to find an access to the rich galleries and museums.

Lilia and Garik Rasins, the collectors who were fond of my art, paid a substantial sum for a few of my paintings. Later the same family offered several of those paintings to some American museum.

So, I was all alone. Not knowing English was an obstacle. Many people could not understand that I was in for a long period of waiting. Anyway, my chief aim was to continue my movement forward, my artistic route. That was the world of canvas and canvas stretcher, brushes and paper and pencils. The other point that mattered: never let one to become despondent but on the contrary – one must be always of good cheer. Time lost signified the series uncompleted, paintings unfinished that later can have a great financial value. What I did then – rendered and materialized now. Many people were inclined to consider only their immediate present, without dwelling about their future. The atmosphere of certain panic provided a background for my work and the paintings that I created in those days. My style of work had a resemblance with a machinegun fire – not letting myself even a short break from morning till night. I cannot remember any period of my life that can be compared to that; rather I was inclined before to work unhurriedly and the working time was intermingled with breaks and rests. Neither can I remember any other place where attacking canvas could take such a panicky form. I worked to survive, to make money and the more I worked – the greater was my thirst for more.

Still, if trying to find some parallels, a period of my youth and student years can be compared to this spell. When I was young I was never tired of drawing or painting, making sketches and oil paintings even during the so-called windows, i.e. the period between the lectures at Tbilisi Academy of Art, which I used to climb the mountain of St. David where I made my studies. But of course, here in America, everything was different and sounded dramatically SOS-like.

To make friends in America was not a very good idea, and people tried to skip unnecessary meetings and extra requests especially those for a financial help: the matter that I often failed to consider. I was often hooked when I was in the best of my moods, ready to present anybody not only my works but my money as well. So, friendship costs money and I found that being alone seemed more suitable to me. When I was alone I felt myself more balanced and quieter and one has to count only on one’s own self and abilities. When one feels unsettled and has no access to a canvas, it is not easy to continue one’s work and come back to an unfinished painting after a current lapse and successive family scandal.

I knew that I had the choice – either to continue my work, or to die. I always cherished most of all in my life the moment when I felt that I was entering the realm of creative process and the feeling that something positive was developing or followed. They were moments when I knew how it felt to be in heaven, the moments when I expressed my creative joy with crooning, welcoming every image appearing on the canvas.

Yet, my loneliness often felt like a burden, the same as it was with others and the way they felt its weight. Quiet a few times I used to talk to myself while strolling along the embankment, even the passers-by often used to throw glances and follow me with their gaze.

Then, out of a sudden Tania appeared in my life like a comet. She came from Leningrad some time before. She demonstrated an amazing enthusiasm in everything what concerned me and my paintings. Tania was on close terms with the organizers of the nonconformist painters’ museum and introduced me personally to a number of them. She arranged my meeting with Alla Rosenfeld who was a professional art-critic and held a post of curator at the Rogers University Zimmerli Museum. At that period even before my arrival to America, the Georgian art curator was considered Elena Korneichuk. I was acquainted with her in a sense, having talked to her by phone. That happened several years ago when they decided to publish an album of non-conformist artists of the former Soviet Union; being a novice on the issue of Georgian culture she asked me to help her as regards to the theme of the history of Georgian art and also on the topic of modern Georgian artists. Without books and documents at hand I was not going to start writing at random and by guesswork. Besides, there was also a point that I did not share a number of issues and the way they were represented in her article.

She presented me to the general audience like an official painter who tried to find his own way rather stubbornly, i.e. my works that did not correspond to the conventional manner of socialist realism were not usually included into the exposition and often not allowed to participate in the republican and all-union exhibitions.

The album included a reproduction of one of my paintings.

Tania arranged my meeting with Norton Dodge who expressed interest to my works and attended the Philadelphia Belch Museum exhibition and another exhibition in Washington, D.C., at the Modern Art Gallery.

It was almost impossible to find an artist among those who came to America and had not heard of him somehow.

As for me, our meeting took place only after six years after my arrival to the United States. It happened at my studio-flat in Philadelphia. Dodge selected a big number of paintings and was ready to pay me in special checks. The thing embarrassed me because I was told before by many not to take money with cheque and I refused. So, Dodge left and appeared again after two days and arranging our meeting by phone, he came and brought the required sum.

Soon I left for Tbilisi. Tania stayed in America trying to arrange my exhibitions and settle the problems in galleries of New York and other cities. As a matter of fact, she had great plans. 

Apart from exhibitions, she had a program in mind that included the publication of albums, certain reproductions, prints, post-marks and calendars. When I heard that I was needed back again because a number of people interested in my paintings had been trying to reach me somehow – so I came back again; my trip was totally fruitless, I even had to leave my raincoat and tie to my brother. The problem that bothered me concerned my plan of founding some artistic base in Tbilisi but for some reasons my close acquaintances and relatives went against that idea.

Still, time and again luck used to knock at my door. I consider my meeting with Dr. Sakva, a specialist in political sciences, a stroke of luck.

In 1995 I had the exhibition of my works in the Philadelphia City Hall, in the old beautiful building with the figure of Benjamin Franklin on the tower. That building was associated with the foundation of modern America. I presented three works of my “House of cards” series: “Morning”, “Daytime” and “Evening”. The City Hall hosted a few other events and World Congress of Political Science among them, too. Professor of Kent University, Dr. Sakva expressed his interest towards those particular works.

Jhana offered her help and after discussion we agreed with Dr. R. Sakva that he would use the reproductions of my paintings in his fundamental study – “The development and collapse of the Soviet Union”. The publication of the book took almost five years. It was published in 1999 with the reproduction of “The house of cards” on its cover, yet the presentation of the book was not carried out and I have not heard either about any newspaper coverage on the matter.

Then I was offered to organize an exhibition at the premises of the Russian Mission at the UN, which still hosted five or six missions of former Soviet republics, and Georgia among them as well.

The lack of knowledge of English always created problems for me and this case was no exception – particularly an issue that concerned the transportation of works and paintings. The more they arrived, the more difficult it was to carry and arrange them. And as it always happened with me, there was no visible help around.

Tania fell ill and could not come. Norton Dodge visited the exhibition bringing along the full set of the representatives of the museum – director Fillip Dennis Kate, curator Alla Rosenfeld and some others.

The grand opening of the exhibition was impressive.

Three halls and a foyer were overcrowded with reporters. The CNN, Protime and other companies TV cameras were brought in, installed and ready. I had to give interviews in motion. Unfortunately, I did not manage to watch even a single coverage of the event.

Many representatives of the former Soviet republics attended the event together with the guests from other countries as well.

Some time before the Georgian Jews who emigrated from Georgia, did not buy any of my paintings and thus failed to support me. They wanted to buy for a very small sum a two-meter-long composition that cost rather expensive. I suggested then a smaller landscape based on Georgian motifs but they refused and explained that Georgia is a matter of their past and does not interest them any more. I felt really sorry for them because they had been living in the country since VI B.C. after their persecution by King Nabuchodenosar and had never been disturbed by anything or anyone.

According to my observations, the Russian Jews expressed greater interest towards art than the Jews from Georgia.

Petre Chkheidze, the Georgian representative in the UN who initiated the exhibition asked me to address the persons who helped in organizing the whole event, the presentation and the banquet.

Apart from financial matters I felt so much exhausted both physically and morally carrying the paintings from the their storage room somewhere in the suburbs, that standing with a glass of wine in my hand, spontaneously I said loudly: “Good evening, former comrades!” Petre Chkheidze became indignant at first but later he reconsidered the situation from other angle and told me: “That was a really nice joke; you have a peculiar sense of humor!”

Next day we were invited to the ceremonial dinner and were welcomed by his charming wife Manana with her whole family. I had known her long time before, literally since her school years – and she was always distinguished by her looks. Years passed but her beauty did not leave her.

Part of my works, particularly paintings of a big size, is still kept by Petre Chkheidze’s family.

My life did not change in many matters: after all those exhibitions and noisy presentations with applause I invariably ended up with my solitude and canvases.

Tania’s health deteriorated and Jhana and I took her to the hospital. She changed so much, it was almost impossible to find any resemblance with her former image. She underwent a laser therapy but all was in vain – and even worse because major organs proved drawn into the process. Within a short period a healthy and energetic person turned into a ghost. Even in spite of her condition she still displayed her noble spirit trying to comfort me. She assured us of her happiness saying she was happy to meet a painter like me and become so helpful in managing my affairs and problems. We did not miss a day talking with to her by phone.

At that time I still could not believe that she was just dying. The whole story can be put in a few words: Tania appeared like a bright comet and succeeded in providing her help, support and advice. And the sudden way she appeared – she disappeared the same sudden way.

She was buried in the Russian cemetery, on the territory of the Russian monastery not far from New York. There are also several graves of Georgians and among them the descendants of the Bagrationi royal family.

In my studio there still remains inscription written by Tania: “Cheer up, Volodia, everything will be fine! Tania”.

I have nobody else to call for the words of comfort and support. I don’t think that I will ever find another friend and adviser like her who was always ready to listen and unburden me of my worries.

My work did not stop – and let the trees, plants and animals appear on my paintings.

Meanwhile, art critic Elena Korneichuk still was the coordinator on Georgian painting at the Museum of Nonconformist Art. She made several visits to Tbilisi and selected a number of works of Georgian artists – most of them young, and some of them possibly my former students. Their age did not quite correspond to the ideological trend of the museum. On the other hand, they had never met any obstacle at all the stages of their work, whether before – and certainly not in the post-perestroika period. I had to explain many times to many people that Russian nonconformist artist who were not the members of the Union of Artist and did not have rights to possess official studios, lived rather well in their perfect flats filled with antiques and wonderful expensive electronic musical equipment which was a rare thing at that time. I had been in their houses and studious many times, visiting their suburban dachas and luxurious basements and vaults; as a matter of fact, many of them not being professionals, soon prompted to nickname them basement artists.

The major part of our so-called nonconformists basically was the members of the Union of Artists. And the greater part of the elder generation was awarded high ranks and endowed in many ways of which official studious were very important. Their paintings had never met any problem as regards to their exhibiting. Compared to the situation in Russia, the Georgian artists were given wider chances; as for the Baltic republics the authorities there were even more liberal letting the works of abstractionists to participate in exhibitions. The themes that were still more or less not welcomed in Georgia concerned politics, i.e. the works that did not serve the official ideology, and also the themes that concerned religion. I know this part perfectly because I had tasted – and experienced the matter myself. From the first days of my obsession with arts, even before I entered the Georgian Academy of Arts, I had to work on the themes of national religious celebrations. My works were always rich with symbolical images of crosses, trees, and hearths, animals, working tools, weapons and icons.

Norton Dodge used to visit me at that period often. Once he asked me:

- How can you justify your role of teaching at the State Academy of Arts in Tbilisi?

- Do you have anything against my teaching techniques of drawing, which is the universal basis for all the trends? I have never ventured any propaganda for socialist realism and I have never doubted that I went against my principles.

My paintings have been often rejected, even those that suggested nothing unconventional.

The episode that preceded the Tbilisoba city celebration makes a typical example: my painting that represented the traditional Georgian children games like kochi (knuckle-bones) and other pastimes were rejected.

Many of my works of that period depicted the folk, national and religious celebrations.

One of the paintings of the “Celebration day” series underwent a severe criticism of the authorities and finally a boy’s hand with a slingshot was removed together with the hammer and sickle – and I did that to balance the composition.

I did not consider those details so much important and therefore, I succumbed. But all the same, the work did retain its message.

Another painting – “The celebration procession” was sent to the 1979 state exhibition but all of a sudden, it was removed from the exposition and sent – out of all places, to Magnitogorsk museum.

I cannot call it a surprise because the history of my diploma painting – “The harvest celebration”, when I was not allowed to be exhibited on the All-Union Young Artists Exhibition – is still vivid in my memory. On the other hand, the same painting was hailed in 1973 as my masterpiece and it is still considered one of my most significant and important works.

Some people think that I struggled for my works without leaving the official ranks of authorities. But they have to consider that during that period – till I left for America, I was not awarded either the statute of a professor or any other regalia – like many of my former students do. All those parades that I depict on my paintings – I painted them from my childhood impressions and memory but never in my life – whether at school or in my student years at college and Academy of Arts. 

This detail caused even some complication that my colleague, a painter from Tbilisi, G. Chagelishvili reminded when we met in America.

During my student years, after missing as usual some political celebration and parade, my friend and I came to the “Blue flame” concert at the Artists Center, which was very popular at that period.

The moment we entered the hall with my friend who also did not attend the parade, our Komsomol secretary of the Academy asked loudly – so as to be heard by the people around: “Who dared to let them in?” We answered with the ironic lap of honor and left the hall.

Next day the Komsomol secretary summoned me to the notorious Red Corner of his office and slapped me in the face. I retorted with series of punches. The thing is that the secretary underestimated my abilities: I was active then in many sports and boxing in particular – so, it was a bad end for him. Still, his shrieks and yells attracted people’s attention and a bunch of Komsomol activists rushed into the room. So, the troubles started. The guys appealed to the Academy Communist party chief with a letter against me; luckily, the party chief then was a wonderful person and a famous painter G.Jashi who valued my works. N. Dodge found this episode particularly appealing, to the point that he included it in the album that he initiated to publish and to take active part in its publication.

I guess I owe to the reader the end of the episode: that was back in 1964, the general atmosphere was beginning to change and the person like G. Jashi was able to limit his intervening with a friendly rebuke, so he did not let “the case” to be sent to other instances.

As for me, I went on with painting those series dedicated to the parade phenomena and those canvases became popular in America, initiating the public interest. But I cannot tell their present whereabouts, either cities or places where they are now stored.

At the same time, I have also to explain that in spite of that conflict my attitude towards Komsomol officials was not affected by preconceptions because I perfectly understood that they all needed a kind of a springboard for their career. Even more, a group of my friends included also the Komsomol leaders and many of them supported my work, among them – my brother, too, and the figure like Soso Ordjonikidze who built a church in Borjomi at his own expenses, and I attended its consecration in May, 2000.

The Georgian religious motifs still were dominant in my art. My canvases represented patron festival Alaverdoba at the temple of Alaverdi in Kakheti, Khatoba that reflected ancient tradition of patron saint’s worshipping, and so forth. I can say that the authorities were not quite happy with my interests and direction of my work but that did not bothered me and I kept on painting trying not to sell my works – and especially not to make any secret bargains. My priority was to keep them for a while. Although the so-called Moscow leftist artists proposed me to participate in their exhibitions, I never liked the idea considering that our aims differed.

“The jug” – my painting that was exhibited at the exposition of the state exhibition in Moscow Manege soon was removed; the irony of the matter was that it happened already at the period of perestroika when they began a new campaign against alcoholism. The painting was removed even against the opinion of a few Commission members who insisted on the work’s “positive ideology” underlying its symbolism and allusion with harvest and fertility. 

My unique collection of old arms and armory could not be exposed in the studio without an official permission. I violated that restriction as well because I could not find anything wrong in exhibiting my collection.

That was the period when Tbilisi was closed and Georgians in New York could be scarcely met. After the opening of the Zimmerli Museum they carried out there a symposium, which was attended by many people from various states of America and other countries.

In 1996 I brought my daughter to Philadelphia. After several months at college she decided to quit. I felt really sorry for that because she attracted attention and some teachers even stated that they had not have a student equal to her in talent for the last 20 years. Yet, her brother took her to New York where she married and the whole affair caused two years of studies lost. Still, thanks to her talent she was at last enrolled at a prestigious New York college.

Summing up the result of my desire to bring my children to the USA, all that period of my impatience and hope, and then their arrival ended up with their departure to New York and I was left alone again – exactly as it was before they came to America. But I could do nothing against their attraction that they felt towards Big Apple.

I received several invitations for exhibitions but I lingered with the New York exhibitions on purpose, because I wanted my album to be published first.

And then the problem of the publication arose that transformed the matter into an epic. I had to frequent New York; my weekly visits to Long Island became almost daily ones. The publisher literally turned the process into a kind of torture: he constantly insisted on additional financial injections but left all mistakes and blunders without corrections, did not fulfill even a single promise including the matters concerning advertising and distribution of the album. When I think of his role it can be described as extorting money and dragging on the publication. As for my role that I had to fulfill, like preparing slides and the like – I did everything in time. The articles promptly followed.

The bibliographical letter written by Norton Dodge I want particularly to underline. Better than anyone else he managed to recreate an entire picture of my background; his interest was always true and vivid, he dug down into my past and my family tree with amazing exactness and thoroughness, and succeeded in perceiving the complicated scene of the family relationships among the members who became victims of the drastic social changes that the 1917 revolution brought to life, dispersing people almost around the world. In fact, he surpassed me and my kin in the proper understanding of the links and ties among various relatives of mine.

Several articles of the American critics from various parts and states of the US were included in the album. Some of them belonged to Thora Jacobson, director of S. Fleisher museum, Janet Kennedy, assistant professor of history of arts at the Indiana University and Matthew Breigel, professor of history at the Rutgers University.

The flow of proposals was constant but the publisher was true to his manner of delaying every step, so I had to go on canceling or refusing the proposals.

When Jhana left for Tbilisi and I was left without a secretary, I asked Petre Chkheidze to cancel his offer for making an exhibition of my works that had to take place in the main building of the UN. Frankly speaking, that kind of proposal was extremely rare among the Georgians living in the US. So, he ventured to take the whole responsibility for the organization and also promised to provide support in any kind of problems. To miss the chance was inconceivable and there was no guarantee to get that chance again. But my point of concern related to my problems in Tbilisi, so I had to take plane to Tbilisi in April, 1998. It took four more years to carry out the exhibition in 2002.   

When I came back several thousand copies of the album were ready although without binding, a few hundred had been ready completely but their bookbinding part was poorly done and the sheets simply kept falling out, so the whole matter was delayed again.

Then the time came when the presentation of my album and series followed almost nonstop. The Balch Museum presented 500 copies of the album to various universities and academic centers of many states.

I often called my friends in Tbilisi and was in touch with the family of my teacher Sergo Kobuladze. For many years I had been cherishing the fulfillment of his dream – to publish his book, “The Golden Section” that had been waiting its time on the shelves due to the Soviet censorship because of the religious themes that could not be considered in his analysis of architecture of the Georgian temples and frescoes. But my attempts at starting the publication of his book in Tbilisi also took time.

When the book was ready at last I put the name of the president of the Fund in the rank of a consultant. But I am against mentioning her name again because she brought too much unpleasing troubles to me and the people around me; I believe her name would fit a special court case.

The presentation of “The Golden Section” turned into a celebration both in Tbilisi and Moscow. After the Moscow presentation I was invited to the family of E. Drobitsky, a member of the Russian Academy of artists. After some time spent in his house I suddenly became conscious of a strange smell that reminded a hen-house odor. The host led me to a room where – to my greatest surprise and admiration I faced a panorama of peacocks. He had ten of them and presented to me a couple of them. I was certainly extremely delighted but I had only to thank him – without taking the present because the building of museum and studio could last endlessly; so, I left the royal present with its generous owner.

Peacocks attracted people’s attention since ancient times – with their proud bearing and plumage. Their iridescent feathers resemble the colors of rainbow and radiate wondrous warmth and shine. A bird of wonder, a noble bird of fairy-tales! I was to learn later that a peacock is a peculiar creature in other sense as well and deserves admiration for other matters apart from its plumage. In its natural habitat in the jungles of India a peacock is notorious for its alertness. They say that herds of gazelles and deer often graze in peacocks’ immediate closeness. A peacock becomes the first who anticipates or somehow feels an approaching threat and becomes the first one that announces an approach of a threat and alerts the creatures around with its shrill yell that seems so unbecoming to the bird’s exterior and impeccable image. The prey animals scatter around but the beautiful creature remains as if for its drastic end becoming a victim for predators. The final scene begins with its shortsighted flight – or rather a high jump on the nearest branch and a poor bird proves incapable to consider the length of its train. That settles the developments: the train determines peacock’s end. It is mostly a tiger that reaches the bird and devours as a plain hen. For the picturesque feathers that remain scattered on the ground there is no demand in the jungle – the feathers of an alert peacock that succeeded in saving the guys in the wood, alas. How strange that there was nobody to prompt the bird to choose a branch higher: “Sit a bit up”. The peacock proved incapable to perceive the size of its fabulous train. Well, it happens with us as well when we fail to evaluate the scope of our invisible train – possibly, nonexistent, and certainly not that beautiful, yet capable of attracting attention of some predators.

We remain unaware of the scope and power of our own plumage and that is why we cannot realize the looming threat.

I heard of the popular belief that a peacock’s feather brings misfortune to the house. But I keep peacock’s feather constantly because even a glimpse at it brings the feeling of admiration and energy. Recently I was reminded about that omen. But I think that what I described cannot be viewed as a bad sign. It seems that guys like us take the peacock’s entire bad luck on our shoulders.

I was planning another trip to America, too many things were ahead waiting to be done. The major part of my collection, all those utensils and arms were stored at my friends’ and relatives and caused inconvenience and discomfort; so for a temporary custody I passed the collection to the Museum of History of Georgia and the Museum of Folk Architecture and Ethnography. My collection was the result of endeavor I displayed in my youth when I spent years wandering in the remotest parts of Georgia and the Caucasus trying to find interesting items that belonged to the past. I used to pay all my money to every interesting object I was lucky to find in various countries including America. The important part with the collection to pass it entirely and without a delay to the museums because at the moment it became a dream for many that could be easily materialized. Apart from my collection, my paintings and works, which represented my entire financial basis – all that was in danger because my idea to pass the collection to the hands of the state and the general public did not seem so appealing for many. As for me, I believed that step of mine meant much more for my homeland, for the museums and for my close and kin. I was sick of the facts I met so many times in my experience when things were discarded, whether in my presence or absence – by the people I knew or by strangers. I decided to make that step in spite of the proposals I had in America and in Moscow, but I was firm in my conviction that the collection was to remain undivided and represent my own country.

.      There is no doubt that I could afford living without any problems and worries  on the money I accumulated during all those years that I spent in America. Yet, I did want to create something special in Tbilisi, to found a kind of artistic or cultural basis. My point of concern had never been linked with the idea of personal well-being or some special comfort or luxury, and the long years that I lived without the minimal comfort prove this. I was never obsessed with my personal matters and to tell the truth many people around me displayed the same attitude towards me.

So, the Foundation was established.

Its basic program implied the building of a church and museum on the territory of the Museum of Folk Architecture and Ethnography, printing of books, organizing of exhibitions, providing students with stipends and teachers with premiums, and foster The Georgian culture and art extensively.

So, I entrusted the president of the Foundation with all my possessions that I managed to accumulate during so many years and went again to America in December 1998. I strongly believed that the activities of the Foundation could be described only as patriotic and believed that no kind of dirty tricks should be expected from my compatriots.

I often called to Tbilisi to be in the course of events with the Foundation activities and I went diligently on with “The Nature” series. Then I received from New York an invitation to take part in the documentary about me and my work. Part of the film had already been finished and it included interviews with Norton Dodge, Thora Jacobson and some others. The celebration of the Day of Independence of Georgia was marked with festivities and a special service in the New York Orthodox Church, and the event was marked also with the presentation and exhibition of my paintings. The opening ceremony was perfectly organized, with a number of esteemed visitors like Petre Chkheidze, his wife Manana and other guests. The event became memorable for many people because of the church service and Petre Chkheidze’s speech.

Now I have to switch to the facts that happened in Tbilisi in June and the betrayal that I did not expect at all but was soon to learn. Meanwhile, my birthday on June 4 was celebrated with great pomposity on the site of the Museum of Ethnography in the park. Some time passed and I found out that there was no trace of the planned construction of either a church or a new museum, and what made the things worse was that the finances literally vanished after being invested into nobody knew what.

The president of the Foundation did her best to set me in a kind of vacuum where no information could penetrate from the outer world. I still failed to guess the reason of that at that stage. I was doomed to miss any media coverage about myself or the Foundation that used to appear in press or on television with the issues on the aims and goals of my initial endeavor. but it was only the beginning. She stopped the planned publication of the Georgian Academy of Arts album that was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Academy; she did not pay the premiums to the teachers of Academy and the stipends to the students that I intended from the beginning and promised to do. She also broke off my trip to Israel as a member of the Georgian delegation for the Days of Georgian Culture that was scheduled then with the presentation of the Album of Georgian Culture which was sponsored by me and published in English and finally, she erased my name along with number of others from the list of artists that played a considerable role in modern Georgian art. The trifles like that were innumerable and they terribly affected the name and prestige of the Foundation.

The entire scheme became disclosed only at the end of December 1998 and in the first days of the New Year celebrations of 1999. Suddenly I understood that I had to face an outrageous situation: my Foundation became bankrupt, money was invested in stocks and some nonexistent companies – and there was not a thing done at all! The moment I would come to the construction site a guy would appear that was supposed to represent a working group and he would start to fix somewhere a single piece of board with an expression of extreme importance. It took me to make several steps back and turn around again to catch at the moment when he busy with the same board – only to take it back to the same place he had taken it a minute ago. The scene was duly repeated not a few times. I felt myself alone, completely abandoned, without a speck of idea what to do or how to react on the preposterous situation.

I asked my friend Givi Metreveli, an architect whom I had known and was a friend of since my childhood, to pay attention to the building site. Givi was the director of the major architectural and building state company, but in spite of his heavy schedule he managed his frequent visits to the so-called construction site on the territory of the open-air Ethnographic Museum. But every time he would enquire about the existence or supply of materials, the authorities of the museum would point at a huge pile of sawdust as a proof of the amount of work already done.

Givi still insisted on a thorough check of the construction process and after the detailed study of the documents at his office he found that the sum invested in the constructed object – did not correspond to the money I allotted for the project.

I feel that I am incapable to describe in words all that followed: the hardships I had to endure, how I failed to overcome the obstacles I had to face and missed the chance to fly back to America, how I failed to provide any help to my friends, painters and colleagues, and was refused to get the interest from the sum that I invested in stocks, hotels and shops – all that is impossible to convey in words. They had been constantly trying to destroy me – not only morally but physically as well, and that was done by the people who had no right to represent not only the Academy but frankly speaking – nothing at all, in general.

My successive question that I addressed to the former president of the Foundation was answered with the concrete clarity: “I will destroy your Foundation”. I retorted with: “You have already done that, and you shall have to answer for that – not to me but to the Georgian public in general”. The threats of that “charming” grabber were unbearable because my name was at stake. It was clear that she failed to understand the possibilities that her presidency of the Foundation could bring to her. She failed to understand also that that she was going to loose not only the Foundation but the Academy of Arts as well, since she preferred money to honor of her family and herself.

Still, in spite of the terrible period that lasted the whole year, I succeeded to publish an English version of my book, “Culture of Georgia”, together with an album of my collage works that I entitled “My home is my studio”. Apart from that, I also managed to carry out two exhibitions of my works at the Tbilisi Academy of Arts and the Central Picture Gallery of Georgia. And again, the president of the Foundation preferred to “save the Foundation money” by printing invitation cards that were a disgrace to the event, whereas at that period in Tbilisi even the young and hardly known artists could be guaranteed by proper and perfect stationery that evoked the public’s respect.

   And yet, I could not tell that the part of my life that belonged to creative work proved fine and was running smoothly. In fact, it only seemed and looked like that while I sensed the failure that not a soul, including my own self, could then somehow envisage and perceive – and what was more important – to prevent or to tell beforehand. When in spring of 1999, the Cossack community headed by their ataman – the chieftain of All-Russian Cossacks Union, decided to award me with the rank of major-general I jokily suggested that I could afford to have a major as my aid. They took that remark of mine seriously and they immediately expressed their respect by promising to me a higher rank of colonel-general. But that was not the end and another proposal of conferring on me the title of a marshal was suggested by somebody to which I modestly but firmly replied “no”. So, I was presented with a certificate and they explained to me the meaning of the term “Cossack”, or rather “Kazakh” that in Tartar language signifies “free”, in which meaning the term was derived and became known and acknowledged. During the ceremony I was introduced also with the Chief of Cossacks in Georgia. On the second thought I declared that “A Georgian Cossack must need a Georgian uniform as well” but it escaped my attention that my word surprised all those people around. After that I was given the permission to make an order at an official military atelier for my full-dress uniform – according to the modern Georgian standards. All that seemed ridiculous, so I did not pay any attention to the bewilderment that was reflected on the faces of the crowd around us.

Anyhow, nothing seemed either worrying or extraordinary in the fact, and a uniform – let it be Georgian, why not? – did not seem to me a possibility that could imply some kind of complications. Besides, quite undisturbed by the fact that I was awarded a rank of Honored General, I did not even pay attention to the detail that even our Supreme Commander-in-Chief did not have either rank or the uniform of that scope. As a matter of fact, the rank I was awarded looked a bit different, but still, nobody has made any objections against my documents that seemed so convincing and I was awarded my rank officially. On the other hand, the titles and rank became so easy to acquire in our times, and there are quite a few personalities that had received the same rank before me. Getting a title of some rank makes no problem at present and quite a few people had already enjoyed the process. The tendency is aimed at “encouraging” people, and the process of distributing regalia and honorable titles of professors, academicians and generals is strong and implies also orders and practically everything that is either changeable or people get it free.

Yet, it is also important who delivers the award.

Then, after a lapse of time, those who did not deserve their awards shall fade but the best ones who deserved their titles by rights, their names shall emanate light – along with the names of those who were left out by fate but did not deserve that attitude.

The matter was more complicated with the bonuses and rise in wages. Once I asked a friend of mine, Alexander Rojhin who was awarded the title of academician: “What about your salary?” I understood that the question was not tactful but I consoled myself with me specific case – that of a person who had just arrived from America and was anxious to learn the details of the process in the former USSR.

“But is that the point?” – his answer sounded significant.

I was trying to take everything in consideration and correlate the details with the abilities of our Foundation, constantly repeating the words of my friend: “Is that the point of concern?” Well, there is more in the case if it is not. And indeed, the one who delivers an award plays a significant role; besides, it always matters to whom the award is granted and particularly, for what? I remembered the titles and ranks that were awarded before the revolution, like Counselor of State or State General. My grandfather, whose career developed in St. Petersburg, had a rank of Court Counselor and his salary definitely corresponded to his title and his full-dress uniform and orders fitted the case.

As for my departure to America, I had no right to cancel it any longer. My flight was scheduled on June 5, 2000. Before I left Tbilisi, together with my friends and colleagues I visited Catholicos Patriarch of Georgia, His Holiness Ilia II, to present to him my album “My home is my studio”. I genuflected in front of the Patriarch and received the blessings of His Holiness for the long trip ahead. The feeling was so overwhelming that I did not want to stand up. I remembered the period when the presentation of my first album was timed to coincide with the arrival of His Holiness to Washington, D.C. and the Day of Georgian Independence. At the official meeting we were introduced to His Holiness and the ecclesiastics and the members of the accompanying delegation. As regards to the issues related to my Foundation, I had an opportunity to visit him this January – and was presented by him with a calendar, with illustrations on religious themes done by his own hand – with a dedicatory inscription: “Blessed be Victor Kandelaki and his whole family”.

And on the very day before my departure, I received Order of Honor – the award of President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze.

Literally before the take-off of the plane, I remembered my interview with some New York reporters. They asked me: “Your exhibition was named “Between the two worlds”. Now, which of them suits you best?” As it often happens with me, my sense of humor prompted my answer: “But that is obvious, right there in the name”.

They did not quite get the idea and asked me again: “”Where exactly?” – “Why, between means in the plane, right? I always fly there with hope, and with the same hope I come back.” Then I added: “As a matter of fact, speaking of two worlds is wrong because there exists only one world, the sole and indivisible!”

They titled the article that followed the same way: “Between the two worlds”.

While still in Tbilisi, once at a party some guest proposed me to tell my fortunes. I confessed that queen of spades had constantly haunted me. So, they put a pack of cards on the table and asked me to take one. I obeyed and the sight of the queen of spades left all aghast, and their remarks on my intuition followed accompanied by their sighs.