Queen of Spades
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.