About the Artist

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Vladimir Kandelaki - Image Familiar and Unexposed

A personal exhibition of Vladimir (Vova) Kandelaki's works, held at the Museum of the State Academy of Fine Arts in Tbilisi on the threshold of centuries, became an event. It was the first exposition since his departure to the US in 1990 for the series of exhibitions. But the things went differ­ently and the painter - invited for several months, still lives in Philadelphia. The artist managed to retain his creative personality, saving himself from getting lost while mixing in hundreds of aspiring and fame- and fortune-seeking artists, streaming to the US.

A wonderfully published album dedicated to his art contains more than 250 reproductions of Kandelaki's works. The video-material of his family archives is preceeded by a foreword, written by a well-known researcher and collector, Norton Dodge, Professor Emeritus of St. Mary College in Maryland, Doctor of economics; the list of other authors includes Thora Jacobson, Director of S.Fleisher Memorial Center of Art, Mattew Bagel, Professor of Rutgers University, Janet Kennedy, Professor of Indiana University, Doctor of Philosophy. Their essays explicitly present Kandelaki's art, the story of his development into a nonconformist artist, and the trends and directions of the painter's creative experimentation. In fact, this album helped not only Americans to get a glimpse of the artist's inner world, but his homeland as well; likewise, the Georgians too, got a chance to see the works created during the last decade in the US.

The forefathers of Vladimir (Vova) Kandelaki traditionally belonged to the clergy and were outstanding public figures. From his early teens, Vova grew in an exceptional atmosphere of appreciation and love of art and lit­erature. From his early childhood, a peculiar feeling of pride for his wor­thy ancestors - brave servicemen and officers and charming ladies of not so recent past. His first steps in art were guided by his father, Andro Kandelaki, a well-known graphic artist. Vova was lucky to have teachers of great fame and stance: Valentin Sherpilov, Vassily Shukhaev, Dimitri Gabashvili, Apollon Kutateladze, Ucha Japaridze and Gogi Totibadze. Especially warm are his feelings towards Sergo Kobuladze, a great per­sonality and great artist, who left a strong imprint of gratitude in the youth's heart and memory.

After the graduation, Vladimir Kandelaki joined the general scene of art life with a lot of enthusiasm and energy. Very soon his works appeared on various exhibitions - including his personal one - in Georgia, Russia, Finland, Germany, Cuba, Belgium, Turkey, Italy, the US and other countries. Alongside, he was engaged in a permanent struggle for his self-assertion, since the general situation in the USSR constantly ini­tiated various kinds of hindering problems and a general unfavorable atti­tude towards artistic individualities. Due to Vova's inherently emotional

character and spontaneity, he had conflicts continuously - either with establishment or bureaucracy. He would have to face a loosing battle with the problems of routine existence, were it not for people who arranged to save him from the inevitable and awaiting boredom and pro­vided him with the possibility to engross in creative work and travels, that enriched him with the whole number of items, which constitute his con­siderable collection of ethnographic objects and rarities.

V.Kandelaki's characteristic art is multi-faceted, with a variety of gen­res and themes. While studying the early stage of his art, we notice a great deal of place given to the historical themes of the Georgian past; a point of interest should be attributed to compositions, thematically rele­vant to the life-stories of the outstanding personalities. The portraits rep­resent the famous king - David Aghmashenebeli (the Builder) and the "founding fathers" of academies in Gelati and Ikalto, and the well-known XII century centers of science. In 1966, V.Kandelaki completed a series of works, based on the themes and motives of Shota Rustaveli's poem "The Knight in the Tiger's Skin". The artist presented the work at the exhi­bition dedicated to the poem's 800 anniversary. Such step seemed - and actually, was perceived as bold, since the exhibition was a praiseworthy challenge for a number of well-known artists, and his favorite teacher, Sergo Kobuladze among them; competing with famous masters, was equally a challenge and a risk. Yet, still youthful Kandelaki succeeded in the role of a worthy competitor, confronting the famous illustrators. The compositions already prove Vladimir Kandelaki's great interest towards ancient Georgian art, and his knowledge of mural painting, and art of frescoes and miniature.

A serious impulse to Kandelaki's art had been given by his extensive travelling in various regions of Georgia. The great French painters -Delacroix, Matisse - used to get inspiration in the exotica of Algeria, Marocco, Tunis; Pshavi, Khevsureti, Tusheti and Svaneti, played the same role for the generations of Georgian painters. A number of Kandelaki's works depict the fairy-tale beauty of those landscapes, local architecture and everyday life of people, with their colorful festivities.

The core and the foundation of the style, Kandelaki meticulously developed, implied and embraced the unity of modern and traditional, with his memories of the ancestors, and infuse a tendency and ability to transform reality - with rich fantasy. A mere glimpse at his works immedi­ately shows a concoction of features characteristic to ancient Georgian art - with the proofs of the influences of the XX century Western painting.

Another important point concerning Kandelaki's art, is its cyclic nature and qualities. He likes to return to some motives, developing the variations and enriching them with new details and elements. His favorite themes embrace reminiscences of his childhood, scenes of religious or public festivities, colorful parades and festivals. While the initial concep­tual drawings can be - and are interpreted as conventional genre cre­ations - in his larger panoramic compositions, the painter modifies and transforms real objects, increases their size and thus, injects a symbolic meaning and charge into the concrete things and objects.

The city of Tbilisi appears as the main protagonist of his art - togeth­er with the post-war period of hardships - and yet, so fill of joy of life for the whole generation of children, with their games and pastimes, their relationships, values, and the indispensable attributes of their self-asser­tion. The attitude of the painter is clearly ellegic, recollecting the idyllic and idealized realm, already belonging to the past. His mythologization of  \ Tbilisi mode - and way of life, transforms the ball-size "pregnancy" of a  I clay wine-jug - into a balcony-belted house, an ordinary and common knucklebone becomes a playground; in paintings emerges the dominance of items, epitomizing the gone-away childhood and the old city: they   | include a bull's shoulder-blade - symbol of unrestrained traditional feast-ing, a paper-bird, a corncob, a bunch of grapes, a tender-green tradition­al' Eastern tiny cornfield on a vast flat plate... The interest in folk traditions   i is still present in works, done by Kandelaki in the United States, where the composition describes a Halloween festivity, and a procession of cele­brating people in the streets of Philadelphia is romanticized by traditional characters and an imposing pumpkin, mounted on a traditional cart..

Prophetic paintings of Vladimir Kandelaki, created long before the Perestroika epoch with a diverse approach and a novelty in spirit and political character - under the general title of "A Festive procession", ignites a special interest of art critics. A nonconformist art, developed in a totalitarian world, in case of Kandelaki, leaves a definitely distinctive impression, and his creative work shows his difference from other artist of the mutual Soviet background. Among the attractions of his manner, is certainly, his sense of humor and inexhaustible wit. His originality is charming, his symbolic vision - appealing. The artist's grotesque uni­verse is filled with constructions, unstable like Soviet empire, which cra­dle in their diverse variety, a notorious image of a so-called "llyich bulb" that used to epitomize in Soviet propaganda, a kind of "a cloudless future, victorious over world capitalism"; or, a playing-cards house -grandiose like the Tower of Babel - may convey the same idea of insta­bility in the constructions. Separate elements of hyperbole, together with the popular Soviet slogans, increase the comic side of the whole situa­tion. The triptych, "A playing-cards house: morning, noon, evening" -transforms that comic part into a tragic element.

Back in the 1930-ies, an eminent Georgian painter, created a can­vas: a happy Georgian family under the llyich bulb electric light. Several decades later, Vladimir Kandelaki creates a series of sarcastic composi­tions, illustrating the fall and degradation of the Empire. A horrifying title of his popular work - "Lenin in Washington, DC" - presents Lenin's por­trait on a Soviet banknote fluttering like a banner over the Capitol. It may well be, the painting deserves to be included into the Guinness Book of World Records, for a canvas with a Russian ruble - considering the exchange rate of the period - was sold for a million times bigger price in 1993, at a popular auction in the United States.

Vladimir Kandelaki is one of the foremost Georgian artists, who pro­duced nonconformist works at the hard and unfavorable period of Stagnation. His works in oil ran parallel to his popart creations and pres­ent a period of relevant and common characters and also, the mood and a general atmosphere. In fact, we can consider the works of object art -a unified collection, concentrated on one personality - that of the artist himself. Its conditional title is - "A studio of an artist". But it can be equal­ly linked with his biography, since "My ancestors", "A cradle of my art", "My family chest", 'My yoke" - all they are dedicated to several genera­tions of the painter's family. According to the artist, his paintings resem­ble archeological layers or strata, depicting the history with its tragic sides, contrasts, and real-life details. A peculiar sad charm can be traced in his compositions: "A bookstand", "A saddle", "A screen" - with brave officers of tsar's army, and charming ladies with fans, smart hats, lorgnettes; or old post-cards and fragments of old oil-canvases. The basic objects the artist used - a fiber suitcase, a cradle, a palette, a book­stand - are perceived as certain marks of other epoch; the other things -like a globe, an old kerosene lamp, worn out post-cards - they play the rale of accompaniment.

Several works are dedicated to the people's traditions, their way of life, and the motives of Dionysus, the god of wine, merge with the pres­ent epoch. The composition, on the one hand - show all the attributes of a Georgian feast table, but on the other hand - show an ironic attitude towards - once so wonderful traditions - and so limited in outlook now. To Georgian traditions is dedicated also his other work: "Christmas in Georgia with the chichilaki piece".

A special attention deserves a five-part piece of work - "A screen". In it we can see all his skills, used in popart, concentrated: they include the decorative aspects and also, the concept of composition, and the princi­ple of selection of the elements. These works justify the approach, suit­able to the living things: the exhibits do change; they accumulate new details, loose some old ones, and never cease their development - like the life of the artist himself. The main point, which never changes, is the artists unyielding strive for the harmony, and his inbred love of every object or detail.

Another characteristic detail of Kandelaki's art is a strong sense of humor which varies from warm mild smile - to sarcasm. Its significant proof is visible in compositions dedicated to the period of the Soviet empire. His memories present a vast panorama of Soviet life-style, encompassing the routine and standards of Soviet apartment block flats with their typical interior, and with their must of an electric meter and llyich bulbs - alongside a St.George icon and dismantled clock; next to that we see a mock-up of a playing-cards house decorated with typical Soviet slogans and other attributes of Soviet ways, including the idyllic postcards, reflecting the cloudless happiness of childhood in the USSR.

And once again we are facing the contradictory universe of sweet child­hood memories - versus an empire, pulling down right in front of us like a playing-cards house.

A series of poparts, called "My studio", present a clear image of the artist's creative process, as well as of the artistic environment. Each object and every single thing are a constituent part of the artist's life. Unlike some other representatives of popart, Kandelaki never tooks for the needed details of his compositions at some dumping grounds or scrapheaps or "car graveyards"; all the things and objects of his compo­sitions, are organic part of his personal life and experience. For Kandelaki it is so easy to transform a common object, lacking any ele­ment of - or even hint at poetry - into a model of high artistic value. Therefore, every piece of his work bears an imprint of some movement of his soul and spirit. In 1990, at a television broadcast, held after an exhibition in Warsaw, a well-known poet, Andre Bril said: "'Kandelaki's canvas - "An autumn festivity in Tbilisi" is a self-portrait of Georgia, its best calling card". A well- known American art critic and researcher, Robin Rice, especially underlines the presence of kindness in Kandelaki's paintings: "A kind artist" - that's what he calls Vladimir Kandelaki.

Just recently, the artist appeared as the founder of his own, Vladimir Kandelaki Foundation. Within a short period, the Foundation has already published Sergo Kobuladze research on the golden section, and a col­lection of articles on Georgian culture. The Foundation is also planning to materialize the artist's life-time dream - that of erecting a special build­ing on the territory of the Open Air Museum in Tbilisi, with the exposition of items Vladimir Kandelaki had been meticulously collecting during his life: Caucasian arms and weapons, musical instruments of Caucasian nations, household utensils and so forth. The proof of the quality of that collection is the planned exhibition of that collection in the Moscow Kremlin "Orujeynaya palata" at the end of 2000, the fact - and honor -that rarely falls to a private person.

The new exhibition, as well as the activities of the foundation, dis­closed a new image of Vladimir Kandelaki's creativity - both, familiar -yet, in many ways, still unexposed. We can consider him an ambassador of Georgian culture - wherever his art is presented. A matter of joy and content is, that the success he achieves abroad - whether spiritual or material, Kandelaki shares with - and attributes to his own native land. 

Artist, art critic Chair, Georgian Association of Artists