The Spiritual Heir to Pirosmani: Natela Iankoshvili 100 Years

Natela Iankoshvili (1918-2007) is a unique phenomenon whose name is little known to wider society, but who made history and left her eternal mark in the Georgian Arts. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of this Georgian female artist and to celebrate, The Zurab Tsereteli Museum of Modern Art has been hosting an exhibition of her works (open until June 16).

The artist was a radical who put the integrity of her art before all other values and managed to develop her artistic oeuvre without compromise and with boundless energy. She was a master of landscapes and at the same time a virtuoso portraitist.

Mamuka Bliadze, artistic director at Galerie Kornfeld in Berlin, who has made an immense contribution to promoting Iankoshvili in Europe and elsewhere, paid a visit to Tbilisi for the occasion of the exhibition. GEORGIA TODAY met the art expert in person.

“Strange as it may sound, Natela Iankoshvili’s solo exhibition has not been held in Georgia in 45 years,” Bliadze remarked, noting that he has exhibited Natela’s works at many prestigious art fairs like Frieze New York, in London, Basel, Cologne, etc. “A few days ago, a small artwork by Iankoshvili was sold at auction in Munich for EUR 50,800, serving as yet further proof of her international recognition and success,” he said.

“Last year, at the Brussels International Art Fair, our gallery was included in eight galleries worldwide in the section of rediscovery,” Bliadze told us. “Galerie Kornfeld was selected for presenting amazing artworks by this Georgian painter. The art fair is attended by renowned art critiques and one of them, after seeing her work, dedicated an article to her in a prestigious German newspaper, coining her the Pioneer of Eastern Europe. One month ago, we displayed her works in New York, at the world-famous Frieze art fair. Our gallery was named among 11 galleries out of 190 for displaying her paintings. I have been promoting Natela for over 18 years abroad, in particular in west Europe, while in Georgia, sadly and to my surprise, her name is all but forgotten and she has not had a solo exhibition for decades!”

Renowned art-theorist and philosopher, Waker Benjamin, once said about Van Gogh that he “could even paint an aura”. The same can be applied to Iankoshvili, who could also reflect aura on canvas. The subjects depicted in her works are spread across the space of the canvas like an echo – having their own dynamic and rhythm. As Van Gogh added his particular note and wilderness to landscape painting, Natela left a similar signature mark in the form of mystical light in her artworks. When looking at her paintings, it is impossible to say whether it is day or night; one can perceive her works in many ways, and this particular feature makes her a great artist.

According to Mamuka Bliadze, Galerie Kornfeld in Berlin owns 42 of her works. From time to time, the artworks are exhibited in different corners of the world with the aim of promoting Georgian art among international society.

Apart from paintings, she made a number of illustrations for around 100 books, both for Georgian and translated classics. Among them the most important and distinguished is The Knight in the Panther’s Skin. When the prolific Georgian epic poem was translated into Japanese in 1966, the book was released with Iankoshvili’s illustrations- an immense achievement.

The artist even traveled to Cuba in 1961 and made many portraits of locals. She stayed there for a while and even organized her own solo exhibition. She can be considered one of the first feminists in Georgia for her bravery and revolutionary steps. Upon her arrival in Cuba, she created around 200 graphic works that were later displayed in the Blue Gallery in Tbilisi. After Cuba, she also visited Mexico, where she was quite productive too. Yet, her debut exhibition in Georgia was held when she was already 42 years old. She was the first female artist to have a solo exhibition at the famous Blue Gallery at which 250 works were put on display, a record breaking number in the history of the gallery.

During Soviet times, when religion and churches were prohibited, she traveled and depicted almost all the major cathedrals and towers in the regions of Georgia. She even dared to exhibit her works that ran contradictory to the ideology typical of the period.

Her teachers were great Georgian painters Lado Gudiashvili, Davit Kakabadze and Sergo Kobuladze. Gudiashvili described her artworks as a novelty, a discovery, and revolutionary. Iankoshvili was also praised and recognized by Shalva Amiranashvili, a great Georgian art historian and a Director of the Art Museum of Georgia who, in 1968, exhibited minimalist Georgian painter Niko Pirosamni in the Paris Louvre. Iankoshvili is often referred to as the spiritual heir to Pirosmani for her masterful synthesis of dark and bright colors, yet her painting technique is still different and far more complex.

As we discovered, the artist lived with her husband Lado Avaliani, a writer, in a very small apartment in poor conditions. The space was so small that the couple could not work simultaneously. She painted during the daytime and then her husband worked at night at the same desk.

Bliadze told us that some people say she was not very friendly since she did not like wasting her time: “She was a true artist who sacrificed her entire life to art,” he said.

“She certainly deserves international recognition for her aesthetic and artistic excellence,” Bliadze noted. “She is an utterly inimitable, unique and stand-alone artistic phenomenon, one that cannot be confused with anybody else.”

By Lika Chigladze

14 June 2018 21:03

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