by Natela Potskhveriya
"My dark girls stand on the bright side"
Tinatin Tskhadadze on her work
Artist Tina Tskhadadze captured the minds of the IERI team from the very first day. We have been dreaming of working with her and finally we have this chance. Talking to Tina resembled listening to beautiful music — savory, relaxing, and energizing at the same time. In her studio, where cats walk around the artworks, we talked about her dark girls, who are a blessing for the artist, about her grandfather and his influence on Tina’s formation and the new generation of artists she is teaching.
Tell us how you started to paint. I know that your grandfather would let you make sketches in a copy of “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”...
I hadn’t even started to speak when I held a pencil and my grandfather noticed that. He was a historian, my favorite person ever, who practically raised me and supported me the most. He would draw a little and I loved it so much that I would give up playing and rush over to observe. I would ask him to draw things and eventually my requests increased, I wanted him to draw better things. He drew to a certain extent and then gave up, not being able to meet my “masterful” expectation. Instead, he would give me materials and show me books, which greatly affected my aesthetic perception. Grandpa researched “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” and was very eager to have his beloved grandchild be well familiar with it. Basically, this is where it all started.
When I think about the first important trigger, several versions of the book come to mind. Grandpa had almost all of them, the best editions. The collection featured illustrations by Zichy, Mr. Sergo Kobuladze, and Irakli Toidze, a variety of perceptions and expressions of artistic visual form. My grandfather would tell me the story while looking through pictures. I absolutely adored this process, it was extremely emotional… I was completely mesmerized by all of it, the story, the illustrations, and everything in between. Then one day, the role of a spectator no longer felt enough and I decided to engage. Grandpa gave me complete freedom. I drew as I liked, and I made some changes to Tinatin’s character… In my perception at the time, I was taken seriously as a participant and it made me very happy. This was my first emotional and creative celebration, something I’m eternally grateful to my grandfather. This wave later unfolded into different manifestations.
Has any artist impacted your work as much as your grandfather did?
When I started studying, I had quite a skillset compared to my age. Of course, I found my favorite artists. I absolutely adored Lado Gudiashvili. For a period, as I was growing up, I seemingly distanced from him somehow, but I’ve recently rediscovered him, reevaluating and understanding that he is incredible. With time, I’ve grasped a better understanding of this artist. I figured out his interpretations and where this wonderfully expressive plasticity comes from. I compare Gudiashvili’s plasticity to the Georgian vine. The way he has searched for and felt everything leaves no space for feelings of artificiality and mechanical action. It’s something only he has captured, in the right manner and with amazing grace. So, to me, Lado stands separately, he’s special. I think my love for hands somehow stems from these impressions. In my works, hands are not just hands, they are portraits of women and their plasticity is of great importance.
I also love Khita (Guram) Kutateladze very much. He is a painter, particularly famous for landscapes, depictions of vast space with the unseen sky. Even without the sky, it creates an atmosphere in its large-scale and monumental landscapes. It was Khita who gave me great courage. And then Kikodze crowned the process. Understanding Kikodze helped me figure out how and where to lead my dark beauties as if it put an end to my search. A great artist not only inspires but also helps us in a way. In my case, it was Kikodze who served as such a figure. Thus the artistic image formed gradually, first in vague strokes and then in a clearer, more prominent shape.
How did you find your dark beauties?
The Dark Beauties’ series, created in 2017 was preceded by a somewhat difficult period. My great-grandmother has been an archetype to my works, as well as my mother and grandmother, my friends, and their mothers — I have a collecting feeling towards it all. Turns out, I’m very much touched, moved and excited by all of it, but I also carry sadness, melancholy, and the feelings I feel in our women. It makes me angry that it all seems to be in the shadows, sidelined in the historical-cultural sense, deprived of its significance. In contrast to the Georgian masculine context. This anger seems to have led me into irony — making fun of ourselves, the women, but at the same time, this is a benevolent irony that shows in my self-criticism, as well as my artwork.
The idea brought about visual icons, a perception of how the totality of abstract ideas could be represented. It's one thing that you think of something, an important idea has arisen for you, which is really your experience, and the second thing is how you will implement it, because if you don't find the right artistic form, the idea may be lost and the result just won't come. It was a complex concentration of forces, the union of spiritual, moral, physical energies in the form of artistic expression. As a result of such charged inner work, the first dark was sculpted in my imagination, black and white from the beginning.I knew it had to be graphic. From there I started to think about materials.
The paper seemed a bit rough for me, so I started to search and settled on transparent parchment paper, which is very difficult to work with. I have had cases of starting all over again, right after finishing a piece. Though later, I realized why I chose parchment paper. At first glance, these women are tough and strong, but they also carry inner sadness and melancholy, which is why I wanted the material to reflect a kind of vulnerability. Parchment is fragile and has its transparency. I then searched for background and found a warm, ivory tone. When the harshness of the white faded, I felt that I had arrived at the perfect set.
When do you work better — day or night?
Ideas come naturally and it most often happens in the middle of the night. That’s when I seemingly transfer somewhere, thinking, searching for something, and not looking for anything at the same time, maintaining my peace. And then the magical moment arrives. I don’t know why it happens at night, but it seems there are powers activated then. And it somehow makes sense, since my women are also witches. The next day I know almost every detail of what I’m going to do.
When did color appear in your works?
When you find something and stick to it for a long time, without changing your style and manner, you face the threat of undevelopment. On the other hand, it was as if the universe sent me a hint — that happens often, but it takes the ability to listen to actually make it work. That's what open-mindedness is — the willingness to take creative risks. At that time I was only thinking about the color and not any specific style changes, since this series is rather figurative, I didn’t think of active stylistic intervention.
It was during this turning point that the pandemic hit. The entire world was in fear and understanding this incredibly complicated state created color in my consciousness on its own, and, of course, it was red. To tell you the truth, I had been avoiding red, since the combination of black and red is a classic, almost banal even; but it had such a strong hold on me overwhelmed by Covid, I realized there was no escape. So I tried to find a graphic red, not to interfere with the intensity of red paint, but rather to find a variation of it that would be practically black.
All compositions created throughout the pandemic reflected capability and offense and I realized this was my interpretation of resistance. Once it all quieted down a bit, I introduced blue to my palette. According to color theory, coming out of black, you first enter blue, the slight shimmer in the darkness is blue. It was not just theory though, I could feel it in my bones that I needed some type of permanence, a sense of peace, and a deeper sensation of eternity among us, a lifeline of stability after the somewhat threatening red.
It took quite some time to find the blue and I think I finally arrived at the right one, since the feeling of satisfaction it provided has not been replaced by critique, until now. The blue provided an important element in the series; the works from this period are horizontal, less on the offense, now featuring the sea — clearly I headed towards the sea because we are the country of the seaside and I am forever entangled with my country and its daily circumstances.
Orange came last. I have a very special attitude with this color because it represents the energy of the sun and I feel like we all deserve to be joyous about something, to open up to the universe. These are metaphors: I found the feeling of artistic openness to the sun and the world in a persimmon. I love this fruit very much and I always remember snow-covered persimmon trees or dried persimmons hanging as curtains — prominent imagery of our culture and landscape. So it is no surprise that I used persimmons to say what I wanted — there was more energy in women than ever before; a beam of hope … so I put all that I had to say into one tiny persimmon.
Does each lady have her own story?
Basically, these women have their own abstract, never-ending stories that you get to continue. The title may give you a clue, but the rest is entirely up to the viewer. In fact, this is how my women and I speak to the world and try to protect it.
I also refer to them as women guardians
of the bright side.
Visually, they’re on the shadow side, with idol faces, dark-eyed and never smiling, but they’ve become like this having overcome many obstacles and indeed they are guardians of all that is good and bright, of love, life, and etc.
They hold flowers like weapons, and despite their slightly masculine plasticity and expressions, they play on the edge, pointing to the fact that these are extraordinary women of great inner strength – the collective face of grandmothers, mothers, friends, children, and women in general. The environment in which I grew up, which gave me inspiration and emotional experiences, is where my darks come from, and I will be happy if they become an inspiration to other women. I received a few messages where people told me my women had helped them and that was the highest appreciation for me. I wish that my women would help the women whom I appreciate and respect through my work; I wish women would help themselves.
Tell us about your painting period
Looking back at it now, I’m not at all satisfied with my painting. I went through different stages, with direction and technique changing along the way. The one thing I would reminisce about is the group exhibition I participated in, in 2015. There were 4 female painters and I created a conceptual series called “Stalker”. That’s when a deer entered my consciousness as a symbol of my grandfather. A stalker means “a guide” and the deer was my grandfather, whom I considered a guide.
I’m happy with this work, although now I would have elaborated on the topic differently. Soon thereafter the Dark took over me entirely, with all of its force and insight and that’s probably how it should have been. I had to stop at a certain stage and take a sharp turn towards something new. I don’t know. Now I feel like I’m ready again, it seems I am slowly reaching to paint again, so we shall see. I am now preparing for an exhibition to be held at the National Gallery, probably at the end of the year. There will be a retrospective of the key works of the Dark series showcased in one hall, and the other one will feature my works in a different material. Let’s see how it goes.
Did your nickname “Svann” originate from Svaneti?
Yes. My mother’s surname is Ratiani. I used to sign my name as Tskhadadze-Ratiani since both my mother’s and father’s lineages are equally dear to me. But then I noticed it was a bit complicated for foreigners to remember and so I took this pseudonym. Now, if I’m doing something abroad, I just sign as Svann so people can find me easily. So in a way, I made the process easier in a commercial sense, but I also maintained a means of paying respect to my grandfather.
ather. The academy has changed massively since the renovation and you are now a lecturer there. How does it feel when you look at the younger generation and what do you think about the future of Georgian art?
The State Academy of Arts, has, of course, changed a lot. The renovation is unequivocally a great thing to have happened, especially since the old building, the so-called “Arshakun’s Palace” was restored in its authentic form, revealing a number of details we could not perceive before. As for the youth, I want to tell you that the current generation is much more informed than us and has much more opportunities, they are perfectly able to rethink information and make their own, new results. Besides, they’re very talented and I enjoy working with them a lot. I will state my opinion very briefly: I think that the teaching methodology in the academy should be conducted taking into account the internal tendencies, requirements, qualities and many other important characteristics of the students. Based on the analysis of the learning process and its observation, the teaching methodology should periodically change in the right direction, be more flexible, adapt to the modern context, and at the same time maintain the basic necessary principles. It has not been done for a long time.
There are many subtle nuances in building relations with the students, especially the extremely talented and well-informed new generation. They put a lot of trust in you and are honest and absolutely fearless when it comes to experimenting and taking risks; they’re interested in painting as well as performance art and object creation… They are diverse in their curiosity and thus require an updated teaching method to serve them right. And for me personally, they give me a feeling of conformity with modernity, they show me how not to fall behind the given time and not to run too far ahead. In short, they teach me many things here.