Issue 2, 2015. April-May

   

THE ARTIST FROM SVANETI: GURAM KHETSURIANI

Artist Guram Khetsuriani draws from his family's historic home in iconic Svaneti to create masterpieces of line and color. His talent has taken him from the mountains to art galleries in Georgia, the U.S. and Europe.

Tatjana Montik

Guram is extremely charming, but he is not a talker. He has a deeply Svanetian soul — silently keeping his inner world to himself, similar to one of the many tall stone towers in the mountainousSvanetian region of northwest Georgia. In reality, however, this is only a first impression, as Guram willingly shares his rich inner world with everyone—he speaks through his painting.

Entering his atelier, nestled in a cozy Italian-like courtyard on old Tbilisi's Leselidze Street, I am struck by the play of color that confronts me in his work. His paintings present an amazing interaction between people, between buildings and nature, between stillness and movement.

Color is ever present, although he prefers black and white to dominate his work. Perhaps it is the scarcity of brightly colored spots, mixed within the black and white that give his work anincredible liveliness and joy. Guram does not believe that an artist needs a muse to receive an idea; as he states, "To be an artist you need to live for your art, working at it every day."

What inspires him? Cityscapes, as well as natural surroundings. In a cityscape, he prefers old abandoned buildings, in which he finds inspiration. Guram admits, "If I see such an abandoned house or a ruin, I immediately imagine how life used to be here before. And although now everything seems to be dead here, I still can see people walking in the courtyard, working in the household, talking, arguing, laughing together, playing with kids. All this gives a lot of space for the play of my fantasy. For some people, abandoned buildings are scary. As for me, morbid stillness offers quite a lot to my imagination."

To Guram, drawing either nature or buildings brings immense artistic satisfaction. As he says, "Architecture is as close to me as nature. The most important issue is that architecture can only have a powerful appearance when it is in harmony with nature. Both of them, nature and buildings, must come to life in harmony at once on canvas."

As a schoolboy, Guram knew that he would be an artist and chose to pursue an intense art education. His father,Emzari Khetsuriani, is also an artist who engraves icons. His father supported Guram's interest in art, and as a child Guram spent many hours observing his father and other artists at their work. Afterwards, he studied at the Tbilisi Art Academy, which he feels provided him with a solid foundation.

There is a debate among contemporary artists regarding the value of academic art education versus artistic skills gained in practice. However, Guram feels that "an academic education has always been a classical one, and an artist always needs it! Then, of you like to try something new, something else, you can go for it. But first you need a solid basis under your feet."

In his opinion, it is not true that a real artist does not need to be understood and admired by his audience. Even more important is approval by the artist's family and by his friends, and Guram fully enjoys enjoy this support.

"Happiness is when you arrive at home and know that today you have created something really important: a drawing or even just an idea, something which will, sooner or later, come to live on canvas and which will be holding a certain sense. Happiness is to understand that this day of yours has not passed in vain."

What can brighten him up, what gives new power and sense in difficult situations?

"I don't try to escape a bad mood. I'd rather sit still and think at the same spot where I began to feel bad. And of course, wine and singing also help me a lot," he admits.

Guram's family has its origins in the village of Lechkhumi, in the Svaneti region. And although he grew up in Tbilisi, like many Georgians, Guram knows exactly what a small homeland means. The artist needs to spend at least one month each year in Lechkhumi, walking around in nature, letting the Svanetian scenery and the smells and views of his home village inspire him. There, he says, he is familiar with every stone, every tree and every path in the forest. His favorite food is, of course, a Svanetian one - he especially loves Lechkhumi ham and other local specialties.

His paintings seem to be full of joy, peace and love. In our world, there are people who are striving to find love, but they fail.

Maybe Guram can let us into his secret: Where does he manage to find that muchl ove? Guram smiles in his typical shy but rather conquering way: "Love is never hiding from us. Love is everywhere. It is only us people who often hide from love. We should stop doing it, and everything will be okay."