Irakli Parjiani (1950-1991)

Recto-Verso Portrait Exhibition

Museum from Home

The idea of holding a virtual exhibition of Irakli Parjiani’s portraits was conceived by Museum from Home, a Facebook group created by Ninia Akhvlediani during the pandemic. COVID-19 has changed museum life, with physical exhibitions replaced by digital museums of sorts—people sharing their family collections online. Museum from Home, eventually evolving into a people’s project, has made it possible to plan a virtual exhibition of Parjiani’s portraits with support amid the pandemic offered by the Tbilisi City Hall. The project is led by its author and the exhibition’s curator Ninia Akhvlediani and consultant Constantine Bolkvadze.

“Irakli Parjiani’s paintings have been an integral part of my life since childhood. My mother was friends with Irakli, and I remember the impact that Irakli’s colors and silhouettes displayed on the walls in our home—and his original mysticism and unparalleled signature style—had on me back in the 1980s-1990s. I was equally impressed after seeing the collection of the Gokieli family. We were frequent guests in their home, and it was there that Parjiani’s World of Myriad Colors stuck in my mind forever. And these childhood emotions are with me to this day. As far back as I can remember, it’s all about Irakli’s art and stories about him. It is also symbolic that presently I work for the Georgian Museum of Fine Arts in that now I’m professionally involved with Parjiani’s works—his largest collection, in fact. Perhaps it is not by coincidence that, ten years ago, Nino Mikadze introduced me to Sopo Parjiani and now we’re working together on Irakli’s exhibition and toward his promotion. Parjiani is a seminal phenomenon in Georgia and world arts, and I am not being subjective here. I’m happy that it has been this way since my childhood, and it will always be in my memories,” Ninia Akhvlediani says.

This year marks Irakli Parjiani’s anniversary. On May 22, he would have turned 70. His works are preserved in various private collections.

In particular, this exhibition was inspired by Nino Mikadze’s post on the Museum from Home Facebook page—her childhood portrait painted by Parjiani in 1990.

Irakli Parjiani is an enormous force of nature in Georgian arts. His artistic value is immeasurable in the development of both Georgian and world arts. Parjiani’s body of work is amazingly diverse in terms of theme, style, and genre alike. His way of representation abounds in various cultural symbols, periodization, elements of religious and secular arts, and anthroposophical worldviews. The artist uses his distinctive style to create differently themed representations, be it a portrait, still life, landscape, genre art, religious or literary character, or abstract composition. Animate or inanimate representations from various eras relocate into the artist’s time plane to take on a new meaning and become part of universal culture.

Irakli Parjiani belongs to a small group of Georgian artists behind the creation of new postmodern Georgian arts building on old experiences and memories. In a way, his oil painting is a bridge facilitating intercultural dialogue and ushering in free human thinking into Georgian fine arts. Parjiani’s light painting technique is metaphorical—he seeks and sheds light on fundamental human aspects or thoughts in the unlit metaphysical crevices of paintings, as best illustrated by his portraits. Portrait painting is one of the key genres in the artist’s oeuvre. He, seemingly echoing the style of family albums, portrays every impactful person from his life. The artist’s portraits depict his family members, friends, their children, and his loved ones in general. Our virtual exposition is designed to showcase rarities and illustrate the artist’s earlier quests and metamorphoses from the 1970s to 1991.

The artist, in his short life, has nonetheless succeeded in synthesizing Western and Georgian cultural uniqueness in portrait painting, among others. The images of people from three different decades are eloquent and inscrutable. Viewed in dynamic, the entire series of his portraits is constantly changing in style, being realistic and academic in some cases and naïve, ethnographic and, for the most part, utilizing Impressionist techniques in others. These portraits and the faces they feature tell us about concurrent reality, with the “crudeness” of the 20th century seemingly unable to edge out romanticism and hopeful sentiments. They exist in their own mythological world that they share with the artist himself.

Several portraits from this exhibition will be displayed publicly for the first time, including Nino Mikadze’s and Ketevan Mgeladze’s portraits.

A special place in the exposition is enjoyed by childhood portraits of sisters Natia and Anano Gokieli. Equally noteworthy from Parjiani’s series are five character portraits of Tamar Khundadze, the artist’s friend. Our virtual exposition also features Parjiani’s portraits preserved at the Georgian Museum of Fine Arts, including two self-portraits: one is an oil painting, and the other is a graphic work.

Our exposition, drawing on the foundation of these works, furthers Parjiani’s biography through visual study. These self-portraits lend biographic strokes to the exhibition’s fabric, somewhat underlining the artist’s individualistic perception of his own artistic quest. Parjiani’s self-portraits are like a tuning fork resonating with the people depicted in his works.

The paintings displayed at the exhibition come from the collections of the artist’s family, friends, private collectors, and the Georgian Museum of Fine Arts. Oil portraits, also included in our exposition, are rare among the artist’s works. The exhibition is preceded by a video bringing together archive materials about the artist, this way engaging the viewer closer with the world of Irakli Parjiani. The video and the exposition are accompanied by music composed by Nika Machaidze just for this occasion, this way enabling one artist to reach out to another and demonstrate the exhibition’s visual rhythm through music.

The exhibition’s key goal is to promote the works of the great Georgian artist Irakli Parjiani, especially in his anniversary year. This exhibition will help Georgian society see the artist and his artistic world from yet another, broader angle, and we hope that this digital exposition will inspire curators and art historians specializing in modern arts to continue studying the artist’s body of work. Importantly, Irakli Parjiani’s art, as part of national cultural heritage, must be linked to our modern day.