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Irakli Parjiani Sacred Artist's of the New Testament John Gospel

kristena briem-west anthroposophical art russian artist

Little Irakli grew up in the environment of artists and started painting at an early age. He attended preparatory courses in Tbilisi and after leaving school he took the entrance exams at the Department of Painting of the Academy of Art. Soon after, the family sold their private house with its adjacent ancient Svanetian tower in Mestia and moved to Tbilisi. Irakli missed the house of his childhood and throughout his life regretted that it had been sold. 


Irakli’s father, Spiridon Parjiani was a representative of the Party hierarchy and occupied an important political post in Svaneti. His mother, Sophio Japaridze, was a teacher of German in Mestia state school. Irakli was the third and the youngest son in the Parjiani family. It was very often that people involved in the cultural field, artists and art scholars from Tbilisi, as well as from all over the former Soviet Union visited this hospitable family. Spiridon Parjiani had a hobby: he spent most of his free time carving wood. It is noteworthy that woodcarving has always been very popular in this part of Georgia and remarkable masters of this art are still numerous in Svaneti. 


Therefore, it is no wonder that all the three sons of Spiridon Parjiani and Sophio Japaridze focused their interest on the arts. After leaving school, Irakli Parjiani’s elder brother, Marat Parjiani continued his studies at the Department of Painting of the Tbilisi Academy of Art. Later, the middle brother, Goven Parjiani also decided to study and master woodcarving and metal chasing in the Art Academy. 


Irakli Parjiani studied in the Academy of Arts from 1968 to 1974; for the young artist those were the years of continuous quest, self-knowledge and self-assertion. 

Despite the Soviet “iron curtain”, young artists still managed to collect information on the ongoing processes and tendencies in world art; in those days it was hard to acquire high quality catalogues and without a special permit you would not succeed in obtaining desired materials on the arts. 

The Parjiani family lived in 29, Pavlov Street (now: Kazbegi Street), in a three room Soviet type flat or a “Khrushchovka”, as it was called then. 

In 1971, at the age of 50, Irakli’s mother, Sophio Japaridze died; this had a great impact on the 21 year old painter, because his mother was his spiritual friend. His feelings and emotions are overwhelmingly reflected in his poems and writings. This is the period when Irakli Parjiani joins the Tbilisi Anthroposophist circle together with his friends Irakli Ramishvili and Jarji Balanchivadze and this is when he first becomes acquainted with the New Testament.
From then onwards, in his comprehension or creative thinking he never parts with biblical themes. It is true that Anthroposophist thinking is rather a world-outlook than a religion, but it should be emphasized that in an epoch of persecution and banning of faith and religion, during the reign of the Soviet ideology, it was the Anthroposophist thinking that proved instrumental for Irakli to study the New Testament and contemplate Christianity in a profound manner. In addition to this, he studied diligently Goethe’s Theory on Colors. 


After Sophio Japaridze’s death, the life of the four men – the father and his three sons was far from easy. 


The elder brother, Marat Parjiani, contracted tuberculosis in 1971 and very soon after, in 1972, Irakly was infected by this illness too. From then onwards, endless, exhausting and unbearable years of treatment in different clinics started in Irakli Parjiani’s life. Each time, the young artist was tormented by being detached from his beloved occupation. “Creative activity or health?”: this was the dilemma that Irakli Parjiani had to face in the 70s and he opted in favor of painting, his “beloved” profession. At the age of 21, he wrote: “My profession is my God; I know I won’t last until old age”. 



In 1973, Irakli married. In 1974, he and his first wife, Manana Gordiashvili had a son – Beqa Parjiani. First he lived together with his family in the small flat in Pavlov Street together with his father and brothers, but later, he moved his family to a flat in the Krtsanisi suburb of Tbilisi. 

In 1974, he graduated from Tbilisi Academy of Art. In 1977, after divorcing his wife, Irakli moved back to the Pavlov Street flat and set up working space in a small room, divided into two by a curtain. In 1977, the painter presented to the Academy his diploma work – “The Pastor’s Family”, which was rejected because of its religious content. Later, Irakli presented another picture - “The Family” before the commission and finally, he was granted a diploma. After this, he engaged himself in free creative activity. 


In 1978 he starts working on copying the Gospel of St John. Irakli Parjiani was well acquainted with world miniature painting: Georgian, Byzantine and Persian art. Hence, miniature turned out to be his most beloved genre. This is how Irakli comments upon his miniature illustrations of the Gospel: “Those are sketches for future large scale paintings”. Irakli Parjiani was diligently preparing himself to undertake this large-scale project during a whole year. He studied old Georgian manuscripts at the Institute of Manuscripts of Georgia and worked systematically on perfecting his calligraphy. Simultaneously, he translated the Testament by Emil Bock from Russian into Georgian, copied Bock’s text and attached it to the illustrations which he made in oil pastel colors.


It should be emphasized that in the entire Georgian and post-Soviet school of painting, Parjiani was the first to discover and use oil pastels. In the 80s he starts producing the desired pastel colors for his pictures and thus, paved the way to the specific, Parjiani style in painting. After completing his work on St John’s Gospel, in 1979, the artist gives the form of a book to Mark’s Gospel using an entirely distinctive technique and so, it is totally different from John’s Gospel. Irakly Parjiani was planning to copy all four Gospels.


Therefore, in the 80s, he started working on St Luke’s Gospel, although he proved unable to fulfill this project. The illustrations to St Luke’s Gospel are made in herbal paints and the style is close to fresco painting. All the four Gospels were planned to be accomplished according to a characteristic vision and manner and the materials and artistic devices used were diverse in expression too. 


In 1979, Parjiani married for the second time. In 1981, a daughter, Sophio Parjiani was born to Irakli Parjiani and Asmat Pitskhelauri-Parjiani, a scholar of German language and Literature and translator. 


After two years of copying the New Testament, Irakli’s friend, a historian Shio Oniani, gave him a copy of an old Svanetian manuscript and it was from this document that Irakly learned about his ancestors, whose trade had been the making of copies of the New Testament. This old historic manuscript is even quoted by a renowned Georgian scholar Eqvtrime Takaishvili in his work: “Archeological Expedition in Lechkhumi-Svaneti”, Paris, 1938 (p. 303). The old Svanetian manuscript dates back to the year 1031. A copy of the Martvili Testament was made by Ivane Parjiani in 1050, in which he mentions himself as Parjaniani: “I, Ivane Parjaniani copied this Holy Testament… in my own hand…” According to other sources, this manuscript was presented as a gift to Saint John’s church in Svaneti. The church of Saint John or church or Ianishi still stands in Irakli Parjiani’s father’s village, Latali, and is regarded as a family church of the Parjiani clan. 



In 1991, a few years before his death, the painter copied the John’s Gospel anew and this time, used the canonic text as a basis; he changed the titles and decoration and also replaced some of the full-format illustrations. 

In 1983, Irakli Parjiani left for Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) for treatment but in December of 1984, he intentionally cut short his treatment course and returned to Georgia, although, under vigorous pressure from his relatives and friends, he continued the treatment first in Tbilisi and later, in 1984-85, in Abastumani, the mountainous village, especially recommended for TB patients. Friends insisted that he should be accommodated in a separate ward, which was very soon turned by Irakli into an art atelier. 



In 1985, Irakli Parjiani returns to Tbilisi and with his wife and daughter moves to live in Nutsubidze Plato II. In the attic of a sixteen floor block, Parjiani’s four friends - all artists - started their work and thus, in that “garret”, Irakly turned to painting once more and resumed his work on illustrations. 

In 1986, by invitation of his friends, for the first time in his life, he travels beyond the borders of the Soviet Union to East Germany. Together with his wife and a friend he travels to the most picturesque towns of East Germany: Jena, Weimar, Erfurt, Naumburg, East Berlin and others. He spends almost a day in the Goethe Museum and the Cranach Museum and he enjoys the chance of visiting the Dresden Gallery to view the masterpieces of the representatives of the Netherlands’ school of painting. 



On April 9 of 1989, he participates in a protest rally in the center of Tbilisi which was brutally dissolved by the Soviet troops by using poisonous gas; the asphyxiating gas further damaged Irakli Parjiani’s lungs. Nevertheless, he made no objection to the proposal of paramount importance to him and left for West Berlin in the summer of 1989, where, eventually, the joint exhibition of the three Georgian artists, Koka Ignatov, Gogi Aleksi-Meskhishvili and Irakli Parjiani took place. 

It was in West Berlin that the outstanding collection of epic paintings known as the “Berlin Cycle” was created. 

He visited the East part of the German demarcation wall in the 80s and it was then that he was able to see the famous customs office – “Check-Point-Charlie” from the eastern side. In a few years, while staying in West Berlin Irakli sees the exhibits of the Check-Point-Charlie Museum and overwhelmed by the tragic fate of thousands of people he creates a painting which he called Check-Point-Charlie; this picture is a symbolic presentation of unity of a country and nation torn into two parts and very soon after, he happens to witness the reunification process of Germany. 



Despite the doctors’ prohibition to work with oil and water colors, Irakli continues to paint; in effect, his health becomes much worse and he ends up in the Zehlendorf Clinic in Berlin; there, he again, voluntarily cuts short his treatment and two months later returns to Tbilisi. “Without painting my life is death… I must continue my work”, said the painter. 

In 1991, he spends the summer together with his family in the village of Manglisi near Tbilisi and creates a series of graphic drawings, the so called “Manglisi Cycle”. In December of 1991, he is hospitalized again and there, in the hospital ward, he continues working on a “Children’s Bible”, the book being written by his German friend Irene Johansson. Irakli’s last work from this cycle - “Jonah’s Birth” was left unfinished. 

On December 22, 1991, civil war broke out in Tbilisi and on December 23, at 3 o’clock in the morning, while the “Painters’ House” in Tbilisi center was in flames, at the age of 41, died the master, one of the outstanding representatives of modern Georgian painting, Irakli Parjiani. 



Despite his short life, Irakli Parjiani left a solid artistic legacy. His life and work can be assessed as a reflection of the desires and aspirations of an artist, about which Iavlenski wrote: “I comprehended that an artist, by means of his art as well as by the forms and use of colors, must reveal the divine within himself. This is why a work of art is a visualization of God and art itself signifies a continuous craving for the deity”. Indeed, craving for the unachievable is the lot of the elect. 

Exhibitions 
1986 – Retrospective of Georgian Art, Central House of Painters, Moscow; 
1987 
– “Exhibition of the Generations”, Painters’ House, Tbilisi; 
– Joint event, Gallery “Empedoclo Resstivo”, Palermo, Italy; 
1990 – “From Pirosmani to the Vanguard”, Gallery “Brock”, Barcelona; 
1994 – Personal, Gallery “Vacha”, Tbilisi; 
1995 
Personal, Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland; 
– Personal, Gallery of Modern arts, Tbilisi; 
– Personal, TMC Art Gallery, Tbilisi; 
– Joint, Gallery “Orient”, Tbilisi; 
1996 – Personal, Gallery “Vacha”, Tbilisi; 
– Chapelle de la Sorbonne Paris France sponsored by E.Shevardnadze Foundation for democracy and revival and its french branch headed by mm Nina Akhvlediani Sevardnadze; 
– Personal, TMC Art Gallery, Tbilisi; 
1997 
– Personal, from private collections, “Old Gallery”, Tbilisi; 
– Personal, Still-life, “Old Gallery”, Tbilisi; 
1998 
– Gregory univ. Supported by mm Ketevan Bagrationi Orsini and Nino Akhvlediani Shevardnadze; 
– Personal, National Gallery, Tbilisi; 
– Personal, from private collections, “Old Gallery”, Tbilisi; 
– Personal, Illustrations,”Old Gallery”, Tbilisi; 
– Joint, Gallery of Modern Art, Tbilisi; 
2000 
– Joint, Gallery of Modern Art, Tbilisi; 
– Jubilee exhibitions, simultaneously in 5 galleries: Personal, Photo archives, “Old Gallery”, Tbilisi; 
Personal, Illustrations, ”N” Gallery, Tbilisi; Personal, Abstraction, TMC Art Gallery, Tbilisi; Personal, Berlin Cycle, National Gallery, Tbilisi; Personal, Graphic Cycles, Gallery “Sharden”, Tbilisi; 
– Exhibition of Georgian Artists in Pirmassen, Germany; 
2002 – Unknown Pictures, “Hobby” Gallery, Tbilisi; 
2006 – Personal, TMC Art Gallery; 

Awards 
1992 – State Award of the Republic of Georgia; 
1996 – Pirosmani Prize. 
Irakli Parjiani’s works are to be found in private galleries and collections in Georgia, Russia, America and Europe. 

Contribution 
Irakli Parjiani belongs to a small group of outstanding artists of the 20th century. When mentioning his name, it is not his works that come to mind first but the bridge that he constructed between the past and the future of art and we imagine the artist himself as being a beacon in the centre of this junction. 

Irakli Parjiani’s works appeared in Georgian painting in the 1970s and, strangely enough, he was immediately highly acclaimed as an artist with his own style realized in his own world of colors and images. His art is varied and multi-colored in artistic value as well as in the uniqueness of the themes and in the variety of the genres employed. Everything that by its form and significance fitted his vast intellectual outlook and offered great opportunities to his powerful imagination was incorporated within the sphere of his interests. 

Presumably, this explains the fact that Irakli Parjiani’s style is unique and easily recognizable not only due to its artistic features but because of its emotional and spiritual contents. It is equally exciting for the viewers of different generations, tastes and aspirations. 

Irakli Parjiani’s art can hardly be divided according to chronological or any other possible principles. The painter is in permanent quest with regard to the genre and all his attempts are directed to broadening its traditional borders: he seems to be plunged into looking for an appropriate style in the genre painting.

The pictures painted by the artist in pastel and in oil colors reflect a calm and quiet co-existence of the elements of still-lifes and landscapes, and in a mixture with unreal components a dream like effect is created. His boats, resting on a stony coast in the background of huge and strange flowers are part of the world where fairy tales turn to reality and this reality is undergoing a magic transformation almost in front of our eyes.




The painter’s will often subdues incompatible and opposing features and by way of their synthesis achieves quite unexpected effects. He is trying to find strength in fragile things, stability in lightness and power in flexible and subtle objects; thus, his pictures are free of homogeneity. The still-life's with various bouquets of strange flowers seem light and aerial, as if put together accidentally. Their composition can hardly be changed and the structure of the flowers outlined only in general contours is clear cut and strong. 





Irakli Parjiani is never and nowhere interested in one or two features of an object or event or even in the essence of things but his interest always lies in both sides of the borderline separating concrete realities; these sides are interesting and significant per se, but life, which is unique and picturesque, can only be born in the midst of their junction point. 

ODDSSEY


While designing books, being a co-author of the narrative, I. Parjiani shares deeply the style and aspiration of the work and on the other hand, as a reader and interpreter, he manages to maintain freedom by way of manifesting a clear-cut individuality. The books designed by him are totally different from each other, although his peculiar characters and the indistinct manner of painting make the author’s identity unmistakably recognizable. Freedom of expression and the capacity of such transformation of styles derives its roots from the complete uniqueness of the personality of the painter. 



Co-existence of the concrete and the general in Irakli Parjiani’s works becomes more striking when he is engaged in painting pictures on Christian themes. The annunciation, crucifixion and the Last Supper are the themes embodied by him and not only once. Irakli Parjiani’s creative talent is marked with a remarkable sense of spirituality. Therefore, it is not strange that all his art is saturated with a keen interest in religious themes. While viewing these pictures, it becomes clear as to what extent his artistic “language” and the pallet are growing richer and more perfect and how skillfully he masters the infinite color spectrum.

His ability to condense each color in order to enable it to emanate light is outstanding. His special attitude to light is reflected in all his works and ideas; he also emphasizes that his artistic tool is not color but light itself. This is the factor that defines the remarkable splendor of the colors of his pallet. Sometimes scratched and sometimes almost carved lines of the surface of his works seem to be spontaneously elaborated. Such an effect of free expression, though utterly modern, yet forms a junction of the richest artistic traditions; this is an additional feature making Irakli Parjiani a leader in contemporary Georgian painting. His art responds to the cardinal problem of the 20th century - the interrelationship of the new and the old or in other words, of tradition and innovation and by its harmony, closeness to nature and to emotional explores the yet unexhausted opportunities of real painting. 


It seems that for Irakly Parjiani the world was not segmented or divided by any type of borders; life itself meant unity and wholeness to him and reflection of such completeness was his paramount mission. By his work he was somewhat “ahead” of his time, yet he was creating art full of lively artistic impulses which in the course of time and in the context of modern art are acquiring more and more exciting features. Irakli Parjiani’s world represents an imprint of harmonious co-existence of the personal and artistic characteristic features of the artist; the master who is well aware of the price of sincerity and who is in permanent quest of spiritual values does not need any superlative degree of praise; for posterity the simple title: “Irakli Parjiani, the painter” would be sufficient reward. 


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From a Sothebys Catalogue"

CATALOGUE NOTE

Irakli Parjiani is a pivotal figure in Georgian art. He belonged to a generation of artists who revived Georgian easel painting and whose fierce opposition to Soviet ideology and censorship rekindled an interest in religion, aristocratic heritage and national identity. One of the great inspirations for these artists and Parjiani in particular was the tradition of Georgian fresco painting. Born in Mestia, a mountainous region of Georgia that is famous for its distinctive style of religious art, the artist was a descendant of the medieval Latali Parjiani fresco painters.

Arguably the artist's signature painting style comes in part from this deeply embedded genetic knowledge. In 1978 Parjiani joined the Tbilisi Anthroposophist Circle and was greatly influenced by its prevalent concepts. Encouraged to investigate the spiritual world, the artist explored religious motifs, often returning to the same subject matter:  ‘Sometimes I think I am through with the theme of Annunciation, but the more variations I paint, the more ideas crop up and it has become an endless, inexhaustible theme in my work.
Concentrating on one subject for its profound conceptualization and perception is by far more important to me than a rapid progression and variety.” Parjiani rethinks and reinvents Christian iconography and therefore assigns it a place in contemporary art. In employing the Christian colour symbolism, the artist approaches colour philosophically. White plays a particular role in Parjiani’s oeuvre; he uses it to portray a range of emotions. White epitomises chastity and purity, but also holiness and divinity, which in traditional fresco painting is signified by gold.

 

Parjiani moved to Berlin in 1989, where he worked for a year. What later became known as the Berlin Cycle was completed a year before his death. It has come to exemplify the final stage of Parjiani’s career and is arguably the culmination of his oeuvre, encapsulating his comprehension, persecitve and experiences of the world. Characteristically, the cycle revolves around religious themes, landscapes and abstractions. By this time, Parjiani had already painted a series of portraits and flowers, illustrated the Gospel, Goethe’s Faust, Homer's Odyssey and Galaktion Tabidze’s poetry as well as various Georgian and German myths and fairy tales. T

he Metaphysical Landscape ties into the overall feel of the cycle; it is hard to decipher the composition, the objects seem to be reflected in water with their weight and physicality removed. The canvas emanates the majestic calmness of a snowy landscape and of a taintless soul. This is the mysterious serenity of being; everything has grown torpid while waiting for resurrection.

"I have a feeling that painting is far more straightforward than we imagine." Irakli Parjiani



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After two years of copying the New Testament, Irakli’s friend, a historian Shio Oniani, gave him a copy of an old Svanetian manuscript and it was from this document that Irakly learned about his ancestors, whose trade had been the making of copies of the New Testament. This old historic manuscript is even quoted by a renowned Georgian scholar Eqvtrime Takaishvili in his work: “Archeological Expedition in Lechkhumi-Svaneti”, Paris, 1938 (p. 303). The old Svanetian manuscript dates back to the year 1031. 

A copy of the Martvili Testament was made by Ivane Parjiani in 1050, in which he mentions himself as Parjaniani: “I, Ivane Parjaniani copied this Holy Testament… in my own hand…” According to other sources, this manuscript was presented as a gift to Saint John’s church in Svaneti. The church of Saint John or church or Ianishi still stands in Irakli Parjiani’s father’s village, Latali, and is regarded as a family church of the Parjiani clan.

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One cannot help but wonder,  could he have incarnated 900 years later in his own FAMILY LINEAGE to finish or continue the work on the John Gospel?  


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