5 Artists on Niko Pirosmani
“The work is showing the Georgian culture, but I think his paintings are very universal.”
Niko Pirosmani (1862-1918) is Georgia’s most famous artist and a mythical figure in the story of early modernist art. Five acclaimed artists – Thea Djordjadze, Tal R, Andro Wekua, Dana Schutz and Mamma Andersson – offer their thoughts on the unique paintings by the Georgian artist. Read more …
“The work carries the strengths through the centuries,” says artist Thea Djordjadze. She was born in Georgia in 1971 and says, “It’s like Pirosmani is there with you all life.” Fellow Georgian artist Andro Wekua (b. 1977) agrees and adds: “It gives you a source of life and a kind of vulnerability, too, and an openness to the future, which we really need in Georgia.” He continues: “They’re fresh, and they’re open. They inspire to go forward.” Danish artist Tal R (b. 1967) claims: “Immediately, I feel jealous because I think the works are really beautiful.” Tal R has even made a painting inspired by a photocopy of a Pirosmani work he once saw at a Georgian restaurant.
Niko Pirosmani is primarily known for using a black Vax cloth to paint on. The result is “startling”, as American Dana Schutz (b. 1976) puts it. “There’s such a clarity and strange beauty about them,” she says and continues: “It’s almost like as if he paints the subject, and it appears because his brush hits the surface of the painting.” Andro Wekua adds: “I feel like he painted no more or no less than whatever it needed.” Swedish painter Mamma Andersson (b. 1962) says: “I’ve also noticed that he sometimes leaves the black background so that it forms contours around his motifs. Almost like lines.”
Animals are often seen in many of the paintings of Pirosmani, although it is unclear if he ever saw some of them in real life, for example, a giraffe or a lion. “He typically concentrates on just one thing,” Mamma Andersson says. “You have a feeling that he looks at the animals, but he has never really seen them,” Tal R says, and Dana Schutz agrees: “I always like that with older paintings when they would be an idea of what a lion looks like, but it’s completely this misinterpretation. I think paintings are a really wonderful space for that.”
“He also depicts his people and its history in his paintings. He’s a bit like a time machine.” Niko Pirosmani painted over 100 years ago, but all five artists agree that their still very relevant today. Tal R says: “That’s the great thing about art. That from one perspective, it’s a hundred years ago. But from where I see it, it’s just five minutes ago, just around the corner.” Thea Djordjadze notes: “He is just a witness of life.”
Niko Pirosmani (1862/3–1918) was a self-taught painter born in the Kakheti Province in eastern Georgia. He lost his parents when he was a child and was taken in by a middle-class family with whom he moved to Tbilisi. Here he learned to read and write and took an early interest in painting. After jobs at the railway and as a shop owner, he began a nomadic life around 1900. Living on the fringes of society, Pirosmani wandered around Tbilisi with art supplies in his suitcase, painting signs, portraits and frescoes in restaurants, bars and shops until he died in 1918. Following his death, Pirosmani’s stardom continued to rise. He was now seen as a key figure, initially by the avant-garde and then in broader and broader circles. Today, he has become a Georgian icon. Most recently, his work was shown at the Albertina Museum in Vienna in 2018 and at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark.
Thea Djordjadze, Andro Wekua, Tal R and Dana Schutz were interviewed by Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen. Mamma Andersson was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner. All interviews took place in the winter of 2023 in connection to the exhibition ‘Niko Pirosmani – Black Light’ at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark.
Camera: Jarl Therkelsen Kaldan, Simon Wehye and Rasmus Quistgaard
Edited and produced by: Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2023.
Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet and C.L. Davids Fond og Samling.
The exhibition ‘Niko Pirosmani – Black Light’ is organised jointly by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel. It has been made possible by the generous cooperation of the Georgian National Museum and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth of Georgia and is supported by Infinitart Foundation.
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