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Avto Meskhi: Private Acquaintance

16 February – 13 March, 2018

Project ArtBeat presents one of the prominent Georgian nonconformist 20th Century artist Avto Meskhi’s solo exhibition. The exposition includes mixed media works: collages, paintings and drawings made during 1984-2015. Meskhi’s works will be presented at Project ArtBeat exhibition space, 16 February – 13 March, 2018.

 “Avto Meskhi is a lesser-known painter in Georgia and abroad. Accordingly, Private Acquaintance is a very important event in the Georgian art scene.

The artist was born in Tbilisi, 1946 and lived and worked in Tbilisi and Rustavi. He starts painting in his childhood years and attends art lessons: “I was not able to paint as people liked, I explained that mountain was mountain and deliberately left the emptiness below” (photoessay.ge, 2016). Meskhi continues studies at I. Nikoladze Art School in the class of Ketevan Maghalashvili. He failed two times and was not able to pass exams for Tbilisi State Academy of Arts. “I am really sorry, that I did not study at the Academy, because I had a talent for painting” – mentioned in an interview with me, 2016. At that time, Avto was 70 years old, he already had lost the house, where he lived with his mother and spent last years of his life at refuge for elderly people in the city of Rustavi. At that time, except several people, nobody knew the painter. Although, he still had remained the positive attitude towards life. The artist was known as a childish, naïve person.

He never talked about his works, as if, everyday life was not interesting for him and lived in the surrealistic world. I think, actually, he thought in a different way.

As far as we know, Meskhi’s mother was Menshevik and she was exiled.  Of course, the artist experienced intense protest against the political regime and established as a non-conformist.

13-14-years old Meskhi meets Avto Varazi and reads foreign literature on modern art. In 1960s, new information and communication technologies doesn’t exist. Artists and art professionals organize salon meetings, artistic talks and work together. Supposedly, the artist looks works by Picasso, Mondrian, Malevich and other artists at that time. Meskhi makes friends with other artists, but his works are distinguished with individual manner and differ even from Soviet non-conformist art.

The artist Mamuka Tsetskhladze draws a parallel with Ilya Kabakov. He worked as an “unofficial” artist in Moscow, before immigrating to New York. Exhibition of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, NOT EVERYONE WILL BE TAKEN INTO THE FUTURE, was recently held at the Tate Modern London.

“I am based on realism, reality and real existence. I reflect life as I see it, not - fictionally. Though, art is not real, it leaves real world.”(Video-interview, Wato Tsereteli, Artarea/TV2.0, 2012). Meskhi escapes from reality through art. More precisely, he stays in surreal world which is more comfortable for him.

It's worth mentioning, that Meskhi's early works are close to the realistic painting, though we meet the signs of different directions of modern art. 

Meskhi’s works from 1984 are presented at the exhibition Private Acquaintance: abstract compositions on paper and cardboard, drawings with colorful and black pencils and collages. It should be noted, that Meskhi gives concrete names to his abstract compositions.

The name of the exhibition “Private Acquaintance” is a title of graphic portrait of a woman made in 1992.

1990-92 collages are the main part of Meskhi’s work.He uses objects of everyday life, such as: toys, cigarette boxes and other materials (plastics, wood, metal, glass, canvas).The main part of surface holds excerpts from newspapers and magazines, where the text plays a significant role. It’s important, that painter inevitably covers the parts of the text which is not interesting for him and fragmented words and dialogs acquire absurd character.. In different collages, we meet photos and texts about politics, rituals, brain diseases, pop and even porn stars.

In his collage (The Coryphaeus of Beauty 1991) we see the fragment of the text from the 'Yellow Pages'. Nia writes: “I ask to all outsiders, strange humanoids, to connect with me by the stars”.  The answer is fully visible: “You like us!!! Where are you? We are looking for you… Do you have a telephone? We are waiting for you! With all our heart, people with different thinking and behavior. Call and ask for us, Nia!”- If we talked with Avto at that period, he would have different attitude and confidence towards his work.

After 23 years, in 2015, the artist returns to the technique of collage and creates his last work Mirror. Here we meet daily life of the resident of developing country: details of low quality plastics and metal. Press is still interesting for Meskhi: the portraits of people– a girl in front of a white car and the story about the stress that she experienced after driving a car alone in the city. The inscription is important as well – “10-16 June 2015”.

All these texts and details indicates that Meskhi was thinking and analyzing reality a lot. However, he never discussed these issues with us, because he lived in a surreal life. The proof of that is the fact that, with a small amount taken from his house, he took 15kg dumbbell with him and climbed on mountain. Of course, it’s unclear for “ordinary” human. However, his works question the notion of “ordinary” and the views of society.

Meskhi spent last years of his life in extreme poverty. He was not able to look after his works and they were kept at his friends’. “Heiner Buhr bought my recent works, other paintings are kept at Mamuka Tsetskhladze’s house” (photoessay.ge, 2016).

Meskhi is remembering, that Varazi compared him to Pirosmani. In my opinion, as the Zdanevich brothers rescued Pirosmani’s artworks, such supporters for Meskhi were: Mamuka Tsetskhladze, Lia Shvelidze, Archil Darchia, Manana Vadachkoria, Wato Tsereteli, Heiner Buhr, Baia Tsikoridze and founders of Project ArtBeat. With their help, Avto was able to escape from Rustavi refuge. In his last years, the artist rented a house in Tbilisi and continued painting. In 2016, he died in an accident”. – Nino Macharashvili, Art Historian (She interviewed the artist for Project Artbeat project, 03.2016)

Solo and group exhibitions:

Meskhi worked as an ”unofficial”, underground artist in the Soviet Period. Although, from 1968, the artist takes part in group exhibitions: in Moscow (1974), St. Petersburg (1982). From 1990, Meskhi is a member of Georgian Painters Union and his works are presented in Bonn, Germany, the same year. The artist’s works were presented at Art Worker’s House, Baia Gallery in Tbilisi. Archil Darchia organized Meskhi’s solo exhibition at Dzveli Gallery, several times. The artists works were included in group exhibition Reframing the 80s at D. Shevardnadze Georgian National Gallery, Tbilisi, 2013.  Video created on the initiative of Wato Tsereteli and Artarea is a documentation of Meskhi’s life and work. His works are kept in the private collections.

Special thanks for promoting the exhibition to Mamuka Tsetskhladze and Lia Shvelidze.


Photo Credit: Sandro Sulaberidze