“Z” - Ketevan Kintsurashvili’s ART LINE

DAVID KAKABADZE

(1889-1952)

A GREAT GEORGIAN MODERNIST


The victim of political pressure

 

He could have hardly imagined the situation, found on his return to motherland. The majority of his colleagues criticised him, critics attacked him. They did not like “some cubes and glasses” used in his works. Prior to being able to evaluate the situation David worked mainly for theatre and cinema. He also took part in decorating state parades. Georgia of those times was already part of the Communist camp. Some modernist “anachronisms” persisted by force of inertia. But the time was gradually approaching when the Iron Curtain was finally drawn and the Soviet republics were artificially locked from the remaining world. Since 1932 Social Realism was legalized as the only accepted style in art, but prior to that Kakabadze had managed to create in theatre such innovative work, as the design for a performance “Hop-La, We Live” (a play by E. Toller, Kutaisi-Batumi Theatre, director K. Marjanishvili, 1928). In this production he transferred the experiments in the form of collages, conducted in Paris, to the scene space. Fragments of movies, light effects, mirror balls as the source of reflection - all these participated in scenic acting and were the ones to determine conditions of play.


Ernst Toller. Houp-la. We’re Alive. Stage production designed by David. 1928.

In 1929 David Kakabadze created a design for the film „Svaneti Salt” (director M. Kalatozishvili, playscript by V. Tretyakov). This, certainly, is a black-and-white, silent film, with subtitles. Kakabadze’s work in this film is a real masterpiece of cinema art. Through the dramaturgy of lighting and rhythm of filming objects turn into abstractions, though nowhere are they made dim, no deformation occurs. Everything is readable. This picture, with its abstract-surrealist character, finds parallel with Luis Bunuel’s and Salvador Dali’s “Un Chien Andalou”, created in the same 1929 and considered to be the first Surrealist film. Kakabadze could not have known about it. He, as a thinker artist, followed with intuition and mirrored the epoch.


D. Kakabadze. Yellow Mountain. 1934.

From 1930’ies David Kakabadze returned to the theme of landscape. He travelled much in various districts of Georgia. He drew, took photos, even created a film on Georgian monuments, but the Moscow commission rejected it on the pretext that it was not based on Marxist ideology. The picture of a great historic and artistic value was clean gone.


Shooting the film Monuments of Georgian Material Culture. 1930.

To satisfy requirements Kakabadze included the image of electric power plant into Imeretian “carpet-like” landscapes. They did not like them too on the ground that the builders of Socialism were not represented there. In one of the pictures, under Imereti mountain he painted demonstrators with streamers (“Meeting in Imereti”, 1942). On the streamers there were portraits of Lenin, Stalin and Beria. It is a historic canvas. After the death of Stalin, when Khruschev announced a fight against “personality cult”, on Kakabadze’s canvas in the museum depository Beria’s and Stalin’s portraits were dyed over.


D. Kakabadze. Demonstration in Imeretia. 1942.

 

David Kakabadze led a wide educational activity. He taught at Tbilisi Academy of Arts, wrote critical essays, presented papers. But in 1948 the Moscow commission arrived in the Academy of Arts. Subsequently they wrote in David Kakabadze’s work record book, that he was not able to bring up the students according to principles of Socialist Realism. The “formalist” artist, who presented danger for the Soviet system, was dismissed from the Academy. Left without salary he approached various authorities or educational institutions (including secondary schools) with the request to entrust him, at least for three years, with the duties of teaching some discipline, for instance, drawing, drafting, biology, physics or French, so that he could subsequently be entitled to receiving pension. But his pleas met with no response in all echelons.


David at the Tbilisi Academy of Arts. 1940.

 

Deliberations on Socialist Realism and the wish to come up with a rational solution of the existing situation brought David Kakabadze back to the avant-garde creative discovery. He decided to make a three-dimensional portrait of Stalin. In 1950 the artist invented an innovative method of obtaining a three-dimensional image from photos and other types of flat images. In David Kakabadze’s workshop both theoretical description, which is published, and small-size sketches, made by him, are preserved.
According the design the image on the photo is dissected into mutually parallel vertical intersectional planes: starting from the most voluminous feature in the foreground (namely, tip of the nose), towards the background, passing, alternately, eyes and ears, including hair. Each chosen segment was to be taken (or drawn) on the transparent glass. David Kakabadze made several variants and in each separate case he used 12 pieces of glass. Subsequently, each piece of glass will be placed in the same sequence and at such distance from one another, as to correlate with reality, and the construction is transparently lighted. The image obtained is perceived realistically, at that in three dimensions.

Sketches of this draft (9 x 12 cm) make it apparent how impressive a three-dimensional image, made of relevantly spotlighted large-size tiles, would have been. It should have been an innovative sculpture, a new word in art. In David Kakabadze’s creative work it would have represented a logical sequel of his artistic quests and inventions. This invention may be regarded as the first pre-laser holography.
Why should Kakabadze have been denied the opportunity to implement his design? It might be due to a simple reason – his method revealed avant-garde thinking. That something, which David Kakabadze was offering to the Soviet officials, represented continuation in art of the initiatives, that the Red Revolution had wiped out at a scoop. Even if it had been Stalin’s portrait, at that perceived realistically, this work by its form introduced novelty, most zealously opposed by the totalitarian regime. Free initiative was not permitted. The design failed to be realized. In a short while David Kakabadze died of cardiac infarction.


D. Kakabadze. Red Mountain. 1944.


The End

The Imereti landscapes, created by David Kakabadze, are simultaneously a concrete and generalized image of nature. Such Imereti we see in reality, but at the same time we will not be able to see in reality the exact points from whence this or that view is accurately represented. Rather than making a copy of a viewable landscape Kakabadze depicts its essence. In this context his “Red Mountain” finds parallel with the series of Hocusai’s Fuji Mountain. Hokusai represents Fuji from various points and in neither case does he depict it as it looks, showing it to us in the way he perceives it. Nevertheless, according to one author, when he is far from Japan and tries to recollect what Fuji looks like, he remembers Hokusai’s sheets. This is how the nature’s inner soul is generalized (The Hokusai Sketch-Books, Selections from the Manga, by J.A.Michener, Vermont & Tokyo, 1971, p. 128-132). The right to do it is given to Hokusai and Kakabadze by their stable, classic thinking. Kakabadze, deep in love with nature, represents it to us with balanced vision and consciousness. Rather than applying outward expressive means and reflecting personal emotions, he elevates whatever he has seen or experienced.


David at the Bagrati Church. 1950.


David Kakabadze is a figure of world scale. His art is a great spiritual and material treasure. If widely represented it will enrich the whole intellectual world and encourage and broaden the realm of thinking of many artists and scientists.
Had David Kakabadze been given the opportunity to stay in the Tbilisi Academy of Arts and share to the full the experience with his students, at present both the Academy of Arts and contemporary Georgian art would have been much more consistent with time.


Ketevan Kintsurashvili

Art Historian

Winter, 2005

 

 
Ketevan Kintsurashvili’s monograph “David Kakabadze, a 20th Century Classic” was published in St. Petersburg in 2002.

Also visit: Georgian Art. Past and Present