Searching For Light And Color: An Interview With Tamuna Sirbiladze On The Event Of Her Untimely Passing

During my career interviewing and writing about artists, musicians, and designers, I have come to the understanding that creative people don't always have personalities that match their artistic outputs. Hermann Nitsch, in opposition to the violent imagery he depicts, is a quiet and cerebral old man in conversation. David Lynch infamously projects a mid-western "aw shucks" attitude that seems perfectly out of sync with the nightmarish dreamscapes that define his films. But last summer I ventured to Half Gallery to view the first U.S. solo show of Georgian painter Tamuna Sirbiladze. Unlike the previous examples, when I talked to Sirbiladze I met a woman who seemed exactly like the paintings that she so beautifully rendered: warm, embracing, and emanating a powerful and transfixing spirit. 

I am utterly torn up to hear of Sirbiladze's passing today at the age of 45, due to Cancer-related complications. During the short conversation that I had with her, I already felt connected to her. She had a way of making you feel like you've always known her, and that more than anything, she wanted to be known. She wanted to know the world. She seemed full of curiosity and wonder. Of the many artists I've gotten to know, she was one of the few to drop me a line on Facebook or Instagram. It might sound vain to say, but I can't believe that I will no longer be seeing those notifications.

It seems criminal that Sirbiladze is no longer with us just at the moment that she was starting to gain recognition for her paintings. Her paintings, which veered between the abstract and the figurative, had remarkable beauty to them. They filled me with nostalgia: gazing into those vague figures highlighted by muted shades of bright colors always made me think of my childhood, spent by the beaches of Cape Cod or swimming in ponds buried deep in nature. Her paintings were full of love but never soft. There was pain in them, but also a sense of hope. She seemed to feel life very deeply, and her art will be lasting testament to that fact. 

Adam Lehrer: Have you been to New York before?

Tamuna Sirbiladze: Many times, but this is the first time for my show.

Lehrer: How did you and Bill get together to put the show together?

Sirbiladze: It was when I was here last night. A friend of mine helped make the contact. Bill and I then exchanged emails. And then it just sort of came together.

Lehrer: Is there anything in particular that attracted you to Half Gallery?

Sirbiladze: I loved it because it’s such a domestic feeling place. It’s like home. And my works are so expressive and not at all domestic. It proved to be a nice contrast.

Lehrer: It seems like with a lot of art dealers, business is the bottom line. But with Bill, he’s a real art lover.

"...Searching for color and light is my main engagement." 

Sirbiladze: Yes, he really loves art!

Lehrer: So how has putting together this show compared to others that you’ve been involved with?

Sirbiladze: Well, Bill really knew my work. For example there was this wool painting. Bill was kind of shocked at first, but then he loved. So, I see how he is very in tune with art. Not only with thinking and knowing, but also with intuition. He has strong visual knowledge.

Lehrer: Talking about the art itself, it’s different than much of the art I’ve seen recently. It’s a little abstract. How did you first get involved with art, and when did you start painting?

Sirbiladze: I was 13 when I started.

Lehrer: And you’re from Georgia?

Sirbiladze: Yes, and my father was a painter. And I knew at age 13 that I would be an artist. I started doing still lives. The first time I put a brush in my hand I knew that was what I’d do.

Lehrer: And you studied art in school?

Sirbiladze: Yes, I was fascinated by art. But I had to learn about it through books. In Georgia, there were no museums. But to see original art in books was my favorite thing.

Lehrer: Who were some of the painters that left an early impression on you?

Sirbiladze: I loved Rembrandt, Goya, and the impressionists.

Lehrer: Bill mentioned something to me about pomegranate, and that it’s a symbol used by a film director?

Sirbiladze: Yes, Sergei Parajanov. The pomegranate is a symbol of the country of Georgia, because there are some many pomegranate trees there. Many artists use it as a symbol. I had to sneak it in there.

Lehrer: So it’s like your homage to your country?

Sirbiladze: Yes, it’s like a subject itself. I didn’t want to make it as an art statement; I wanted it to exist as itself.

Lehrer: Does your home country filter much into your ideas?

Sirbiladze: You know, it works itself into the ideas.

Lehrer: Your color palette is quite beautiful, blues and red always on white background. Do you have a special relationship with color?

Sirbiladze: Yes, color is the reason that I started painting. Searching for color and light is my main engagement. 

Tamuna Sirbiladze's work is currently involved in a group exhibition, entitled Imagine, at Brand New Gallery in Milan until April 2. You can also view our coverage of her debut solo show in the United States here. Text, interview and photographs by Adam Lehrer.