In May, 2015, I travelled to Mtskheta, Republic of Georgia to participate in an international art festival called “Paint for Georgia”. As soon as I was accepted, I realized I knew nothing about the country. I chose this photo because I soon learned that Georgia is famous for its hospitality and good food. “A Guest is From God” is a Georgian expression.
After being picked up at the airport by the festival organizers and hosts, brothers Giorgi (George) and Irakli Tabliashvili, we met co-organizer Ieva Vedeikaite and went for a meal in old Tbilisi. Georgia makes uniquely excellent wine, and while we were waiting for our meal, Irakli spirited Ieva and I across the street to a wine cellar for some speedy wine tasting.
Here in the West, we are hearing more lately about Georgian wine. Scientists have verified Georgia’s claim to be the “cradle of wine culture” as its beginnings have been traced back 8000 years. They have over 500 varietals found only in Georgia and methods unique to the region. We tried two white wines; the first, of Georgian grapes made in the European method, was crisp, light and smooth. The second, of the same grapes, made by the Georgian method, was a characteristic deep amber colour. It tasted similar, but deeper, earthier, and unlike any wine I’d ever tasted.
Back at the dinner table, I had my first taste of khachipuri. Described as Georgian pizza, it’s simply a chewy wheat crust leavened with yogurt, topped with Sulguni cheese and baked. And of course, more wine. I learned the traditional toast of eastern Georgia: “gagimarjos!” I had travelled two days by air to get to Georgia, so I was beginning to get giddy from lack of sleep, crossing several time zones, and a couple glasses of wine. Arriving at the guest house hotel was a welcome end to the evening. George showed me around, explained that he stocked the kitchen and that we were to help ourselves. He also introduced me to the hotel’s owner, Shote.
After settling into my room, I ventured down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Shote appeared from nowhere and insisted on making my “chai”. I knew three Kartuli (Georgian) words, and Shote as many in English. We managed to communicate somehow through sound effects and wild gesturing. He showed me his art (he is a well known ceramicist). Before I knew it, a 2 litre pop bottle of homemade wine emerged from the ‘fridge, and I had the opportunity to practice “gagimarjos!” again. And that brings us back to the photograph.
The next morning, I stumbled down to the kitchen, and Shote again materialised and began to prepare breakfast for me. I hadn’t yet learned the phrase “ara madloba” (no thank you), and he pretended not to understand my head shaking in the negative and waving of hands. This photo is the breakfast laid out for me alone, the sole guest of the hotel at this point. Now that’s hospitality.
How The Story Began
Now, the story of how “Paint for Georgia” began, and the amazing people behind it all. I wrote the following in the midst of participating in Paint for Georgia 2015 (an annual International painting festival held in Mtskheta, Georgia. I attended this amazing event again in 2016. The genesis of Paint for Georgia, was in Klaipeda, Lithuania, in 2012. “Isroildzon Baroti and Ieva Vedeikaite of Baroti Gallery created CROSSINGS, an international art project that used the concept of migration (of people and venue) to extend cultural, artistic and personal borders.
It was established as a network of artists and cultural organizations across Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia.
“This initiative is based on public artistic process and concentrates on interpersonal and social communication.” – Crossings 2013
One of the invited artists was Giorgi (George) Tabliashvili, a Georgian painter, illustrator and designer from Tbilisi, Georgia. George and Ieva (a media and installation artist from Lithuania, became friends and talked about bringing a similar festival to Georgia. In 2012 the first Connections, Paint for Georgia residency/exhibit took place in the historical city of Mtskheta. It has evolved and grown year by year. Soon, George’s brother Irakli Tabliashvili, a well known and respected journalist and broadcaster came on board as co-coordinator. This year, 2015, they hosted artists from India, Canada, Egypt, Lebanon, Poland, Holland, Iceland, Georgia and England. Ieva now lives in Iceland (no longer with the Baroti Gallery), and joins us as a participant and co-coordinator.
And The Painting Begins
We are working in a public venue; our paintings leaning against the house across the street from our hotel. It’s quietly active. Local people amble by occasionally, others make a special visit to see us at work. The weather is beautiful and conducive to creating outdoors. Earlier, I touched on Georgian hospitality. And how better to foster interpersonal and social communication than through sitting down together around a table three times a day; sharing thoughts, stories of home, our art, much laughter, and of course, endless plates of cheese, khachipuri, cups of tea and glasses of wine?
In Georgia, there is the Tamada. Traditionally in mixed groups it is “he” (among us non-traditional artists it is “she” as well) The Tamada
is the toastmaster/host at the table. The toasts are philosophical, thoughtful and
poetic, often rambling improvisations. They must be spontaneous. The Tamada can make another member of the party Alaverdi, asking them to give a toast. At our meals, we have each been honoured with the Alaverdi role; with themes such as freedom, friendship, artistic bonds, future artists and, again, friendship. It is a beautiful thing.
If I were to give a role to each of our organizers, I would say George is the heart and soul, Irakli is the dynamic machine that makes things happen, Ieva is a sort of guardian angel who quietly appears and patiently helps you untangle whatever needs untangling. And finally, I’ve been told that the quiet power behind the scenes that keeps everyone going and on track is George and Irakli’s mother, Marina. And so here we continue to paint, eat, drink wine, paint, tour incredible ancient sites, eat, drink more wine, tell stories, and paint. In short, what I call Good Old Creative Living.