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Ketevan Kintsurashvili

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Irakli Parjiani – The Post-Modernist Scriptor

The art of Irakli Parjiani, in substance, by its philosophy is the fruit of a post-modern epoch. He died in 1991 at the age of 41. His creative work spread at full fling in 1970-80’ies and is the reflection of epoch-making characteristics of this very period. In the last years of his life he created abstract compositions in which the thoughts, provoked in the artist by the approaching death and ways, opened by deep feeling of world, persistent search for the answer to basic questions are reflected. These compositions are very profound and contain meaningful features. 

Abstraction in Parjiani’s art originated as organically, as everything else. He never did anything under compulsion or driven by trivial interest. In his art all means follow creative search, which is constantly the outcome of thought, evolves with thought and speculation. At that this speculation with Parjiani is quiet, dialogue proceeds with his own self, in the process of personal insight into mystical, with no external noise. He follows thought, seeking and obtaining artistic result, which, due to this deep thought, is never superficial and never has a single meaning. And even if we try to clarify some sign, we do not do it for the purpose facilitating its contents, but for displaying the complexity of post-modernistic thinking. The sign per se creates the need for semantic research.

Whether this or that sign has been clarified “correctly,” no one will be able to tell us now, much to our regret. But post-modernistic work neither submits to the established rules, nor prohibits their free interpretation. Myth may be interpreted in different ways. The main thing is to follow certain logic and be protected from state of chaos.

Abstract works are mostly regarded as formalistic works, worth of insight from the viewpoint of form. While the whole history of abstract art demonstrates that great abstractionists are great philosophers. Irakli Parjiani is also a philosopher and philosophizing brought him to abstraction. Many layers represent one of the accomplishments of Irakli’s works. These layers arise from the depth of thought. Irakli fixes with thought a trail passed by him, which is multifaceted, does not have a single meaning and thus is reflected in layers, lines, symbols, strokes.

A piece of art always dictates the  means of research. It raises a certain problem and draws our attention to the most essential thing in it. With this I wish to underline the fact that structuralistic models were not a starting point for me regarding Parjiani’s abstractions. His works have themselves tried on such research pattern and means, as they themselves contain similar context. This is what is particularly important. When I remarked in a TV show dedicated to Irakli Parjiani (in program “Art-Express,” Georgian TV, 1st Channel. 2000) that Irakli Parjiani was creating on a global scale a new quality in abstract art I only partially grasped what I meant by it. A piece of art primarily shows us a main thing, then it dictates to us the way of its research and even relevant language. In this case I apply the method of deconstruction-paradoxical reading, by which it is possible to read almost anything like a text.

The significant part of Irakli Parjiani’s pictures may be characterized as post-modernistic reflections on the world (universe), modern myths, the more so that in post-modernistic philosophy the theme of death occupies a particular place (we can recall Derrida’s “talent of death”).

In 1957 in his essay “Myth Today” Roland Barthes wrote that the myth as a message, communication system may be delivered to public in any acceptable form. “Photography, cinema, reporting, sport, shows, publicity, all these can serve as a support to mythical speech. Myth can be defined neither by its object nor by its material, for any material can arbitrarily be endowed with meaning (1, p. 688). Precisely in view of the above stated Irakli Parjiani’s abstractions, executed in oil and panda, represent myths, messages imbued with meaning.  

When I mentioned the theme of Svaneti (province in Georgia where Irakli Parjiani was born) in connection with his art the artist told me, that if there was something that linked him to Svaneti, it was fist of all a most severe pain. A yell carried with him during his whole life, caused by his mother’s early death. The yell which was nourishing his art. Thus his artistic visions were constantly connected with the theme of death, mystery. Irakli Parjiani himself appeared face to face with death. This suffering loaded his creative work with more thought and meaning. These thoughts and meanings found their outcome in a new system of signs, fixed in his abstract art. When you try to “break” a sign, you are always scared of narrativeness, simplification. But sometimes you are so involved with the content, that you think you have arrived at a solution. And then again the solution slips away from you and seems to be (and is) unattainable (impenetrable) for you. We may not be noticing or possibly will notice many signs in future.

What signs do we talk about? They are triangles, pointers, squares, which we found in Irakli’s abstractions and are in no way simply the images, outlined by hand; they may follow the train of thought and the one of rhythm, for a man has inner rhythm, which may be determining in an optimal way the individuality of a piece of art and artist’s style. According to Barthes, style is buried in the innermost depository of personal memory, its very impregnability originates from  the vital experience of body. The mystery of style is something remembered by the artist’s body itself (2, p. 409). Hence style grows out of the vital experience of  body.  Irakli Parjiani constantly studied his own experience. He delved into everything in order to find answers to the most crucial questions. And for this quest he was awarded with deep faith. Therefore he possessed a special ability to infuse divine light into religious scenes  and express with pictorial means the mystic, secret.  

The thoughts of a man, confronted with death, circle around perpetual themes of to be or not to be, transience and eternity, which are inexhaustible and indefinable, full of mystery. Irakli Parjiani was never satisfied with simple and open themes. All his art is just an attempt to “fit a key” to the mysterious. In his first monumental composition “A Woman with a Dog” (the same “Room”, 1978) he wanted to show a secret, presented after lifting the curtain. In the picture “Woman in an Interior” (the same “A Woman at a Clavecin”, 1982), bringing associations with Vermeer’s canvas “The Music Lesson,” his goal was to express the sound of clavecin. In incessant variations of “Annunciation” he gets into the mystic content.  

The miracle of Annunciation is the incipient moment of the appearance of God as a man, the beginning of absolution of mankind from sins, when  a “new Eve”, represented by Mary, will redeem Eve’s first crime. Irakli Parjiani kept returning to this theme and became more and more absorbed in it dealing with exactly the same subject matter. In a letter, sent to a friend, he writes: “This will not end by itself. I keep saying, now it’s over, I am not going to do it again, but my hand is being led. For me this theme and working on it acquires a truly meditative character. Whether you want it or not there occurs some other concentration.” (3, p. 160). He had created a great deal of  variations on the above topic. But at the end of his life he apparently tried to retain on canvas form the subject an enormous energy poured into this miracle. Therefore he finally almost completely covered “Annunciation” and “Crucifixion” with white color. Besides, during the same period he created a composition without figures, in which abstract lines are only pointing towards Mary’s and Archangel’s places. Accordingly, the subject of greatest importance for him had undergone complete abstracting in the course of his creative work.

In 1982 in his article “What Is Post-Modernism?” Jean Francois Lyotard wrote: “I shall call modern the art which devotes its ‘little technical expertise’ (son ‘petit technique’), as Diderot used to say, to present the fact that the unpresentable exists. To make visible that there is something which can be conceived and what can neither be seen nor made visible: tis is what is at stake in modern painting [...]. The post-modern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of taste which could make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for unattainable, that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impact a stronger sense of the unpresentable.” (1, p.1013). 

What do these triangles, squares, pointers, directions in Parjiani’s abstractions mean? Triangles in these compositions seem to be indicating a certain direction and pointing towards very complex paths with many meanings, as enigmatic and mysterious as Parjiani’s figurative works.  Nevertheless these are not labyrinths. The path, indicated by the artist, is laconic, though the destination place is hard to recognize. When we get deeper we sometimes even recollect fairy crossroads – you do not know where to turn or where the road will take you. It was something only Irakli knew and might not even know. But he surely meant and fixed something.

Irakli gives to several of his abstractions with the images of black quadrangles a name, indicating specific object, - “A Black Chest”. Here all his thoughts are contained in a black chest and are filled with secret. The secret, locked in a black space!.. Post-modernistic pictorial myths...

In fact these abstractions originated on the basis of processing eternal themes (we mean Annunciation, Crucifixion, Hermitage in desert, Last Supper and other themes, frequently encountered in Parjiani’s creative work). Another thing is that they reflect a heavy spiritual state, provoked by Irakli’s illness. In them, at the approach of death, by meditations on heavens a solitary way is depicted of an artist, who had many a time pondered on these topics and expressed them with relevant depth.

In 1985 Irakli created in Abastumani a monochrome image of water fairy. This mystic creature is depicted in the fore, against the background of invented landscape, but this is not important. The main thing is what is behind, in the upper section of the picture, where an amazing depth is expanding, and in its uppermost section, in its depth, center, where, in a cosmic space, a small-size white triangle is visible. This is the earliest work from Irakli’s creative work known to me, in which triangle appears. It indicates the way to there, beyond earth, material world, directs us into illimitable space, depth …

Irakli wrote in one of his letters to a friend, sent at that time from Abastumani: “The closer a man is to the earth and its earthly laws, magnetism, oxygen, etc., the more muffled are deep inside him spiritual habits  – as soon as you pass beyond terrestrial conditions you apparently enter spiritual sphere, where you are not hampered in any way and you just become more sensitive towards art and see spiritual creatures-phenomena. All this is here, right under our nose, but we are ironclad and it’s hard for us” (3, p. 144).

At the end of 1980’s, while staying in Germany Irakli creates metaphysical landscapes, resembling enlarged variants of the upper part of the “Water Fairy”. He first saw this landscape in Abastumani, but in Germany, some time before his fatal decease, he seems to have penetrated deep into the essence of indefinite space.

In the year 1989 Irakli Parjiani created one abstract composition with a superscription of mystic content – “For Giorgi Who Recently Descended from a Star.” In this way he attached verbal “explanation” to his work. This is a minimalist abstraction – the carrier of an enormous artistic energy. Here we have three vertical zones – light, then dark (narrow), turning in the upper part into blue and light again, in which a figure like transparent blot is walking along a long distance way which leads to infinity. This white figure is linked by a white line to the star, depicted in the first light zone (a man, descended from the star …). The star is placed in the first section – in the preliminary zone of human earthly life, then there is a black band – an earthly life, crossed by a white band, descending from the star and linked to the figure in the third zone, walking in the direction of  infinity. A middle zone – black in color, with blue in upper part (the earth and sky?) - is narrower compared to the other two light zones. It is episodic and transient, confined in definite boundaries. The left transparent space comes from infinity and the right transparent space grows into boundlessness.  

Irakli wondered where the man went without his body, where infinity was. His abstractions record the process of searching and finding the answer to this question.

In Irakli’s comparatively earlier works, in which he juxtaposes still life and landscape, we often encounter a small image of a man, bound somewhere towards infinity. In the later works (like in the case, described above) he turns into a uniform figure resembling light, while in his latest abstractions he is replaced by a triangle. These triangles take the place, occupied in his earlier compositions by the hermit Christ or the figure, waling in space. The rhythm, music remain the same (this is the artist himself moving on these roads). Sometimes these triangles by their inner expression and energy are associated with a dove, invading annunciation compositions. Similar abstracting undergoes a boat in Parjiani’s art – the symbol of salvation. At first it is perceived absolutely realistically, subsequently it is transformed into a geometrized form. In this way symbols emerge in Parjiani’s painting.

Based on semiotics we may presume, that in the last years of Parjiani’s life human existence for him seems to have been actually divided into  three zones: a white stripe – prior to the man’s origin; a dark, more frequently black section, at that with many layers – an earthly existence (the black chest?!) and a large space, completely enveloped in white – life everlasting. This is the reason why the artist overlaid the latest compositions of “Annunciation” and “Crucifixion” with sacral white and what the arrow-shaped white triangle indicate or what white spaces in his abstractions express. This hidden content with many meanings creates a powerful artistic charge and energizes these pictures.

On one of his metaphysical landscapes plus is written in the light section and minus – in  the dark one, for light is the area bearing a positive charge.

In one abstraction a white triangle “emerges” out of a dark square, bound upwards. In other places a white stripe is replaced by dark space, from whence a white triangle leads us to the white … Complex trajectories of triangles, straight and curved lines are symbols, expressing spiritual and sometimes, a kind of erroneous movement.

Each of Parjiani’s abstract compositions has multitude layers – both formally and in terms of expressing the artist’s spiritual condition. Even in the most minimalist abstraction, in which there are only a few almost neutral chromatic sections, thanks to the structure a perception of multilayer ness is achieved. In his “chests” the black acquires a rare depth. They seem to be the locked chests of earthly life – a closed space, confined from all sides.

    Irakli Parjiani possessed and carried enormous amount of information. Already his “The Woman at a Clavecin” (4, pp.72-80) is a composition with an intertextual content. Here we can find distant parallels with many artistic epochs or concrete artists. Parjiani conceived everything in his own language, but in his abstractions a whole depth of his creative thinking is accumulated. These are meditations on interrelations of microcosm (man) and macrocosm, in his own words, on the “cause-mission” of the existence in this world (3, p.158). And together with these thoughts, similar to palimpsests, a multitude of cultural layers are fixed in them.

Irakli overcame the trajectory – from the previous zone of earthly life, through reality (earthly life) to infinity – a sphere of spiritual life. He reached to the essence of eternity and even appeared to be in a hurry to get there. He came so close to it that he seemed to have established his own self there.

Deep emotions and pain connected to death transform in Parjiani’s works into artistic images and  give the viewers the pleasure “derived from pain” (quoting Kant; 1, p.1012). 

   The text in post-modernistic philosophy is not a unity of signs, full of meaning, which may be restored, but a space, in which trajectories of the movement of thought are drawn. That is why Parjiani emerged  in his abstractions as the author of a type, called in post-modernistic philosophy a code, anonym or non – personality. Irakli Parjiani might not have an accurate explanation for these signs himself. Instead of a sign with a certain previously contrived meaning, we have a system of signs with the meaning, emerged in the process of their creation, or a system, created in the process of origin of meaning. In this sense Parjiani is a post-modernist script or - the one who records, who enters up visions and creates the text. Accordingly, our article deals solely with the process of interpretation of signs and does not attempt to ascertain the content.

Post-modernism had freed itself from the requirement of interrelation-interaction of signifier and signified. Here the sign is no longer a pure and simple relation between what signifies and what is signified. According to Barthes, this is neither form, nor content, but rather a process connecting them...” (2, p. 641).

Based on the picture, presented by philosophers, the idea of reference had been rejected in a gradual, program way. Primarily there was a Classical Realism, based on materialistic determinism which has an staunch hierarchy of meanings. After that Symbolism evolves, making the first move towards deontologization of meanings, though based on a strict aesthetical hierarchy of symbols. Modernism replaces the paradigm of absolute ontology with the paradigm of hypothetical order and temporal meaning. Here subjective experience plays a particular role, although certain ontological roots are still retained. Post-modernism calls into question the whole possibility of constructing the model of universe and rejects any type of ontology.

In this context it should not be viewed as accidental that Parjiani regarded abstraction as an attempt to reconstruct the crumbled universe (quoting his words; 5, p. 44) - not a possibility, but an attempt. Is not it here that Parjiani’s black chest(s)’ post-modernistic novelty is hidden with regard to the symbol of modernism - black square?! When Malevich created his black square he embodied the idea of nonmaterial in a geometrical figure. With a white square on a white background he abstracted still further this idea from reality and connected it to the idea of infinity. Parjiani puts into black chests or squares, and also in triangles outlined with white contours such ideas which are impossible to specify, interpret in words. He himself could not (and would not) interpret them, for these are the works of transcendental empiricism. But one may endlessly move in search of answers in over these metaphysical landscapes (and inside them).


  1. Art in The­ory: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, 1900-1990. Edited by Ch. Har­ri­son & P. Wo­od. Blac­kwell, Oxford-Cambridge, 1994.
  2. Post-Modernism, Encyclopedia. Knizni Dom, Minsk, 2001(in Russian).
  3. Irakli Parjiani, From private correspondence, “Literatura da Khelovneba”, # 1, 2002 (in Georgian).
  4. K. Kintsurashvili, Irakli Parjiani: ‘Woman in an Interior,’ “Literatura da Khelovneba”, # 4, 1991 (in Georgian).
  5. N. Ghaghanidze, Artistic Aesthetics and Tradition in Irakli Parjiani’s Creative Work, “Sketches on Georgian Art,” 2002 (in Georgian ).

This article originally was published in Georgian in: Study of Art, #5, Tbilisi State University, 2003, pp.98-106.

Ketevan S. Kintsurashvili 
 Art Historian, Ph.D.

Ketevan is an independent scholar and educator. She specializes in modern and contemporary art. From 1978-2012, Kintsurashvili worked as a Senior Researcher and Professor at the G. Chubinashvili Institute of Georgian Art, the Tbilisi Art Academy, as well as at the University of Theatre and Film. Currently she teaches at the University of Georgia. She is the author of monographs on David Kakabadze, Niko Pirosmani, Petre Otskheli, Kirill and Ilia Zdanevich,  Koka Ignatov, and others. She has also authored a textbook on 20th century avant-garde art. She has taught and conducted research work at Mount Holyoke College, Yale University, and Balliol College. She is a Fellow at the Open Society Foundations, International Research Exchange, Salzburg Global Seminars, the Oxford Colleges Hospitality Scheme, Fulbright Scholars Exchange, Democracy Outreach, and other programs. She was also the speaker at the AICA XLVII International Congress in Seoul/Suwon. In 2000 Kintsurashvili arranged a lecture-exhibition at the Museum of Art of Georgia, entitled Three Stages in the Development of Abstract Art in Georgia: Kakabadze, Bandzeladze, Parjiani. She was the National Curator for Georgia at the 12th Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space, and a scientific consultant and organizer of David Kakabadze’s monographic show in Tbilisi (2013). With the support of Goethe Institute in Georgia she has curated an exhibition «Maelstrom; Franz Marc, German Expressionism, and Modernism in Georgia» (2015, 2017). With the support of Polish Institute currently she is writing a book dedicated to the 20th Century Polish Art.  

@irakliparjiani 2020

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