A story of a Georgian Modernist set and costume designer, who revolutionized Georgian theatre in the 20th century and who was one of the most outstanding Georgian avant-garde artists of his time
The world was a different place when Otskheli was starting out in the beginning of the last millennium. It was the first major cultural break of the twentieth century and creativity and experimentation were in the air not only abroad but in Georgia too. Despite the fact that he never made it to the art centres of Europe, times were good for the young man of twenty burning with the obsession to paint and draw. Counter-culture in the world of art meant a reappraisal of traditional forms of expression and, on a larger scale, of reality itself.
Otskheli’s formative years coincided with the tremendous cultural movement flourishing at the beginning of the 20th century in Europe. A vital new culture known as ‘modernist’ art was being born. It gained force as it moved along opening up artists around the world to new artistic possibilities, leaving a profound mark also on leading artists in Georgia.
These creative impulses were so powerful that it took years for the totalitarian Soviet ideology to suffocate them and they thrived until the late 1930s. For some reasons, film and theatre retained this drive longer than the other arts. The same is true in case of stage and costume design for theatre. Such luminaries of the Georgian artistic word as Irakli Gamrekeli, Soliko Virsaladze, Joseph Sumbatashvili, David Kakabadze, Elene Akhvlediani and others all channelled their considerable talents into theatre work.
Some of the most compelling works of art were created not only in Paris, Munich, Moscow, Dresden or Saint Petersburg, but regionally in Tbilisi and Kutaisi as well. Otskheli, like most of his contemporaries, was influenced by the artistic currents brought to Georgia via Europe in the first decade of the century.
In 1926, he went on to the Academy of Fine Arts in Tbilisi where he studied under Professor Charlemagne. Although it is hardly possible to tell anything about Iveane Cheishvili’s teaching methods, there is no doubt that Professor Charlemagne’s class was enormously important and mind-opening for the nineteen-year-old Otshkeli. The Academy of Fine Arts in Tbilisi had been regarded as the best art school in the region throughout the 20th century and its faculty boasted many big names capable of expanding the students' artistic awareness.
A TANDEM OF TWO GENIUSES
Otskheli owed a lot to Marjanisvili and his company. The director played a crucial role in forming and establishing Otskheli as one of Georgia’s most remarkable stage designers. Both men had similar views on theatre aesthetics, both shared an interest in the ever-changing Russian art scene and both took poetry, emotion and spirituality extremely seriously.
Marjanishvili’s production of “Hurriel Acosta” is a good example of how Otskheli’s ability to invade scenic space by means of abstract-Constructivist forms and to create a symbolic-metaphysical atmosphere on stage helps the characters to take hold on their personal styles of action, gesture and speech. His drawings of costumes and set determine the style of all the productions he designed.
The sharply accentuated forms of the figures and a visible exaggeration of the proportions: small heads, long limbs and slender palms as well as flat and narrow foreheads, aquiline noses and almond-shaped eye sockets; in short, the entire arsenal of expression he kept returning to in his later works.
Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Cinema and Choreography - Art Palace