Avto Varazi is considered one of the most distinguished Georgian artists of the Twentieth Century. He liked to say that a painter must fully understand one’s own self. He believed that an artist who fails to grasp the essence of his or her own being will also fail to make others feel what that artist hopes to convey through his paintings. Avto Varazi was the first painter in Georgia to experiment in pop art. For his works in collage, he used everyday items to convey modern reality. Among his pieces in the collage technique, “Gitanes” perhaps best expresses the painter’s concept of Soviet reality of the 1960s. “Gitanes” is presented on cardboard cluttered with various forms of litter – discarded packs and smoked butts of cigarettes, used matches, dust, fish bones and assorted labels. Another significant piece of his pop-art is “Bull Head,” created from a pair of his trousers glued to plaster board and permanently housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Although his paintings are today exhibited at prestigious museums around the world, Avto Varazi never had a single individual exhibition during his lifetime. The Soviet leadership could hardly bear such a non-conformist artist who did not fit in with the Soviet system or work in the approved style of Socialist Realism. Of the one-hundred-twenty known works of Avto Varazi, not one among them depicts any communist leader or commemorates any event in the history of the Soviet Socialist Revolution. He never participated inthematic exhibitions. He did not paint on order or by demand. The success of his creative works in conveying a forbidden concept motivated Soviet special services to summon the artist to “advise” him to abandon painting in favor of some “manly job.”
He was a rather unconventional and impulsive person. Several times, in the fit of depression, he destroyed some of his own paintings, only a few of which could later be restored. He did not have his own studio, but worked in a small room always swarming with people. He never signed his paintings because he believed that paintings, like frescoes, did not need a signature. He could often be seen with a long beard, walking the streets clad in clothes greased with paint. At home, hanging on the wall, he kept a clean outfit which he reserved for walks with his children. Like Pirosmani, Avto Varazi appreciated the old city of Tbilisi and was addicted to alcohol – a constant companion throughout his life. Always short of money, Varazi often sold his paintings for the price of a bottle of wine.
Besides his pop art, Avto Varazi is well-known for his still-life paintings and portraits. His portraits are mainly created in vertical form with emphasis on the faces and other details left unelaborated. The artist was not interested in constructing photographic-like images of his subjects’ faces, but rather in creating expressive representations of the inner world of those whom he painted. He never paintedstrangers. He would carefully study each model he selected for a portrait in order to gain a deeper understanding of the model’s nature. One characteristic feature of his portraits are the sad, melancholic eyes of the models he painted. His favorite color was ultramarine and most of his paintings are created in that hue. Parallels are often drawn between these works of Varazi and those of Picasso during his Blue Period. Varazi admired Picasso greatly, but considered their universes so vastly different that he saw no deep connection between their respective works.
Suffering from diabetes mellitus, Avto Varazi died prematurely at the age of 51. Two months after his death in 1977, the first exhibition of his works was held. A second exhibit followed sometime after.
The exhibition at the TBC Gallery was only the third exposition of Avto Varazi’s paintings. The “Georgina Painting” series jointly sponsored by Karchkhadze Publishing House, Tabula magazine and TBC Bank will continue through the end of 2012. The next album will be released in November and will be dedicated to another famous Georgian painter, Gigo Gabashvili.