Stories Told in the First PersonHis working room is in perfect order. No extra items anywhere or things scattered around haphazardly. Brushes are gathered in one place, books lined up on shelves and tins of paint arranged neatly one after another. Mamia Malazonia is a measured and not very talkative person. At first glance, he could be mistaken for an army general. “To tell the truth, I think I started painting almost right after my birth,” he began his story and showed me into his studio. “That was the occupation of my father as well as my elder brother and, therefore, all that happened very naturally. I thought that was a normal thing for anyone and was surprised about those who did not draw. After school I entered the Academy of Arts. I studied at the faculty of graphics first; but then, upon the insistent request of my friend, painter Koka Ignatov, I switched to the faculty of theatre painting…”
That is how the twenty-one-year period of “theatre captivity” for Mamia Malazonia began. During that period, he worked for Marjanishvili State Academic Drama Theatre, Rustaveli State Drama Theatre and Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre. More than ninetyperformances were staged under his scenic design. Mamia Malazonia also created animated cartoons and worked as a film painter. “Stage performance is mortal and, accordingly, works of a painter pass away as soon as a performance is taken off the stage. That happened in my case as well. The theatre draws you in so much that it can absorb you altogether. Therefore, I decided to escape it and succeeded in that.” Mamia Malazonia left the theatre in 1983 and dedicated himself wholly to painting and graphics. It was then that the creative work of the painter started. It continues now with what the painter as well as critics consider the most productive and interesting stage of his activity.
The creative world of Mamia Malazonia is thematically diverse. One can see the sufferings of young Werther or the fictional swindler Kvachi Kvachantiradze from the West Georgian town of Khoni, epics of Gilgamesh or Arsena Marabdeli. Several concepts unfold all at once in one painting and all together they create one large panorama. One rarely gains a close-up view; each tale is told in its totality. Important for him is not a concrete episode, a single detail; it is the entire story.It has been years now that he has worked on books, drawing and illustrating various editions – Cinderella, Three Little Red Riding Hoods, Vazha-Pshavela, Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, Henrik Ibsen and Bertolt Brecht. Lyrical motives, Vazha-Pshavela’s poems and folk poetry occupy a large part of his creative work. Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes looks somewhat like a colored imprint of the Shroud of Turin, while King David psalms is reminiscent of a text with a mix of symbols and signs yet to be deciphered.
Mamia Malazonia is usually reticent about discussing his creative work. When we touch upon his “Old Motives” set of drawings of his childhood and youthful recollections, however, the painter unexpectedly becomes talkative and laughs wholeheartedly while recounting stories depicted in the paintings. Some of those stories happened in his native Ozurgeti in Western Georgia while others reflect time spent in other parts of the country. “That is Dusheti where we were practiced as students… That is a three-story school; we always played something in front of it… Lake Bazaleti, that is how it looked back then… This is Valodia, a Bazaleti local who rented boats… This ladder is leaning against that house because, as boys, we played antics then spread rumors that a lunatic was roaming around in that area and had climbed that ladder; we scared people to death then….”Ask him about his illustrations of Shota Rustaveli’s masterpiece and he will recount stories of the Knight in the Panther’s Skin in such a personalized manner it is as if he were recalling personal adventures of his own childhood, as if he had been involved himself in events which unfolded in Gulansharo or Kajeti and had witnessed them with his own eyes: seashore, sailing boats, captives carried by boats, army of archers, flag bearers, traders and caravans of camels… The painter now gently ridicules his characters then pities them sincerely. And it is perhaps that attitude that makes his paintings so candid.
Even an ordinary story conveyed in his work looks like a fairy tale depicted with an exceptionally warm range of colors. That feeling of warmth remains for a long time after viewing the paintings of this exceptional artist.
This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 108, published 9 July 2012.