Gigo Gabashvili (1862-1936) Founder of Socialist Realism in Painting, a Bold Experimenter in Photography
Gigo Gabashvili (1862-1936)
Founder of Socialist Realism in Painting, a Bold Experimenter in Photography
Within the history of Georgian visual arts, Gigo Gabashvili (1862-1936) is considered one of the founders of the Realist School of painting. However, after the discovery of his photo archive, his works have earned a special place within the history of Georgian photography as well.
The artistic environment of the 1920-1930s was dominated by Soviet ideological dogmas and strict puritanical attitudes, but Gigo Gabashvili, a proclaimed Socialist Realistic painter, created visual experiments that were impregnated with a refined and daring eroticism.
Soviet reality and the applied pressure of the Communist party’s ideological propaganda, had an “asphyxiating” effect on visual arts. In this environment, the existence of a progressive and honest creativity that was, in some way, in dialogue with the contemporary epoch, was almost unprecedented.
© Gigo Gabashvili. Nude Study II. Courtesy Sh. Amiranashvili Museum of Fine Arts.
Within the context of the most oppressive period of the Soviet regime (the first decades of real terror, a period when different points of view, ways of thinking, living, and aspiring were highly punishable), the “non-canonical” photography of Gigo Gabashvili may be seem as a rebellious act against Soviet dogmas, permitted scenarios, homogeneousness, and banality.
The most important piece of Gabashvili’s photographic legacy is the photo series made in his work studio: Etudes-experiments on a naked body.
A naturalist and a true master of composition, Gigo Gabashvili initially used the wide variety of possibilities afforded by photography as a means of creating his paintings. Within the first years of the invention of photography, this proved a well-tested technique among many European painters. However, Gigo Gabashvili differs from those painters who used the work of photographers for their drawing practice in that he himself was taking the photos.
© Gigo Gabashvili. Nude Study IV and V. Courtesy Sh. Amiranashvili Museum of Fine Arts.
Gigo Gabashvili’s photography, as well as his paintings, are seasoned with religious and mythological subtext and symbols; allegories and fantasies are present as well. However, it is accurate to describe his paintings as “canonical”, whereas photography and its visual practice allowed Gabashvili to create an experimental, dogma-free platform. Here, Gabashvili releases himself from both censorship and self-censorship. His photographs are distinguished by an erotic acerbity, unparalleled in the period and under the regime that he lived through, and reveal the hidden and exceptionally beautiful aspirations of this renowned painter and founder of Socialist Realism.
Besides numerous experiments with the naked body, Gabashvili’s archive includes photographs from his journeys to Bukhara and Samarkand in Central Asia, and to Mtianeti, Tusheti, and Pshav-Khevsureti in Georgia.
© Gigo Gabashvili. Nature Morte. Courtesy Sh. Amiranashvili Museum of Fine Arts.