Georgian artist Tato Akhalkatsishvili portrays childhood memories, post-soviet traumas, perks of human existence and the beauty of landscapes in his art, touching the hearts and souls of the observers. By drawing the line between blurring memories and awakening, between life experience and the state of subconsciousness, between surreal and real world, Tato explores different conditions of the mind and its consequences in the real lives of humans.
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How did you start painting?
The beginning of my story as an artist is pretty banal. It all started from my childhood. I remember myself from age 3 and I was already painting at that age. The scene in which I am lying on an enormous piece of paper and painting heroes of the stories, horses and trees is always on my mind. Childhood period had a great effect on my formation as an artist. My grandfather played an important role as well, who was an amazing glass artist and had an enormous studio in the city center, which was a magic place for me. I was feeling very happy having been surrounded with lots of paints, canvases, glass creations, colorful crayons and the books. I was growing up in this magic world so it was without doubt that I would become a painter. I knew from the beginning that art would be my life – not just a profession.
What is hidden behind your art, that we might not see but you would like to tell?
It might sound weird, but I don’t really know what is hidden behind my art. I am trying to find out myself, that’s why I work and create. Often I try to follow the working process, my ideas and emotions intuitively in order to see where I am and what I am searching for. I listen to my unconsciousness, which talks to me with metaphors but I never copy those metaphors – I create new acknowledged ones. My friend and a Georgian artist Levan Mindiashvili, who is based in New York, noted that my art depicts “tools for the communication with the universe” and I totally agree. The main inspiration for me is a person’s psychological and spiritual condition and observation of those conditions. Namely, I like observing surreal and absurd situations from people’s lives that are like playing a drama in between the time and space. Human life and existence are the core principles that I am trying to portray through my works.
You’ve had solo exhibitions in Japan twice already and your also have created a piece called after a famous Japanese writer, Kobo Abe. What is so particular about Japan and how has Abe influenced your works?
In 2005-2008 I was collaborating with a gallery in Japan. I had two personal exhibitions and four group exhibitions. I had to visit Tokyo and Sendai three times. This was a very important period for my art and I consider it as an old period – by that time I was concentrating on different concepts and I was moved by different inspirations. Japanese culture is one of my favorite and I am happy having appeared there. Later I got involved in painting landscapes. With the piece called Then I Fell Asleep, Woke Up, but I Fell Asleep Again (Kobo Abe. The box man) I try to tackle ambivalence of the universe in a way that it should not be plain and easily understandable. These ‘landscapes’ are kind of places where I can challenge myself and go deeper into my thoughts, have a dialogue with myself and analyze what I am working on. It is like meditation, prone to mysticism, childhood memories, eternity, refinement and I associate all of this to Japan. Having used a title of one of the stories of Kobo Abe was my way of linking my childhood memories to the aforementioned landscapes and also a mean to draw a line between reality and illusion.
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What does your installation Tomorrow Will Be Yesterday stand for? What’s the message?
Tomorrow Will Be Yesterday is a multimedia project of mine which is accomplished on various locations, be it museums, galleries or nature. At this stage I have created three different installations with a mixed technique, where I used sculptures, oil paintings, prints, wood, garments, paper, ground, rubber, raw materials and ready-made objects. The project was based on my observations on conditions like manipulation with traditions, psychological terror, trembling as a result of unconscious fear towards the former manipulators who were once very powerful. So the name of the project is the representation of this never ending cycle that rolls besides happy, colorful and interesting natural life experiences.
Back Home? pieces are pretty mysterious and a bit creepy, with all those scary looks, kids with covered faces, dead birds, etc. Should this series be considered as the representation of your inner fears or it is not about you at all?
Back Home? project is the process of analyzing the soviet and post-soviet era that my ancestors had to live and survive. Partially I was as well born and raised in that period so these pieces represent my personal memories that are the reflections of that time. While working on this project, I started going deeper into the roots of the soviet vacuum and the captivity in the soviet mentality. I started to see and admit those stereotypes and complexes that formed the mentality of the Georgian society – including myself. I guessed that my personal traumas came from the post-soviet effect in my childhood. These pieces also highlight the psychological condition of young people who just stepped in their teenage years and who have to deal with the challenges coming with those years. Either they overcome their fears and become part of the universe or they go back in the beginning and fall asleep. As for my inner fears, I consider that these pieces are not only representation of my own fears but also of the whole society who had to go through the post-soviet reality and who still have to fight with ultraconservatism in Georgia.
Tell me more about the Playing With the Fre series. Do you often play with fire yourself?
With this project I tried to portray fragility and instability. I used different toys and objects as a metaphor. It looked like an installation created by a kid. I wanted to show how fragile and inadequate the world of a child is in comparison to the real world. Do I play with the fire? I think that I as an artist have an important defect that is not being an adventurous.
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War, explosions, deadly weapons and people observing all of it like a movie… Has the Psilocybin Mushrooms project anything to do something with politics or it is just a representation of your attitude towards war? 
Psilocybin Mushrooms was a multimedia project and it did not serve to make people think on the war or an atomic bomb but it was more about tackling the nature of power. The project was created with oil paintings, wooden furniture and mirrors so the exposition was putting each observer in a condition where they had to choose between just appreciating an exposition or discovering themselves while their silhouettes were reflected in the mirrors together with the explosions. My idea was to encourage people to start a dialogue with themselves. I also wanted to underline the absurd and paradox of the weapons of mass destruction through psychedelic visions and illusions, a weapon that a person created himself and against himself. The photographs from where I created the project visualization were taken from the internet, depicting very important events in the world history – such as photo video files of nuclear testing by US on Marshall Islands in 1946. Because of the large amount of atmospheric testing, many of the island inhabitants at the time of testing suffered from increased incidence of various types of cancers and birth defects. Nevertheless, there appeared some people, who were just observing the process of bomb activation with special gadgets, from their warm chairs. This fact showed me that humans are able to appraise events from different angles and that they are capable to make any event conditional.
Childhood is one of the primary themes in your art. Can we go back in your childhood and share a few moments together?
I often think of one scene from my childhood that never leaves my memory. I was 6 or 7 years old, it was getting dark. My mom and I entered a very narrow hall of a dwelling house. As soon as we entered, I saw a shimmering bulb and a standing tall man, who was neatly dressed in a black suit. Mother was going forward, she was holding my hand, she did not mention the stranger, and she just passed him. I was looking at the man with frightened eyes, he suddenly grabbed the belt of my coat, but I could not say a single word. I was just going upstairs with my mother. The stranger was headless… I still live in that house and have to pass the narrow hall almost every day, it has not changed ever since.
What role does the conversation play in your life and how does your art correspond to it?
Conversation and dialogue play a great role in my art as well as my life. I think that the nature of a person can be easily exposed by their way of communicating with other people. I always try to observe my attitude in relation to others. It really hurts when we look but we don’t see, when we talk but they can’t hear us, when we listen but we can’t understand.
What are you working on now?
I am in the preparations for Vienna Contemporary Art Fair, where I will be having a solo booth and at the same time I am searching for new stories for continuing my series Playing With the Fire.
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