XI - XII century Fresco Mural in Kolagiri, Georgia
Newsletter August 2023:

Georgia, Giorgi, New Course(s) and a Sale

CONTENT:
  • Adaptivity
  • Georgia and Giorgi
  • Theology of the Icon
  • Courses + Study Group
  • New Images
  • Sale
  • GRATITUDE

  • ADAPTIVITY

    Hello again from Tbilisi!
    It's a week of 100 Fahrenheit degrees here. It’s not a real heat wave, compared to Laredo TX, where people live at 110, but for us it’s a new experience. Even for people from the north (like us) sunny days don’t look anymore like a blessing. It seems that August 2023 is saying to me: - “Hey, Philip! Change your way of life, and all of your thinking patterns! Stop thinking about the past and dreaming about the future. Be grateful for what you have, open your eyes and keep walking.”

    Icon in Iprari church collection This probably is the most characteristic aspect of our situation, - learning to constantly adapt to new circumstances. We search for new opportunities and try to help others who are searching for them too. War life experience is challenging, however it’s filled with unpredictable acts of kindness. Our stay in Tbilisi has shown us even clearer, that every person we meet is a treasure, and it’s mainly on us how to accept him or her. Still being citizens of an aggressor country with no relatives or old friends for many miles around we had no hope to be received or remembered with sympathy… Nonetheless, from time to time we keep hearing different voices, saying “Hi, guys, - how are you out there?” or “Hello, nice meeting you, I am glad you are here!”

    GEORGIA AND GIORGI

    We both feel immensely grateful for this, and particularly to Georgians, who accept us as their friends. I have already mentioned a great family couple of David Sulakauri and Nino Kipshidze, today I want to speak about our local guide Giorgi (linguistic notice - in Georgian language the right way to name someone George is to say his name with “i”, not “e”). Giorgi is a humble great man, who defended his doctorate on Goethe in Tbilisi in 1999 after extensive research in Germany. I think it will be fair to say that he knows most Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance art all over Georgia, Turkey, Armenia and Italy. We first met last year in September, when we asked him to be a tour guide for our little group of artists. He was showing us Svaneti, - a magnificent mountain region of Georgia, so remote and hard to reach, that in many aspects it managed to preserve its medieval state of being.

    Giorgi Meskhi

    Most tourists visit Svaneti to admire the beauty of the mountains, (which can compete with the Swiss), or to enjoy the world famous climbing and ski resorts, occasionally stepping into a few easily accessible churches and the museum.

    For us the main attraction in this little mountain rural area is its art. During its long history Svaneti always had a true democratic state structure, so churches and everything in them had always belonged to the local families and tribes, so they had nothing to do with the state or church administration. Due to the harsh solitary life Svans used to preserve all their cultural treasures with care, that’s why they preserved a huge number of medieval churches together with painted and chased icons and frescoes, which date back to the X - XIII centuries.

    It is hard to believe, but these churches are still in private possession. This means that if you plan visiting Svaneti all by yourself (which is perfectly doable, as they even have an airport with 30 minutes regular flights from Tbilisi), you will only be able to see very little. Most of the churches with frescoes and icons are accessible only if you know someone, who knows the owners, (or their representatives), who can open these churches to you.

    We feel immensely grateful for meeting Giorgi, who not only gained access to the churches, but who also has an extensive knowledge and a good eye for art. He knows the history of each church and opens it up in different aspects, so the visitors get the most comprehensive picture of what they see.

    Icon in Khe church. Approximately X century. We strongly recommend inviting Giorgi as your guide if you ever plan to visit Georgia. His groups are always small (up to 6 people), which makes them easy to gather, and the fees are more than reasonable. Check his page on Faceboook, - you will find hundreds of photos (mostly churches and frescoes) from different parts of Georgia. To get in touch you can email him worfcommander@yahoo.com or write to Watsapp or Telegram to his number +995 599 71 68 01.

    Having written all this I realised that it may sound like an advertisement...

    Well, - I don’t really mind it.

    I really think Giorgi is the best tour guide for artists (speaking German, Georgian, English and Russian), and with his help you can get exposed to the most sublime works of art. I am saying it from our own experience: he has shown us a huge number of medieval churches with frescoes, and it totally changed our perspectives. Actually, the more old churches and frescoes we see in Georgia in their natural state, the more we are convinced that liturgical art is not just for admiration or contemplation. Eastern Christian churches were always conceived as little (or large) universes, suggesting people to participate in the celebrations interacting with art. In Georgian churches we see that the beholder was surrounded by highest level art made for intercommunication, so he or she is constantly invited to actively look and see. We knew this in theory, but began seeing these principles applied here in Georgia, and I think it changed our vision of our work too. We now see liturgical art as made for liturgical space, resonating with other forms of art, rather than seeing it as autonomous artworks.

    Crucifixion in one of the cave churches of Sabereebi, - remote sketes of David Gareja monastery. Approximately VIII - X century.

    THEOLOGY OF THE ICON COURSE
    This whole chapter above may sound like a song of joy for people with exclusive abilities, only available to the “gifted” people with “visual talents”... But it's not what I meant. And I will definitely argue with this, because I personally feel myself to be exactly the person who began learning iconography with zero understanding in art. Here I am to testify, that I only arrived to seeing what I see now by making little learning efforts, being guided by people and works of art, step by step. This kind of learning is definitely specific, as we all used to see knowledge as something transmitted verbally. However, by attending museums, by using opportunities to see any old artwork which was accessible, I got more and more certain that this whole world of visual communication is available to anyone, who has vision and who has a desire to see. It’s exactly the same as with books, plays or films, - no one by any means should ever feel excluded from the visual world, even if you don’t know how to draw a line.

    Judas Kiss. Fresco in Erkheti church. Approximately XVI century You probably know that I always try to inspire everyone around me to see more art as it teaches to actually see. Especially after almost 1.5 years in Georgia I feel every day that this very need for seeing artworks extends the world. It gives us thousands of ways to communicate with thousands of artists, - with those who lived before us and with those who are still alive. They are a great company, and I am certain that being real creators they are treasuring every effort we make from our side to become creators like them and to share their values.

    It’s a pure joy to be among them, however I always had this bit of a shame, as not every person I know could enjoy SEEING the visible world as much as I did. Now I think I found the solution: I am making a course, combining the visual learning with studies of theology and history of Christian art.

    It’s going to be an extensive introduction to Christian liturgical art, made for conscious iconographers and all practising Christians, who are interested in enhancing their ability to see and getting a more genuine understanding of what they see. This course is called Theology and History of the Icon, and I am doing my best to make it work well for anyone, regardless of his or her artistic background.

    I started collecting materials for this course more than a year ago, and my original plan was to make everything all by myself. I thought of making this course as a series of little films, where I was planning to show a whole lot of images of the most essential phenomena of Christian art, providing most necessary (and yet extensive) information on the historical, theological and artistic context. Doing so I was going to train the eyes of my students, which would see dozens of greatest Christian artworks of all times, and also to provide them with extensive knowledge of the cultural paradigm, which now constitutes the body of Christian (and liturgical) art of our time.

    Funerary bust from Palmyra and mural from Dura-Europos I began filming in May and I am happy to share with you my first lecture, which covers the main predecessors of iconography, - the murals of Dura-Europos and Fayum portraits. In my desire to provide the context, I shared as much as I could the historical circumstances. I also spoke about the techniques used by the artists, and added some of my own practical considerations, and I thought that overall this project began coming out well…

    But after having finished this lecture I also discovered that I have overestimated my professionalism and underestimated the amount of work. It was too much to do for one person, so my production process was too slow. Way too slow, - much slower, than I hoped it would be.

    At that moment Olga suggested that it might be a great idea to stop filming and trying to make all lectures as a film and to have the same lectures via Zoom. I accepted the idea, and one of the reasons was that recording it via zoom removed most of the technical work. Now I will be able to use all of my time and energy to the content and illustrations for the lectures, and what’s even more important, - to make the lectures interactive!

    Now it will work in this way: current course Theology of the Icon will be performed as a series of 6 zoom lectures (approximately 30 minutes each), which will be held every second Saturday from October 7 to December 16.


    Introduction lecture: Predecessors of Iconography: Dura-Europos & Fayum Portraits
    https://vimeo.com/***

    Course participants are invited to join the live sessions or watch the recorded ones, and to ask their questions in Zoom or in Google Classroom at any time during the course. I hope this format will give a better learning opportunity, than our Monthly Meetings, which were devoid of systematic approach.

    I am very much looking forward to hearing your feedback if you have 24 minutes to have a look at the introduction lecture. Please, tell me what you think, taking into account that this is just the first of a series: https://vimeo.com/...

    DRAWING A HALF FIGURE + STUDY GROUP

    Blessing gesture drawin and explained at Online Iconography Drawing course Half Figure. Hand Gestures Speaking about learning opportunities, I should mention a couple of our courses which are due to start soon. We particularly recommend the “Garments” and the “Hand Gestures”, which we think are both extremely useful. They give an extensive experience in drawing these two core details of half figures and teach the meaning and construction of most common iconography gestures.

    In addition to that, Olga suggests to resume the Iconography Study Group in October. She is inviting everyone, who wish to continue practising after the courses and who want to paint an icon from start to finish, which will be the conclusion of the program, this time it is going to be icon of Christ (two options). If you would like to know more about the Study Group, please have a look at a new page we made for it: https://iconography.online/iconography-study-group.html

    Our Offline workshops are also filling up. The advanced Italian-spoken in-person course in Milano, named "Studio di due icone antiche" has only two spots available. Both Basic and Advanced groups in Melbourne have some students on the list already, and in the middle of October we hope to launch next year courses in the US, - stay tuned!

    THE NEW IMAGES

    I always try to share what we've been up to, but not always we have so many. The first image in the line - Kolozhskaja Mother of God, made by Olga for a commission. Iconographers may have many goals, and here one of the goals was to make this icon be a commemoration of a unique medieval church in Kolozh, of which now remains just a fragment of the wall. The difficult part was to put together the iconography, and the wall decoration, which makes both this church and the icon so unique.

    Mother of God Kolozhskaja by Olga Shalamova Mother of God Eleusa by Olga Shalamova Christ Pantocrator by Olga Shalamova St George and Dragon by Olga Shalamova Blessed Lancelot Andrews by Olga Shalamova St John the Baptist by Philip Davydov Juda's Kiss by Philip Davydov


    Why am I posting our new icons here? The answer is usual, but I think I never talked about it in detail. My point is that all artworks, which have a difficult research process, creative challenges and times of trial behind them, have many more levels of perception and have much more to say, than those, which were made in one go. So, I share the process and the research to demonstrate how different the paths can be, and to say that every thoughtful experiment is important. It’s just a matter of trying :)

    SALE
    Lev Davydov

    We never did it before, as we don't like playing with money, but this time we have a reason: our website began filling up with new works too quickly. We accepted it as a call for decreasing the prices and decided to give it a try. Here are the conditions:
    1. We suggest sale prices to be 10% off from the price on our website till November 01, 2023.
    2. Sale prices are valid for all items from our Shop, except for Egg Tempera section.
    Maybe it’s not the best time, but if you were planning to purchase anything in particular, it will be a little bit easier to do it during the next 2.5 months. - please let us know if you have any questions or inquiries. If you just wanted to check the smallest and cheapest options, have a look at the photograph in the bottom, - icons on little gessoed boards and pieces of old Georgian ceramic have the lowest prices, - don’t hesitate to ask.

    GRATITUDE

    Lev Davydov Now at the end I wanted to say a particular THANK YOU to everybody for remembering us and our family in your prayers. We move on as much as we can and almost every day we have some happy coincidence, some fruitful dialogue or something else, showing spiritual support from so many people in the world. One of the "routine miracles of this tipe is directly related to our son Lev. After spending several months in Armenia, where he painted these landscapes I shared below, he was accepted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Hague in the Netherlands. With his love for painting he wants to continue his studies in this field so he chose the Fine Arts faculty and he is going there on August 16. After this day we both will definitely feel relieved to start hoping to see him on Christmas Holidays.
    Our own life does not change. We continue to stay in Tbilisi, to love Georgia, and to enjoy discovering its medieval art. Hope to share more images from here in the next Newsletter.

    Armenia. Landscape by Lev Davydov Armenian Landscape by Lev Davydov Yerevan. Landscape by Lev Davydov Armenia. Landscape by Lev Davydov

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    With gratitude,
    Philip & Olga

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    Small icons by Philip Davydov and Olga Shalamova