What constitutes contemporary art for you personally? 

It is my life in its entirety, 24/7, from dawn till dusk and vice versa. I have been in art for a long time and cannot imagine myself without it. I can’t do anything else. At most I have learnt to do some things a little bit, but art is the main thing in my life.

What is your role in today’s art scene? 

It is challenging to evaluate your art. I remember the following story. When I was a student, I created several pieces each day, working from real objects. I would go outside to draw. I didn’t have a lot of materials, so I often merely painted over completed pieces. One day, my father saw one of my artworks and asked me not to paint it over. I painted over another piece that I didn’t particularly like. Five years passed without a single glance on these pieces, but I still thought about them from time to time. One I returned to them, I was astounded. The one piece I genuinely wanted to paint over was more-or-less fine. Everything else proved to be pure garbage. I don’t know how one can evaluate his own art. It is hard.

What connects new and old art? 

Man himself, his perception. I would say that good art can be both old and new. Shallow or dishonest pieces don’t last long. It’s crucial for the work to have some core idea. At different times different artists and their art formed that core idea. I think that other core ideas will be present in the future. Everything else will fall into oblivion.

What was the turning point in your career? 

The whole time that I was studying at the Moscow 1905 Art Institute was particularly stressful for me. For four years they were thinking about throwing me out. I was studying the particulars of the formalist movements and the importance of surfaces in art. I thought that I was always under attack. When I moved to Tbilisi, I was surprised by the freedom. I studied with professor Georgy Meskhishvili. On the second month of our work together he asked me to create an installation and to arrange lighting in a space. That’s far more interesting than redrawing Lenin. The Tbilisi Academy was very much a turning point. Of course, the first exhibitions that I saw in Paris in 1991 (it was my first time in the French capital) were a genuine shock: Nicolas de Staël, Francis Bacon, and, especially, Lucian Freud. It was a link that I felt was missing in Russian art.

Who influenced your art at different points in your life? 

My teacher Dmitry Khamin exerted a strong influence on me. It was as though I was accepted to the Shaolin Monastery. I shined shoes, cleaned palettes, mixed paints. He taught me everything. Later Georgy Meskhishvili became my mentor, and he truly opened my mind. My father and his art are also important influences (editor’s note: Georgy Totibadze, 1928-2010, Soviet-Georgian artist). After his death, I discovered a few items among his belongings. He created expressionist portraits. I like these works very much, I constantly view them. During my student years, I did not recognize anyone except Velázquez and El Greco. Later I grew to like Mathis and Bruegel.

What subject matter in the outer world inspires you, fascinates you and unleashes your creativity? 

Political events always fascinate me. If something shitty happens in our country, as an artist I cannot help but be influenced by it. Still, I try to express my feelings indirectly, through landscapes. In the past I would draw a battle scene, it’s something I liked from my childhood: ancient Greeks, knights, etc... This kind of scenes occurs regularly in our life. It’s not always limited to wars. Everyone has some sort of strife in his heart.

How would you describe the contemporary art of Russia within the wider context of international art? 

I am afraid to say that there is quite little contemporary Russian art. I am convinced that art in the post-Soviet space is like a spring that is kept under enormous pressure. In the past it was under the weight of Soviet mentality, nowadays the latter was replaced by a lack of money, of a market for art, of business for selling art, of curators, of magazines, of art experts. In my country, not only art but also sciences find themselves under this pressure. I would say that worldwide art is developing rapidly in exciting ways, while in Russia the development comes in waves. Right now, we are at low tide, but the high tide can happen at any moment. I am not sure whether things are the same in science. The whole world has outpaced us. But I still think that there are possibilities for art.

Tell us a few words about the piece on the cover of Boscomagazine. 

I would say that I am probably a neo-primitivist. We have discussed the issues of family life, and I created a double portrait of a couple. I wanted to paint a specific image of a village wedding with the bride and bridegroom at the forefront. I witnessed such a scene in real life and was fascinated by it. If you go to the Patriarch’s Bridge or the Red Square, you are guaranteed to meet quite a number of such couples: brides wearing snow-white dresses even in lousy weather when the hem is sure to get dirty. There is something medieval about this image of a long skirt, decorated with diamonds, being dragged through the mud. It represents a certain duality of how the couple begins their long life together. I thought about adding a stuck car in the back, but that seemed like something a novelist would write into a story. So, I just added an old woman who could be the mother of either the bride or the bridegroom.

What does the word “family” mean to you? 

It just so happens that I have a large family. We influence one another greatly. We have many children, some of them have already grown up, some of them are artists, some of them are actors, others work in different fields. All of us are different people. A family is, for me, a whole world onto itself. Moreover, it is a model of the world in general. Watching your children is endlessly interesting.

How did your family impact your life? 

A family is a fortress, a stronghold. My family has always played a significant role in my life, ever since a was a kid.

Why do people create communities? 

It is easier to live and to fight against external forces in a community. Some people are willing to struggle by themselves, and such a person must have specific qualities. But the community offers a smoother experience. At the very least, a much happier experience.

How should a neophyte approach contemporary art? 

Imagine that one makes an ordinary peasant from the Middle Ages or a savage from tropic jungles listen to Mozart. I’m not sure how they would react. One has to learn, always look for something new, visit new places, one has to experience a need for Mozart. The more you listen to classical music, the more you grow to like it. Visual arts are the same. The more you see, the more you know and understand. It is frightful for me when someone says “I can draw that.” Then go ahead and try! One has to study art and familiarize oneself with it. Take children: if they don’t try different foods, they can grow up dumber that those kids who have experienced different foods. Art is the same: you must see as much of everything as possible.

Why and how should one buy contemporary artworks? 

See many artworks in different styles. Learn to recognize what you like. It is possible that a piece that you buy today will cost millions in some years. But I repeat: the most important thing is to study and understand contemporary art.