Review: “Wine Shades by the Eyes of a Colour Blind” by Kote Sulaberidze
You’d be hard pressed to find an equivalent. 60-70 portrait format rectangles of absorbent paper each stained with a 15cm wide horizontal rectangle of colour, displayed, serendipitously, on a wall of similarly-shaded, warm brickwork in London’s ‘wine-museum’, Vinopolis. The colours ranged from deep purples and grey-blues, to watery pinks, yellows, and off-whites, some so faint that they were scarcely perceptible on the white paper. These are the colours of Georgian wines – the basic distinction of red, white and rosé, delightfully exploded into a few of the millions of shades apparently distinguishable by the human eye and crystallised on paper by a process that the artist, Kote Sulaberidze, one of Georgia’s most distinguished, himself apologetically admitted “was more enjoyable than the end result”, in that not all of his raw materials reached the page.
It’s true that there was little to be gained from contemplating one panel from a distance and then in close up, or pondering the skill of the technique, or trying to find a developing narrative in circulating around the room, with a tall, folded ‘wine list’ in restaurant style in hand to identify these, to me, unknown wines. In truth there were not multiple works; this was one piece. The effect lay in the overall relaxing ambience of shades of muted colours, not of an artist’s choosing but, as it were, given by nature; muted and necessarily tonally related by their subject.
Not a subject they were depicting, though. The extracted, abstracted colours could scarcely get more impersonal if it were a colour chart in a Farrow & Ball showroom. And yet, all drawn from wine, they each, and as a whole, offered a window behind the flimsy sheets of blotting paper to a world of individuals and an ancient wine-loving culture. Talking with Georgians mingling at the opening one pointed out his favourite, everyday white that was the ‘best wine’, drunk as, well, everyday drink, never offending with a hangover. In contrast to the UK, in Georgia it’s white for men, reds for women, mainly. And slips of paper picked randomly let you know what the artist was doing whilst creating each panel, and presumably simultaneous having a tipple. And sooner or later the explanations came round to the Georgian supra or ‘tablecloth’, around which it seems familial, communal and national bonding takes place over wine. These were personal associations deeper than my affinity with Tesco’s Chilean Merlot. On a national cultural level Georgia and wine is a subject worth exploring. Maybe it’s the oldest wine-producing culture anywhere with an 8000-year history. Pleasing and curious enough in themselves, these plain colours were a door to something else much more open to discussion, which flowed naturally amongst the guests, glass in hand – art, food, culture, music, politics, current affairs. There were some ‘foreigners’ amongst the guests, but had there been more non-Georgians the door would have been opened many more times.
And yes, this work of art would be difficult to replicate. With what? Foodstuffs from the supermarket? The colours of melted Mars Bars? Shades of beer? The reds and greens of squashed tomatoes? I mean what? What else could have such variety of colour and variety of meaning as wine? And what wine could have such resonance as Georgian wine? The country’s mystery, relatively small size and age lend deeper meaning than could be extracted from the commercialised, internationalised Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blancs. Maybe the artist, having patented a way to commit the hues of a wine taster’s glass to paper could offer his services to the French, Italians, and, hey, South Africans to present their own wine-promoting exhibitions. But it would be to promote the wines themselves. This exhibition, innocent in its playfulness, was to promote the colour of wine.
So yes, the artist may have had a lot of pleasure in the process of making the work. But only imagination extends pleasure from a basic human need on the Maslowian scale to life-enhancing experience, and in having been privileged to see what must have been a unique and not-easily-repeatable artistic conception, the pleasure was, and continues to be, all mine.
The exhibition was organised by cARTveli – London based foundation to promote art from Georgia.