Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Persistence of Khinkali

Everything started with... my avatar. Yes, the one with a melting khinkali on it. I made it about 5 years ago just for fun, but presently I'm using it as my "official" avatar everywhere: on this blog, on my deviantART profile, at ArtWanted.com and many other art or design-related websites, forums, etc. The avatar itself is an entirely digital work -- I took a fragment of Salvador Dali's famous The Persistence of Memory and digitally painted a khinkali over it, replacing the melting clock.

A short explanation for those who don't know what khinkali is -- it's a national Georgian sort of meat dumplings, usually served with beer. It is believed to be originated from Georgian highlands, and since I also come from one of those regions, lust (there is no other word to describe it) for khinkali is in my veins, genetically. Also, I'm a die-hard fan of Dali (obviously), so the avatar served as a manifestation of the eternal unity of the two things I equally cherish in this world -- Dali and khinkali.

No, I'm just kidding -- there was no idea behind the avatar whatsoever. As I said, I did it merely for fun. But, ever since I made it, I've always wanted to bring this visual idea into life as a full piece of art. Naturally, I never had time to sit down to it.

Then something interesting happened. Earlier this year I learned that Salvador Dali's works were going to be exhibited in Chavchavadze House-Museum, located in Tsinandali, Eastern Georgia. The exhibition indeed took place, and it lasted for three months, from April to June. By that time I had already moved to Lithuania and was unable to attend it, but that's not the point. The point is, that this fortunate event revived the sparkle smoldering in me all these years -- the idea of connecting Dali to Georgia, something in the spirit of that khinkali avatar. It was like a sign from above, so I said to myself: That's it, I'm making The Persistence of Khinkali this summer!

I started working at the beginning of August. The most important thing was to choose the medium. Since it was to be practically a copy of Dali's original oil painting, the first thing that came to my mind was oil on canvas, but I quickly rejected the thought -- I've never touched oils since 1995 and, while it seemed to be an appropriate occasion for a glorious "return of the Jedi," messing with them without a properly equipped studio wouldn't do any good. Instead, I decided to use oil pastels, which are able to imitate oil painting quite effectively. However, they are too rough to handle Dali's refined technique all alone, so I left the delicate parts for color pencils.

You might be surprised, but the original painting is quite small in size -- only 24 x 33 cm (9.5 x 13 in). It was quite convenient for me, since I'm used to working in small formats. As for the paper, I set my choice on Canson Montval -- a French brand of heavy watercolor paper. Working on a toothed paper with oil pastels is a pain in the buttocks, but the achieved "canvas feel" makes all the suffering really worth it. Generally, if you want to replicate an oil painting, but don't want to use oils or acrylics, oil pastels are your best friends: as you can see from the WIP shots below, even the process of drawing itself -- creating the under-layers, applying the colors on each other, etc. -- pretty much resembles the oil painting technique.

The work in progress also shows that not all the elements were initially there -- the monument to King Gorgasali and Metekhi Church were added in the process. These distinct landmarks of Tbilisi were present in the concept right from the beginning, and the fact that they are absent on first WIP shots has merely a technical explanation: in order to retain the continuity of the color gradation in the sky, first I blended the colors in the area, then drew the monument and the church on top of it.

Beside the khinkali and the landmarks, there is another "Georgianized" element in the picture -- myself. Or rather, my soft, sleepy head, resting peacefully, with a khinkali covering my ear. If you look at the original, you might see certain similarities between my head and that of (presumably) Dali's, although my nose, naturally, is more Georgian. Also, I have a mouth!

The Persistence of Khinkali might lay the foundation for a whole new series about "Dali in Georgia," but let's not beat the gun. For now let's just say that this is my humble tribute to the great artist, whose legacy continues to inspire creative ideas all around the world. Including Georgia, as you see.


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