Gaudi, Klimt, “Gorgasali” - Interview with Salome Chelidze

The possibilities are endless if you’re looking for them, and those constantly looking for then are, perhaps, artists. Salome Chelidze, for one, saw the opportunity in merging art and a restaurant business, and in doing what she loved, she has achieved tremendous success. She manages a well-established restaurant called Gorgasali, and painting: what started out as a hobby and self-expression is getting her more and more recognition daily. Salome’s works are exhibited in Europe and the UK, and are hanging on the walls of the restaurant that she calls home. In an interview with GEORGIA TODAY, Salome speaks of the surprising path of being an artist, her beloved father and French descent, inspiring Barcelona, the true Georgian nature of restaurant Gorgasali, her favorite words of US President George Bush, and more.

“I’ve been painting since I was a child,” she tells us. “I’m from a French-Georgian family. My father is an artist, my grandmother an architect, and my mother an acknowledged and well-known ophthalmologist and academic. Ever since I was little, I’ve drawn as much as I possibly could; I especially loved the Impressionists as a child, then I was fascinated by the surrealism of Salvador Dali.

“I was little when I asked my grandmother to cut out two white sheets, and I drew big colored parrots on them. It was a difficult time in Georgia then, and so I kind of invented a separate world for me with those self-made big canvases.

“I wanted to enrol in the art academy, but my father advised me to choose a completely different profession because he thought that painting would not be appreciated in our country.

“I was constantly painting here or in Europe, I often went to museums to discover the history of this or that artist and their work, and I gave my works to friends as a gift.

“And then, one day, I uploaded a picture of my oil-painting of a boat on social media got a great response, and so plunged into this big ocean of World Art.”

As I look at her paintings, I don’t see those parrots but I feel their aura: Salome, in her artistic expression, has stayed ever colorful. Her beautiful works, while unique, still remind me of something that I can’t quite put my finger on, so I ask her if there is an artist whose work resembles her own.

“It’s very strange, but if you look at my page, Austrians and Americans write that I am ‘reviving Gustav Klimt’ with my style. That is a great honor for me, of course, but I myself can't see the similarities that much,” she says. As we dive more into the subject, I find out who her standing inspiration is: “Antoni Gaudi, Antoni Gaudi, and once again Antonio Gaudi! A man so great, the love for him and his work had me settle in Barcelona for 10 years,” Salome shares with excitement, adding on later that, “in my works, I love blending many colors together. Every painting I draw is just a bouquet of positive emotions.”

Salome seems to have solved Picasso’s problem: she remained an artist even after she grew up. She sees that art has no end and “it evolves with people and is as important as air to humanity.” With artistic genes in her blood, Salome thinks the urge to paint, and the beauty of it, comes from the inside. “Any person is an artist who paints. I regret not studying at the academy, but the fact that I am self-taught is probably what makes my paintings stand out from other styles of professional artists, and I think this also contributes to the high interest in my work.”

Our interview over the phone turns more into a pleasant dialogue as Salome tells me about the turning point that had her consider painting as her secondary career.

“As I returned to Georgia from Europe, as inspired as ever by the city of Barcelona, I painted some oil paintings that I then just uploaded them onto my social network. Following the great response to it, a Spanish friend suggested I join an American artists' club to show off my paintings. I took up the offer and shortly after uploading the pictures, I received offers and letters from Americans, and joined various art groups. It only went uphill from there. A while ago, a gallery in England exhibited three of my paintings. I also have a standing offer from Italy, Covid-19, of course, delayed the event, but exhibitions are planned in future. I’m also in talks with famous galleries and curators in New York. I’m also currently organizing a sales-exhibition in Georgia in two weeks, and I will definitely inform you about the location.”

As excited as she is with her recognition in the artistic world, when I ask Salome about the accomplishments she is most proud of, she immediately goes to Sweet Home “Gorgasali”.

“I’ve had many successes in life, and relationships with very interesting people. I suppose something I’m most proud of was the dinner of the Presidents of Georgia and the United States at my restaurant Gorgasali,” Salome replies.

Located on Abano Street in downtown Tbilisi, restaurant Gorgasali, in its 25 years of functioning, has received many honorary guests, including the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush. The restaurant would not have been a prioritized destination of official and celebratory meetings had it not been a place of many smart couplings. It shows the history of Georgia as the place of merging European-Asian-Maiden cultures, and Salome and her family has worked hard over the years to make it a place where art meets cuisine, so now, when you enter Gorgasali, you don’t only enter a restaurant, but you also visit a museum.

“Restaurant Gorgasali was founded 25 years ago when we bought the land. My father created the project himself, building a unique building, restoring the history of Georgia as the cultural center where our European-Asian-Maidan traditions meet.

“Restaurant Gorgasali is a journey into the history of Georgia, with Georgian-Asian halls, we bought a lot of items at auctions and returned them to Georgia. This is a restaurant-museum, a business card of Tbilisi.

“The restaurant has been renovated over the years, Georgian and Asian corners are arranged in different halls, and we greatly value the tea culture. All diplomats and honored guests who come here are interested in seeing our real Georgian treasures. The walls are covered with works by Georgian artists, my father Temur Chelidze was the author and creator of this idea. My brother and I have been constantly updating the restaurant for years: it has literally become our home.

The restaurant was always visited by diplomats and presidents at different times, official visits were held here, and we were used to it, but in 2005, the President of Georgia invited US President George W. Bush to a dinner in Gorgasali. We hosted happily and a bit anxiously, and it was a huge success. That corner is still retained with American flags, as it was a great, historic day for our country and Gorgasali.

“I am the little lady of this big house and, for me, President Bush's words: ‘Good food, really good food’ in the footage taken as he leaves our restaurant, is the reward and success we have achieved with the great work we have put into the Restaurant Museum in Gorgasali.

“We owe this success to the amazing synthesis of delicious cuisine, magical interior, and the historic downtown of Tbilisi,” says Salome.

When I want to imagine Salome’s “bouquet of colourful emotions” I see three flowers there: one of Gaudi, one of Klimt, and one of “Gorgasali.”

19 November 2020 17:17