Artist of the Month: The Animal Portraits of Tama Popkova-Kapanadze

With wild colours, the animal figures against landscapes boldly standing out against vibrant backgrounds speak volumes about the flora and fauna around us. The animal portraits by self-taught artist Tama Popkova-Kapanadze are sincere, naïve, full of energy and love of life. The small format pictures in gouache executed with bright, bold brushstrokes evidence a love for minute details. The artist, Tama Popkova-Kapanadze, using direct colours, expresses the realistic characters of the portrayed animals.

They appear in paintings as well-known protagonists of folk tales, reinterpreting the long tradition of animal related mythology in Western cultural history: calling into question bestiarium animals, signs of the zodiac, animal representations in the prehistoric caves of Lescaux, animals as archetypes standing for evil, love, strength and trickery.

Popkova-Kapanadze represents animals as belonging to the world that humans never entirely understand except for defining them in scientific theories and describing them metaphorically in cultural mythologies. Various animal species are for her mysterious creatures, whose soul she tries to open up by giving them painterly representation, respective colouring and by putting them in characteristic contexts.

A bibliographer by profession, artist Tama Popkova-Kapanadze was born in Moscow in 1927. She spent her childhood in Kutaisi with her grandparents as her parents fell victim to the Stalinist political repressions. She later received higher education in Tbilisi where she met her husband, an outstanding book illustrator and artist in his own right, and gave birth to her two children. In 2006 she became severely ill and lost movement in her right hand and leg. Due to illness TV animal shows became her only inspiration, prompting her to embark at the age of 80 in a painterly career. As an autodidact, self-taught artist, she started with a simple colour palette, copying well-known masters such as French primitivists and impressionists whose pictures she admired. Unable to use her right hand, she paints only with her left hand with a special technique that took months of training.

It would be an exaggeration to claim that these animal pictures would raise spectator attention to ecological problems and animal protection issues. These are neither realistic representations of the animal world the way we know it from TV programs, scientific magazines or visits to the Zoo. Yet it’s the artists world that counts, opening up untapped resources of energy, enthusiasm and the ability to see hope against hopelessness of illness, old age and limited physical mobility.

Tama Popkova-Kapanadze shows us animals that we think to know from an unfamiliar perspective: fantastic and realistic at the same time. It is planned to organise an exhibition of her works in one of Berlin’s art galleries in the near future.

Lily Fürstenow

25 February 2016 19:14