Georgian cloisonné (enamel) art has a long-standing tradition. The high artistic level of the monuments created in the middle ages attests to the refined creative techniques of the artists in those times. During the centuries that followed, these techniques have been lost and, correspondingly, pieces of cloisonné art have no longer been created.
In the second half of the 20'" century, cloisonné tradition was revived. In comparison with the Middle Ages, together with the introduction of new techniques, the scope of themes covered by cloisonné has expanded. It broke free from the traditional ecclesiastical boundaries and pieces of applied art, versatile decorative compositions and ornaments, as well as jewelry, appeared alongside with the old samples.
One of the people, who modernized traditional Georgian Cloisonné, is Zaza Lodia. His works are distinguished by their high quality of craftsmanship, refined taste, extraordinary compositions and - strange as it may sound in dealing with cloisonné - humor. Zaza's works have revealed totally new possibilities in this ancient branch of art. Using traditional material, he creates samples of modern art, a genre, which can be labeled Zaza Lodia's cloisonné art.
After the Institute, I worked in the field of cultural heritage protection. This was a very interesting part of my life. I traveled all over Georgia, the possibility of which I had always been deprived. As a student, I'd never gone on an excursion. How I managed to do that, I don't know. I toured almost the whole of Georgia and familiarized myself with cultural monuments. Prior to that, I had always wondered - what are we so proud of? When I saw firsthand, I was astonished by how perfectly these monuments fit Georgia, fit us. Nothing alien, out of place. Wherever such a monument is erected, it perfectly fits the place, the relief. It's clear, that it's not constructed according to a hackneyed template. It was very important how construction developed. Each monument bears semblance to the locality to which it belongs.
The period of my work in cultural heritage protection acquainted me with Georgia. We visited churches and carried out measurements. Now it dawns on me, that our destiny has been merciful to us. We haven't even understood the basic purpose of the church. We viewed it as a mere architectural monument. Still it bore us well and never "pulled our ears".
I discovered cloisonné by chance. I was friends with a Lithuanian man - Rimmas Burneika. I met him accidentally. Europe was ushered into my life through Lithuania. Many people are surprised, that I learned cloisonné from a Lithuanian. Rimmas was a great artist, doubtlessly a talented man. The muse came to me through the works painted by him in gouache.
A relationship with Rimmas was a relationship with a great man. He made everything as if it had been from enamel. !n his everyday life he was also such an artist divorced from real life. He could confine himself to his house for the whole winter or even a year. Together with his family, he had visited Georgia for a year. It was then, when dealing with him, that my craving for drawing enhanced. I learned cloisonné technology and got so addicted to it that I could no longer live without it. I even dreamt about it at night. When I was through with one piece of work, I immediately started on a new sketch, Rimmas Burneika was a man, who introduced novelty into my life. Friendship with him, the music he listened to, his paintings - these were things I grew up on.
He doted on Georgia and had lots of Georgian friends. By his appearance, he resembled a Southerner too. Someone might even ask: "Which Rimmas... The one who works in "Giprogor?" Such was Rimmas' Georgia. He used to say, that only in Georgia he discovered, that he'd had neither friends, nor had he known love. He visited Georgia often, brought his friends too. We visited him often too. He had a gorgeous house in the woods. Although in the middle of Vilnius you felt like you were in paradise. In winter, in snow, deer came up to the windows. He was all alone during the last years of his life. This is, probably, what killed him.
No one works in cloisonné in Lithuania today. Rimmas has no followers. The seed of cloisonné has been sown in Georgia and I think it's not a bad thing. We must have deserved it somehow.
I started teaching. I've always been teaching my friends, but that has not been professional teaching. I enjoyed going to Zaira Berelidze, in the cloisonné school in the "Vernissage" gallery primarily for human relations purpose. But this is a huge responsibility. When my students ask me: why did it crack? Why did it bubble up? - naturally, I can answer dryly; explain underlying technology: because the color was impure, or the burning out temperature was too high or too low, but is that the whole story?
Once, I was making an icon of St. George. That day, when I started to work, somebody visited me, so I set aside my work and laid the table. Next day I started again, but soon I had to leave. Maybe it did not like it. When I burned it out, it did not come out well. It's not really spoiled, but it requires something else. Probably, I did not behave correctly. So, when my student asked me: why did it not come out well? -1 answered: maybe when you left home in the morning you did not greet your neighbor and maybe that's why. If you do the whole thing with love and try to understand what is the reason of failure, it will by all means come out well.
Enamel has such a characteristic, that when you finish working on it, you may get a totally unexpected result. You make it, put it in the oven and then you see that something totally new is born; the colors changed and the whole thing is changed. Each color has its own character, but while it's still in powder form, you cannot notice it. What do I want to say with this? My students are young. They look at me and expect answers to all of their questions. But I cannot provide concrete answers. Maybe a teacher must be a more mature individual. Probably, I'm not ready for it yet.
You know what's interesting? When you are working in cloisonné, you live with your work. It gives you the same response as a tree you are watering. Enamel, just like a human being, needs everyday care. Lately, I've been thinking in this direction. I feel my strength less.
A piece of work comes out on its own, or it does not. I scarcely partake of the process. Everything happens of its own accord. It's difficult to foretell. Each work has its own energy field. When you've been creating something for a long period of time, if it's important, it has to weather all the seasons of the year and live together with you. First you have an idea, and even before you start to make a drawing, it has already got hold of you. Then you start to use material and work on details. You accomplish it and it's there, as if requesting you to behold it and think, how to proceed with it.
When work comes out well, I'm happy. When it does not -1 worry, worry seriously. Each piece of work is an important part of my life, as if I've lived through it. Even if you are working on the plot from "The Knight in the Panther's Skin", you have to feel at one with Tariel and even the killed tiger.
The first impression you get while visiting Zaza Lodia is his yard. All items in the yard have a "cloisonneist's" touch. The second - Buizo, reposing near the workshop oven. "My Buizo is a street dog. He is happier if he gets food all by himself. He carries it around in the yard, to let us see. When we were in the village, he had the time of his life. He had business to do. He got about - herded pigs, quarreled with village dogs. Who said town boys are flat tires? Bulzo's predecessor Akkusina was "some woman" indeed. "I saw Akkusina coming from the market" - that's what she was. Akkusina features in many of my works..."
The third, which is the most important - the works, the majority of which have left the workshop and "I'm very much interested in how they continue their life. When I take those to exhibitions I always ask gallery staff: sometimes take it down from the stand and pat it. Things like to be touched, as if they come alive. The main thing is to understand that a piece of work is alive"...