Tamo Jugeli


April 18 - May 20, 2023

Untitled, 2023, oil on canvas, 60x72 inches, 152.4 x 182.8 cm / Photo: Steven Probert

Polina Berlin Gallery is pleased to present …lightly, an exhibition of new paintings by Georgian artist Tamo Jugeli. On view from April 18 through May 20, 2023, this marks the artist’s second solo exhibition at the gallery.

The show takes its title from the text of Aldous Huxley’s poem, “Island”:

    So throw away your baggage and go forward.
    There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet,
    trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair.
    That’s why you must walk so lightly.

As a self-taught artist, Jugeli is utterly self-possessed, resisting allusion. Jugeli has created an idiom all her own—one that pushes beyond symbols and narrative to carve out her own sense of self in space. Her compositions are lyrical, figures are fortuitous, never preconceived. Her work is at once immediately recognizable yet totally inscrutable. Forgoing themes, Jugeli commits herself to a practice driven by instinct. Jugeli aligns herself with wrist and body painters, oscillating between large and small scale paintings, figuration and abstraction. The show consists of 12 paintings, some on board, some on canvas, each one an exploration of color and form that Jugeli creates without preparatory work.

Her painting is propulsed by spontaneity, and a sort of Apollonian creation that recalls Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, in which a tree of sound stuns and awes with its unheralded appearance. No introduction is necessary; the connection to the viewer is instant and primal. And, as in the Rilke poems, figures do appear in sudden, scattershot fashion—a vaguely animal figure, or a mysterious statue on a plinth—their meaning as obscure to the creator as their presence is obvious to their audience. Jugeli’s paintings record a sort of transmission as involuntary as it is devoid of guile or agenda.

As she put it: “Process is my high, not the result.” Rather than leaning towards full abstraction or figurative moments, she strives for a playful golden medium of “suggestions of shapes—showing something but not fully.” She revels in that tease. For the same reason, she forgoes titles, finding them precious. However, she allows for the possibility that “maybe over time [she] will connect or reconnect” with the original impulse behind a painting and that might yield a title.

For Jugeli, painting was born of a raw instinct. Having spent some time in New York over the past year where she has set up a temporary studio, Jugeli is a native of Georgia born shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She did not take up her artistic practice until she was in her early 20s, while making a living as a journalist and editor. Working through a tough period, she started to draw therapeutically, on her own. As she gave into her instinct toward gesture and creation, she felt alive. Once she transitioned to oil paints, she became better able to mediate the process that overtook her, and saw her painting practice as a form of thinking, heeding Rilke’s famous dictum: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

Jugeli does not feel a Georgian influence comes across in the paintings, but is certain her childhood spent there is why she paints. Although the USSR had collapsed a few years prior to her birth, she found her existence clouded by a persistent claustrophobia, and a severe restriction of movement. As a child and teenager, she dreamed of finding a way out to have an identity that was simply human, and not marked by a place she longed to leave. She cultivated a vibrant internal life and sees her maturation as a matter of coming out of that self, letting instinct be her teacher and exploding outward into her artistic practice.

Jugeli’s paintings trace the dance steps between abstraction, figuration, and transcendence. This transcendental urge speaks to a sort of perseverance, a faith that there is something on the other side, and a need to keep oneself pushing forward to whatever that may be—identity, revelation, or simply the strength to endure. As Huxley closed out his poem:

    Lightly my darling,
    on tiptoes and no luggage,
    not even a sponge bag,
    completely unencumbered.

Tamo Jugeli was born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1994. Jugeli’s work has been included in exhibitions at Gallery Artbeat and TBC Concept (Tbilisi) and Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography (Mestia), among others.

Untitled, 2023, oil on canvas,72 x 60 inches
182.8 x 152.4 cm / Photo: Steven Probert

Untitled, 2023, oil on canvas, 50 x 66 inches
127 x 167.6 cm / Photo: Steven Probert

Untitled, 2022, oil on gessobord, 24 x 31 inches
60.9 x 78.7 cm / Photo: Steven Probert

Untitled, 2023, oil on canvas, 66 x 50 inches
167.6 x 127 cm / Photo: Steven Probert