Painting and Lia Sturua’s Reminiscences

Lia Sturua is one of the most distinguished writers among those, who joined the literary process in the beginning of the 70s and together with her like-minded colleagues (Besik Kharanauli, Guram Petriashvili, Mamuka Tsiklauri ...) inaugurated previously less popular vers libre in the Georgian literature. Lia Sturua's work is interesting due to its form, content and distinct individuality. The poet chose vers libre as the main form of her self-expression, although in 1987 she published the collection of sonnets. This fact clearly indicated that for her the form was not as important as what she actually had to say.

Lia Sturua's poetry reveals a set of various codes including both Georgian and foreign cultural codes, which make the content of her poems deeper as well as more multifarious. Equally interesting and distinctive are her reminiscences of artists and symbolic images related to paintings. This aspect of Lia Sturua's poetry has been noticed, but it has not been studied yet. The poetic samples put together (by me) in accordance with this feature reveal the poet's attitude not only to the painting, but also to music, poetry and art in general. Through reminiscences, the author covers such topics as the disruption of values, peculiarities of artists’ creativity, the importance of culture and the role of art in the lives of people. The review of the selected lyrical samples reveals the author's attitude towards different issues  -  such attitudes and their forms of expression distinguish writers and bestow individuality on them. The reminiscence is artistic means that promotes an intercultural dialogue and brings together a historical experience of different cultural traditions.


Precision of pictorial images is probably the most notable characteristic of Lia Sturua's poetry. It confers a graphic clarity to her poetic details. In the poet's palette a special place is occupied by Pirosmani, Van Gogh, Sezanne, Goya and several other artists, who realized "what it means to be Van Gogh". They saw different skies, different worlds and understood that "their pain will nourish others at the Sotheby's auction". Impressionist colors prevail over this palette. The poet thinks about the relationship between the true art and the pseudo-culture, the purpose of music or painting, threats faced by art. She also notes that art can save a man in a number of different ways, liberate him from the routine of life, provide the inspiration and a spiritual growth. In Lia Sturua's poetry, the lyrical hero is able to "paint the sea from memory and use all the ultramarine paint", see the "pink that is so deep" and "dark green can be so painful". She also knows that "the sky does not need the colors that are out of place", but that there is no other solution - "Scream will never enter any chrestomathy". The lyrical ego is strongly represented in the poetic samples of Lia Sturua. This feature defines all the colors, artists and their creations, functions of colors or their associations presented in the verses.

One of the main issues that emerges in Lia Sturua's poetry is the disruption of values, an unequivocally negative and a critical attitude towards everything fake, artificial and unnatural. The lyrical hero worries that the right attitude towards culture is often lost, while the boundary between the pseudo-cultural and the true art gradually disappears. However, "the paint domesticated by spittle" loses power even while "someone" painted canvases with his/her own blood:

"You can no longer paint

You won’t eat paints, right?

At most, you may domesticate it by your spittle,

But someone will take the notice

And that’s the end of it

Painted by blood

Will be sold for millions,

Even if soaked in filthiness

The picture will still be bought

It’s the 21st  century, roses are rammed

Into sewerage pipes -

A slap across the face of poetry! ... "

 "*** Stop the Time" [Sturua, 2013: 158-9]

In these words, the author describes the sad reality, where the boundary disappeared between the daring and the vulgarity of an artist. "The roses in sewerage pipes" - the symbol of the desecrated culture, a slap across the face of both the poetry and the pure art. The author deliberately avoids naming Van Gogh, who can only be "someone" in the reality divested of spirituality. However, if the reader figures out his identity, he/she is able  to understand what the writer intends to say. That artist's creative heritage is intimately familiar to the poet. This is evidenced by Lia Sturua’s poem "Van Gogh". The poet describes all details with such precision that a reader can clearly imagine not only the paintings but also their creator’s emotional turmoil. Any person knowledgeable about art is aware that a painting - a multi-figured composition - should be perceived as a whole. The same is true regarding this verse. It is difficult to quote any specific stanza, because every detail is decisive and significant:

"Can it be

That the church built of stone

Would be like the sun

Yellow against blue?

Neither is possible,

A field, a tree, even old shoes,

To have nerves

And feel pain like toothache...

Because of that the whole milieu

Is twisted as if

Made of snails,

Each twist

Has taken so much paint

That air got flesh

While, ready to fly

The soul’s unable to rise from mouth ...

In this red-colored, hot fleshiness

If there was just a little translucency

Brought down by someone,

Say, by Chopin’s

Few silver-colored sounds,

Or just a piece of a swan and a mirror,

Maybe he could breathe out,

Then white and quiet

The soul would ascend...

But everyone lives for themselves alone,

Only crows are flying above the field

And the church can be seen,

In the sulfuric hell of the vision

Like a child grows

A sunflower, big and yellow ...”

 "Van Gogh" [Sturua, 2013: 155]

The artist takes us to the unusual world, the lyrical hero is also excited and with an obvious wonder inquires: "Can it be?" This question is rhetorical. It is possible that "The church built of stone would be like the sun - yellow against blue" and it is called "The church at Auvers-sur-Oise". The church painted in 1890 (with oil on canvas) against the blue background is bright as the sun due to its own purity and the intention of the artist: "I have a larger picture of the village church — an effect in which the building appears to be violet-hued against the sky of simple deep blue color, pure cobalt. The stained-glass windows appear as ultramarine blotches. The roof is violet and orange. In the foreground, there are some green plants in bloom and sand with the pink flow of sunshine. And once again it is nearly the same thing as the studies I did in Nuenen of the old tower and the cemetery, only it is probably that now the color is more expressive, more sumptuous" [Van Gogh, 2009: 88]. This is how the artist describes his painting in the letter to his sister, Wilhelmina. "The colors are indeed different in the picture, however, this is not all that creates the contrast - individual areas are built by fast, curved and rhythmic strokes, and both the ground and the church seem to be moving. This is one of the latest Van Gogh's oil paintings, and both the composition and the emotional intensity are expressed more by vibrations than by colour"[Prieto, Tello, 2009:88]. This expressive vibration is felt in a number of his other paintings. The painting "A Pair of Shoes" mentioned in the poem bears exactly the same feature ("the last prop - aching shoes" – presumably, this is the canvas mentioned in the author's other poem). The artist created it in 1886 and used black and white paints instead of bright colors. It is a sad painting, full of pain, as if …

…even old shoes,

To have nerves

And feel pain like toothache ...

Because of that the whole milieu

Is twisted as if

Made of snails"

  An interesting interpretation of this artistic masterpiece is offered by the twentieth century German philosopher Martin Heidegger in his work "The Origin of the Work of Art": "From Van Gogh's painting we cannot even tell where these shoes stand. There is nothing surrounding this pair of peasant shoes in or to which they might belong—only an undefined space. There are not even clods of soil from the field or the field-path sticking to them, which would at least hint at their use. A pair of peasant shoes and nothing more. And yet.

  From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth. In the stiffly rugged heaviness of the shoes there is the accumulated tenacity of her slow trudge through the far-spreading and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by a raw wind. On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the fieldpath as evening falls. In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field. This equipment is pervaded by uncomplaining anxiety as to the certainty of bread, the wordless joy of having once more withstood want, the trembling before the impending child bed and shivering at the surrounding menace of death. This equipment belongs to the earth, and it is protected in the world of the peasant woman. From out of this protected belonging the equipment itself rises to its resting-within-itself [1]“ [Heidegger, 2/34]. The painting is perceived  quite differently by the poet and by the philosopher, although there are important similarities as well: the pain and the "twisted air" were sensed by both of them. While Heidegger sees in the same drawing " the wordless joy of having once more withstood want", the poet needs other images to bring this light, for instance, Chopin's music, so that the soul ascend "white" and "quiet" (music is a source of salvation in Lia Sturua’s other poems: "Music", "From Monday to Sunday", "The Dream", "What Else Can I Tell You?"). The white color, apart from bearing the meaning of purity and light, implies the potential of transforming into any color of a palette, which may in its turn mean ‘change-survival’. The poem, inspired by the paintings, describes the environment,  where "everyone lives for himself/herself" and "only crows are flying above the field". The artist, innocent and pure as a child, clad in bright colors, has the big yellow sunflower (as a symbol of fertility, beauty and light) growing from "the sulfuric hell of the vision". "There is a little sunflower in me too," Vincent Van Gogh would say, attributing symbolic meaning to these fructuous flowers. Sunflowers had special significance for him – the yellow color represented the mixture of friendship and hope. The flower out in blossom seemed to him to be a symbol of gratitude" [Prieto, Tello, 2009:56]. The sun, the light, the artist's attitude towards the universe, paintings depicting the path to survival from pain and sadness, the need for labor and gratitude are revealed here. For these features the poet chose Van Gogh. Lia Sturua’s poetry, inspired by his paintings, shows us the artist's creative oeuvre from a totally new angle.

Along with Van Gogh, we see Paul Cézanne’s "Tinkling of Peaches" on the poetic canvas of Lia Sturua. The author needs several lines to tell us the most important “facts” about the artist. Realistic passages and a distinct form of presentation add expressiveness and a deep emotion to the verse. This poem begins with the rhetorical question: "Who will paint the tinkling of peaches?" Then the author offers a brief "biographical excursion" to the artist’s life:

"Monsieur Cézanne, who graduated

From the Academy of the Finest Arts,

Who sleeps on the street

Putting shoes under head instead of a pillow,

Hungry; while, at Sotheby's auction

His peaches are eaten.

Disliked by flesh-drawing painters

And the teachers of gracefulness,

He’s rectangular and his flank aches ,

He paints peaches and not the

Movable fear dwelling on their bumps,

He’s no leisure time for mystical worries,

When he’s grasped the ultimate truth of shape?

And when God sees him,

The first thing he’ll do,

Is to draw the shiver of peaches,

Win him over, steer away

From the art of the pink flesh ...”

 "Cézanne" [Sturua, 2013:31]

There are biographical passages in the poem. The offspring of a wealthy family, who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts[2], “sleeps on the street” – this presumably refers to a certain period of artist's life when he moves to Paris and gets engaged in the open-air drawing experience. "…at Sotheby's auction his peaches are eaten" – by this detail the author emphasizes the materiality and fidelity characterizing Cézanne’s works. A reader may recall one of Cézanne’s paintings - "Bottles and Peaches", in which he achieved the synthesis of an in-depth expressiveness of  the geometric technique and colors. "Nature is not on the surface, it is in depth; Colors are the expression of this depth and this surface! They reveal the origine of the world. They are its life, and the life of ideas"[3] Paul Cézanne [Cézanne, 2010: 32]. "He is a rectangular and his flank aches" – this passage undoubtedly refers to the geometric composition and the aspiration towards the balance in the artist's works. Cézanne creates the three-dimensional images on the canvas by combining the color gamut with geometric strokes. This is known and understandable for the poet, so she even attempts to somehow justify this: "He’s no leisure time for mystical worries, When he’s grasped the ultimate truth of shape?" This truth is so strong that only God can “win over him, steer away from the art of the pink flesh ... " Decoding this syntagma – "the art of the pink flesh" – brings in new content and once again points to the fidelity of the objects depicted on the canvas. Not only paintings as such are important for the poet, but also the past, life experiences, principled stances, human will and choice of their creators that led to the creation of these artistic specimens.

According to the above-discussed poems, the Impressionist art is a continuous source of Lia Sturua's reflection. As we have mentioned, one of the aspects of the poet's creative work is an emphatical representation of her "lyrical ego". Impressionist artists also interpret reality through their own perception. Another cause for this is presented in the poem "IMPRESSION", which is included in the poet’s latest collection ("The Hour of the Wolf"):

"If the bridge is taken off from the field,

And the madman from the bridge, what is left? The sun,

Just the sun, everywhere,

Especially in the head"

 "IMPRESSION" [Sturua, 2016:51]

Thus, it is easy to distinguish all the above-mentioned artists by their love of the sun, the life and the light. "I was so raving about the Impressionist artists that I could even feel with my whole body Van Gogh’s pain from the sun falling into his head" [Sturua, 2002:10]. The poet is convinced of their ultimate superiority. She "cannot paint", but somehow considers herself as an heiress of the Impressionists:

"I’ve got the Skira too, together with

Its Impressionist offspring,

Unable of fatherhood,

Helpless in everything but drawing,

But instead, so powerful

In creating the -ism

That none can snub them,”

 "Azure, blue, vermilion…" [Sturua, 2013: 190]

The lyrical hero of the poem uses colours to describe the flow of time and the title itself "Azure, blue, vermilion ..." represents different phases of life. The child, as a symbol of purity, is azure, while the blue is more vigorous and thus refers to the age of maturity. In the state of excitement, red and yellow turn into vermilion and it is eternal. The love of colors and gradations is a distinct feature of Lia Sturua’s poems. Allusions and reminiscences of her poetry allow for multiple interpretations. It is also significant that the author is not interested solely in the result - the painting, but also in the background - the artist's life (in order to enable a reader to see the synthesis or contrast between life and creativity). The poem "Easter" is a good example of this: The words create the "painting" of an artist full of brotherly love toward others. Here one can notice blood spilled in the subtext and behind the drawing:

"Easter, loving others while hungry

How long will it continue?

How much blood is enough

To paint eggs

(Madder is too expensive),

How many spindles of cotton

Make a lamb snow white?"

 "Easter" (Recalling Pirosmani) [Sturua, 2013: 174]

In the first line of the poem, the poet offers a rather unusual comparison - "loving others while half-starved" - this is the poet’s definition of Easter, representing both the essence of the resurrection of Christ and the essential outline of Pirosmani's creative life. The poet states that without pain there is no artistic creation, as madder (symbolizing material hardship) is replaced  with blood for dying eggs and plenty of hard work is needed to "Make a lamb snow white":

"If said in words,

The mix of blood and brightness

Will not work for a poem,

But only create fear,

In a picture – shimmering dots…

Testing theory with wine?

Acceptable to analyse the vermilion of flame?

When ground is a basement room,

Motivation – a staircase? "

  The reader will be able not only to imagine Pirosmani's "Easter Lamb" but also evoke the most tragic side of the artist's biography, in which the "basement room" and the "analysis of the vermilion of flame " are disturbing and painful.

"Blood will still be spilled, in the subtext,

Or maybe, beyond the verso side of the drawing,

After which the brotherly love of other

Will shimmer,

As the Easter egg,

Slow spinning of a spindle

And the kind sky,

Reaching down to the last of the stairs ... "

 "Easter" (Recalling Pirosmani) [Sturua, 2013: 174]

Blood is spilled, Christ is crucified and Pirosmani is also suffering - he dyes the "Easter eggs" with his own "blood" and an observant eye can easily note this. However, there is the consolation: crucified Christ resurrects and for Pirosmani, recumbent on the last stair of the basement,  there still is the "shimmering love of the other" and  “the kind sky”. It is difficult to imagine the author expressing more unusually her respect and compassion towards the artist and notwithstanding his helplessness, console him with Easter joy and the brotherly love of other. One more “coincidence” is important here. In the poem dedicated to the daughter ("To My Daughter, Eka”), Lia Sturua retrieves hope by linking it exactly to Easter joy. The author tells us about the child, who draws the house and creates the illusion of warmth and light. The red dog on the drawing looks like a rose bush and "the grass is so full of milk, it can be drawn off", while the written letters slanted like raindrops express sadness so familiar to the child. Reality is grim. "Parents spend the night queuing for bread that looks like mud ..." However, on the drawing and in the reality there is the consolation - Easter joy seen and heartfelt:

"The half-world in grass,

Eggs dyed red drawn in

Eyes tell, this looks better,

The heart, - Easter will come soon…”

 "To my daughter, Eka" [Sturua, 2013: 172]

  Lia Sturua is an author, who invites us to everyday discovery of the world. This is the link to childhood. In the given poem, the artist is a child exposing in front of our eyes her own world: pure, kind and colorful. "The structure of the poems is synthesized and consolidated: the poem is not divided into stanzas, sections, segments, lines and pauses are short. It seems that the poem is created “in a single breath” as if “a single breath" is the life of the verse that ends with the last word. This creates, through balanced combination of iconographic "extended tension" and intonational diversity, the dynamic and dramatic rhythm characterizing Lia Sturua’s poetry" [Zazanashvili, 2009: 5].

Lia Sturua's oeuvre is appreciated for being the poetry of discovery, pain and compassion. She believes that the art and creativity are of an eternal nature:

"Remains of colors on the trampled palette

Do not shout loud, but, overall,

Just shine bright like the sun

Certain of their longevity"

 "Shadowlessness" [Sturua, 2013: 111].

Along with the belief in the eternity of art,  the "poems painted" in Impressionist colors prompt us to assume that art is indeed able to change a person and his/her vision, determine his/her choice in life as well as in a creative activity. The above-mentioned reminiscences reveal  foreign and national cultural codes. The poet singles out such urgent topic as the importance of culture and art. However, her verses are distinct  from the other viewpoint: the author is not only able to perceive and understand the paintings, but she is also capable of expressing the emotions caused by them and recognize analogies. The poet is able to convey the narrative in such a clear, accurate way that readers can actually "see", imagine, emotionally connect to these works of art. Therefore, Lia Sturua's advantage is the creation of an original harmony between meanings and words. The reader of her poetry guesses that the poet demonstrates an extreme subtlety in choosing her words and most importantly, the flow of associations caused by the search for right words is absolutely natural and sincere for perceiver. The poet uses reminiscences to bring us closer to a particular artist or a painting or the genuine art in general. This is a valuable element of Lia Sturua's poetry, because one of the most important preconditions for a human being’s development is exactly the connection with the art.


[1] See the quote in e.g.:

[2] In 1861, Cézanne finally convinced his father to allow him to go to Paris, where he planned to join Zola and enrol at the Académie des Beaux-Arts (now the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris). His application to the academy was rejected. However, he began his artistic studies at the Académie Suisse instead.

[3]  Conversations with Cézanne. Edited by Michael Doran. University of California Press, 2001. p. 124


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