Boulevard Fine Art gallery owner David Manola had settled in for a quiet Sunday night recently when he received a phone call that would change his schedule for the next month.
“I am here at Midway,” said a voice in a thick Russian accent. “Come get me.”
That’s how Manola discovered that Zaza Khabuliani, an artist originally from the Republic of Georgia, would be visiting Forest Park for a month.
“Zaza arrived with basically nothing, only a couple of changes of clothing,” Manola said.
The two men originally met at an art show in New York in early 2005. More than a year later in October of 2006, Manola casually extended an invitation to Khabuliani to pay him a visit in the States. On Dec. 17, that’s exactly what Khabuliani did.
“We met at an art show and he said I could come here,” the artist explained.
Without any prior notice of his arrival, Manola scrambled to make arrangements and was able to secure an empty three bedroom apartment near the gallery where Khabuliani could live and work.
“I got him a mattress,” Manola said. “At first he didn’t even want a pillow or sheets.”
After shopping for art supplies and forsaking many of the creature comforts one might need over the course of a month, Khabuliani simply went to work.
“I just paint,” said the artist who takes his time hunting for the correct English phrase. “I am not even going outside.”
Praising the light in the apartment, he said it is a good space for painting. The isolation in the apartment, away from his wife and twin sons who are home in Russia, has also helped Khabuliani produce so many pieces.
“I can concentrate on the pieces and just paint,” he said.
Khabuliani’s goal is to produce 15 pieces in time for a one-man show opening on Feb. 9 at Boulevard Fine Art.
While Manola didn’t realize that his casual invitation was going to be accepted with such short notice, he is thrilled with the opportunity.
“We’ve been selling Zaza’s pieces for two years and have been doing very well with them,” Manola said. “We are really looking forward to the show. There are many patrons who are very excited to meet Zaza; some are coming from quite a distance.”
Khabuliani’s work has been exhibited in cities around the world such as Moscow, Paris, Berlin, Cyprus and Tbilisi, Georgia. Besides the gallery in Forest Park, Khabuliani’s work has also been seen in New York, where he has a number of collectors.
“He is really getting a name here in the U.S.,” Manola said.
Easy going and unassuming, Khabuliani has a master’s degree from the Academy of Art in Tbilisi where he was also an instructor. His work cuts across styles and mediums. He has created abstract and expressionistic paintings as well as sculptures and art installations.
“I like to experiment with different styles,” Khabuliani said. “You wouldn’t want to listen to just one kind of music. If you listened to only hard rock, it would make you crazy.”
The pieces included in the upcoming show are all paintings, and many of them will be included in a new catalogue, also being prepared for the show. Gallery manager Barbara Merritt is coordinating the catalogue, which will include photos of approximately 35 of Khabuliani’s works.
“Zaza has been painting and painting and painting,” Merritt said. “He is a really nice guy and he has been great to work with.”
Boulevard Fine Art moved from Oak Park to its present location on Madison Street in Forest Park last spring. Merritt said the community has been very receptive and the gallery is coordinating projects with other businesses.
Vibrant with color, many of Khabuliani’s pieces in the upcoming show are textural; the paint is applied with a palette knife in a thick impasto. Subjects include couples at cafés, portraits, birds, and bright, smiling children who play across the canvasses.
“The birds and the children make me think of freedom,” Khabuliani said. “They are free. It brings happiness.”
(A video of Khabuliani painting is available on his Web site at zazaart.net.)
“Art is everywhere the same,” Khabuliani said. “There are no borders in art.”
The public is invited to meet the artist during opening receptions on Friday, Feb. 9 and Saturday, Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. Boulevard Fine Art is located at 7416 Madison St. For more information call 771-6600.