I was born in 1959, in the Black Sea coastal town of Ochamchiri in the Caucasus. My father was a farmer and my mother, a court secretary. My childhood was fun. We climbed mountains. When the river flooded, we built small dams and staged pirate fights. However, life, on the whole, was fairly patriarchal, and so the biggest event of the year was when the Moscow Circus came to town. The animals, clowns in their vibrant costumes, and agile acrobats fired my imagination and became favourite characters of many of my paintings.
My artistic skills were noticed at school and I gained a place at the Sukhumi School of Art. In those days getting in there was quite competitive and the teachers were excellent. Far away from the strictures of capital life, we were taught about artists who did not enjoy official approval. It was there that I first discovered and came to love great early-20th century French art. My teacher, the artist Givi Ghergaya, had a huge influence over me.
After graduating from the Sukhumi School, I continued my studies at St Petersburg’s Mukhin Institute, but spent just as much time at the Hermitage, studying and copying the Impressionists and European Old Masters.
When perestroika started, I became one of the first artists doing street portraits. I was spotted by a gallery owner from Italy where I was to put on my first solo shows. Next followed invitations to Robinsons, a leading gallery in the Belgian town of Knokke, and my collaboration began with Dutch gallery owner Mark Peet Visser. I also exhibited at celebrated dealer Roy Miles’s London gallery. Over the past 25 years I have taken part in a great many international shows in various countries, as well as in Moscow.
My artworks are now in collections all over the world, including those of celebrities such as Luciano Pavarotti, Jean-Pierre Richard, Gérard Depardieu, Madonna, and John Galliano, well-known sports and business personalities, and simply art lovers. I also succeeded in winning an international competition and painted two vast panels for the world’s largest cruise liner, the Queen Mary 2.
This is the ceremony where the president of Russian Academy of Art gives to Igor Tcholaria the diploma of the honor membership in the Academy.