Modernist artist (expressionist, futurist, constructivist); set and film production designer, painter, book illustrator – Irakli Gamrekeli, the founding-farther of the Georgian avant-garde scenography, was an unsurpassed connoisseur of set design techniques and the first Georgian artist who, according to the Futurist theatre principle, practiced a holistic approach, and thus equated the scenography to stage-craft.
He designed more than 50 productions and is considered a classic of Georgian performance design.
He was born in 1894 in Gori, Georgia. In 1910, he studied at the school of drawing and painting of Nikolai Sklifosovsky in Tbilisi under Boris Vogel and Boris Shebuev. After graduating from the Tbilisi Theological Seminary, he continued his studies first in Rostov, and then at the medical faculty of the Tbilisi University. For a short time he also studied at the Tbilisi Academy of Arts. As he himself spoke, his fascination with art had been due to impression caused by the works of goldsmiths Beqa and Beshqen Opizaries.
The exceptional talent of Irakli Gamrekeli as a scenographer was revealed in his collaborations with Kote Mardjanishvili and his student Sandro Akhmeteli, the modernist directors of the Georgian and Russian theaters. In 1921, Gamrekeli showcased his watercolor illustrations at one of the exhibitions in Tbilisi. The works Malaria and Danse Macabre attracted the attention of Kote Mardjanishvili – the fact defined the future of the young artist: Mardjanishvili invited him to design Oscar Wild’s Salome at the Tbilisi New Theatre. Kirill Zdanevich wrote: «This is the first and completely justified attempt to pave the way for a young artist. The way that means the radical reform of the Georgian stage design. Further work and promotion of the artist in this direction depends on the leadership of the Georgian stage. We want them to completely abandon narrowly ethnic, traditional scenery. Let them move on to the state-of-the-art creation” (journal “Galaktion Tabidze” N5, Tbilisi, 1923).
In 1922, Gamrekel designed Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna in Mardjanishvili’s production at the Georgian Drama Theater (now Rustaveli Theater). In the following year, he became the theatre’s Art Director. In parallel with working with Mardjanishvili, the artist continued his fruitful collaboration with Sandro Akhmeteli, which lasted until Akhmeteli’s forcing out from Tbilisi to Moscow.
Gamrekeli is one of the founders of the Georgian leftist painting; He designed journals H2SO4 (1924, a futuristic journal, a member of the editorial board of which he was) and Leftism. He also made the layout and illustrations for the books by Yona Vakeli, Grigol Robakidze, Simon Chikovani and others. (1926, 1927).
In 1928, together with the artist Valerian Sidamon-Eristavi, he worked as a production designer for the expressionist film My Granma by Kote Mikaberidze which was banned for decades,
Despite the ban on the film screening, his cooperation with the Georgian Film studio did not stop. He designed sets and costumes for the Mikheil Chiaureli’s Arsena and Georgi Saakadze.
Though he was very prolific in film production design, theatre remained the main direction in his art. He was a scenographer for almost all the epoch-making productions of that time. Londa by Grigol Robakidze (1922, director Kote Mardzhanishvili), Lamara (director Sandro Akhmetel, 1930) and Maelstrem (1923-24, director: Mardjanishvili) ; Masse-Mensch by Ernst Toller (1923, ); Mirror-Man by Franz Werfel, Shakespeare’s Hamlet (director Kote Marjanishvili, 1925, ); Zagmuk, the opera performance after the play of Anatoli Glebov (1926); The American Uncle by Shiukashvili (1926); Break Line by Boris Lavrenyov (director Sandro Akhmeteli, 1928); Anzori by Sandro Shanshiashvili (director Sandro Akhmetel, 1928), Businessman by Walter Hasenklever (1929), Tetnuldi by Shalva Dadiani, (director Sandro Akhmetel, 1931), The Robbers by Friedrich Schiller (director Sandro Akhmetel, 1933) Bogdan Khmelnizky by Korneychuk (1940) From the Spark by Shalva Dadiana, (1937) The Bride-to-be with the Poster by Carlo Goldoni (1942) and others.
He staged performances at the Tbilisi Russian Drama Theater named after Alexander Griboedov, Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theater, Maxim Gorki Leningrad Drama Theater, Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater.
In 1937, during the Decade of the Georgian Art in Moscow, his scenery and costumes for the opera performance Abesalom and Eteri produced a sensation.
He died in Tbilisi in 1943 at the age of 49.