Conversation with Elene Metreveli: "My Creative Journey Is All About Contrasts"

Maria Glotova

Childhood & Personality

— Who did you admire in your childhood?

When I look back on my childhood, the word "admiration" takes on a slightly different meaning for me. The ones I wanted to idolize were the characters I created myself. I always loved inventing creatures that were magical, and they were my inspiration. Later on, there were heroes from cartoons, a kind of narrative of characters that helped me understand the world - it's a classic development for a child. But I still embellished them a bit, drew them in my own way, with specific characters in mind.

My grandfather was an incredible person. I always tried to make him happy; he brought so much joy into my life. Of course, the older I became, the clearer this feeling became. He's no longer with us, but I still admire him to this day.

— Have you been able to fulfill any of your childhood dreams?

I wouldn't say I've achieved any dream completely, but the significant one certainly has — I became an artist. There was also a time when I aspired to be a ballerina, but that faded pretty quickly.

Growing up, I had aspirations that might not have been typical for a kid. Life presented challenges that made me contemplate profound matters. My parents did their best to make my wishes come true within their means. Their support means the world to me, and I'm endlessly grateful for it.
— How would you describe your character in a few words?

I'd say I'm pretty good at putting myself in other people's shoes, even if I haven't been in their exact situation. Sometimes I might overdo it a bit, almost to the point of being a bit too understanding (laughing). I consider myself kind-hearted, with a bit of urban flair, someone who enjoys a bit of excitement in life! Self-acceptance is important to me. Sure, I have my moments, like everyone else, but I accept all aspects of myself — the good, the bad, and everything in between. And, overall, I like to think of myself as talented!

— What motivates you?

A lot of things! Every problem I overcome is a realization that I've become stronger. I'm motivated by the ability to savor all the details of life's positivity. I try to ignore negativity (in the emotional sense) and focus on positivity — those remnants of colors I see. Unfortunately, after all the eye issues, I have very little remaining vision, so I enjoy even more the beauty I can see. It certainly motivates me to create, to live, and to revel more in life — it's an incredibly uplifting feeling, one I strongly feel, and then, upon reflection, realize it's incredibly empowering and motivating.

— How have vision issues changed your life?

It was unexpected, although such things can't be anticipated. I've been drawing all my life and never had to question my artistic identity, but a completely new stage began. Perhaps it was my biggest artistic crisis. I realized I had to accept the fact that had happened — and I did. I had to learn to draw again, like people learn to walk after an accident: it may look the same as before, but it's different. It's the same with art. Those familiar with my work will recognize me in the new pieces. There was a stage of blind drawing, when I drew without seeing anything, assistants helped with colors. I would say what color I needed, they would give me the right brush. When I began to see something, there was a freeze, but I combined all the skills I acquired. Today, my vision is inconsistent, I can't rely on it one hundred percent. Now, if during the creative process I realize that a straight line starts to move, I no longer stop my hand and follow the movements independent of me. My painting consists of shapes that depend on me, and sometimes don't depend on me at all. This is the new me.
— What places do you find most appealing? Where do you feel most at home?

I tend to gravitate towards environments where I feel comfortable and at ease — those spaces become my haven. Conversely, I steer clear of places that don't resonate with me. I enjoy the energy of modern cities and the tranquility of nature — the beauty of sunsets, the serenity of dawn, and the allure of exotic landscapes.

If I were to imagine my ideal setting, it would blend serene mountain views with the vast expanse of the sea. Stepping outside, I'd immerse myself in the bustling energy of cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York, London, or Moscow. It would be my personal retreat, combining urban vibrancy with natural beauty.

Growing up in Georgia, my family's ancestral home in Tbilisi holds a special place in my heart. It's been a cherished part of our family heritage for generations, imbued with a sense of belonging and tradition. After spending two decades in Moscow, it has become an integral part of my life, enriched with fond memories and enduring relationships.

London has always held a special allure for me. While it has been some time since I last visited, the city always evokes a desire to call it home. It's the innate pull towards certain places that gives them a sense of home for me, resonating deeply with my sense of connection and comfort.

— Is clothing a form of self-expression for you?

Absolutely! Every day is a new canvas, sometimes even multiple times a day. I love it — it's like I'm constantly creating and experimenting with my own style! However, I never impose my style on others. There's definitely that initial impression, where I might get inspired, smile, or ponder, "Interesting choice they made," but it doesn't affect how I interact with or perceive someone's character.

Each time, I craft my own character and role. It varies. For example, when I'm in a good mood, I might delve into a darker aesthetic, or vice versa —when I'm feeling down, I create a spring-like visual. It could also be a direct match. So, to reiterate, absolutely YES!

Creative Process & Art

— Let's dive into the world of creativity, starting from its inception in your life. How did it all begin?

I can't recall a time when I wasn't creating. Drawing has been a lifelong passion for me. I was always sewing, adding little flowers to my clothes. I wore whatever I pleased. The freedom I had was incredible, and I'm so grateful for it. It's such a joy — to feel free to express myself from childhood. It's cool because later on, self-expression becomes genuine: it wasn't something that just appeared at some point, it's always been there — what's already familiar, ordinary... It's unusual, of course, and I appreciate that, but it's become a kind of norm for me (smiling).
— How would you characterize your own artistic style?

In this regard, I'll refer to the professionals — critics, agents, gallery owners, who at different times characterize my works. Surrealism, luminism, transitioning from one to another.

Emotionally, it's akin to life's performance because we're all participants in this grand theater. It's a genuine act, it's just that some people assume a role, while others are consistently authentic. It's a deeply ingrained aspect, conscious for some, subconscious for others, but essentially, it's a big game that I convey on canvas, through sculptures, performances. I'd even say: playing one’s role. I'm playing mine.
— Have there been moments in your life when you weren't involved in art? What was that like?

I've never completely stepped away from art and have always preferred creative pursuits over other activities. If a project distracted me, I would set it aside, losing interest. And in recent years, I've made a conscious effort to avoid anything that doesn't resonate with me.

During my studies, I explored architecture while also writing and drawing. There was a collaboration with Guram Gvasalia, and an exhibition in Paris sparked my interest in fashion.

The busiest period, when my creative output was at its lowest, was when I operated a store. I had the Elobelo Store with wonderful partners Yana Lebedeva and Nadia Missbach in their beauty space, Brush & Blow. It lasted for almost two years. Back then, I was involved in exhibitions to a limited extent. It was during this period that I experienced the feeling I mentioned earlier.

Now, I'm fully immersed in doing exactly what I want. Fashion is still present, but only in projects that interest me. It's an amazing feeling — being completely aware that I'm on the right path.
— Are there any specific materials you prefer to work with?

As a child, I would draw with anything I could get my hands on. During my studies, I used a lot of watercolor and oil paints. When I became more conscious about painting, around 18 or 19, I started experimenting and developed a fondness for construction materials, which often behaved unexpectedly when mixed with art supplies. Each artwork was a learning experience, and I still strive to discover something new, incorporating it into the next piece, constantly evolving. It's an endless process, and I hope it never ends because it drives the creation of each subsequent work.

I enjoy exploring new materials! Sometimes, I come across a material, not necessarily from the art world, and my brain starts churning with ideas. Essentially, I'm inspired by what I see and start conceptualizing. But in those moments, the key is to start creating quickly; otherwise, the idea might slip away. I often have many ideas, but I don't always have the time to bring them to life.

— Do you follow any rituals before starting the creative process?

Music! I wouldn't call it a ritual; it's more like second nature to me. When there's no music playing, I start focusing on the quality of my work. I can engage this mechanism even while listening to music, and sometimes it's necessary to ensure precision in my pieces. Without music, there's just concentration, but with music, there's a connection to concentration at the right moment and a departure. It's a departure that can't be compared to any drug. I simply can't do without music! No, I don't want to be without it (smiling).

— What kind of music do you prefer?

Rock is one of my favorite genres. Overall, I enjoy a bit of everything. Sometimes, even instrumental music is enough. But rock feels like it's a part of me. It's like a true reflection of life, a story. It drives me! I also have a soft spot for techno; it's closely linked with colors for me. The right kind of trance, not the mainstream stuff, triggers associations of shapes, colors, and the movements of those colors. When I listen to techno, I visualize neon, gritty or clean colors, thick or thin lines, soft and smooth or jagged and rough, architectural elements.

Music always mirrors my state of mind. There are several artists who are especially significant to me, each with their own story. For instance, when I was very young, my mom used to drive a red Lada with a blue bumper. It also had cassette players, which were constantly being stolen (laughing), so we had to keep replacing them. And then, Janis Joplin comes on the radio, and according to my mom, I start reacting to this music in an incredible way, saying, "Mom, this is so cool!" It's adult music that I reacted to with absolute childlike joy. Then, one lovely evening, my mom and I were chatting about music, and she tells me that she listened to Janis Joplin throughout her pregnancy, and then adds, "I think you just heard her." Well, Mom found the music to pick out.. (smiling) Janis has some positive songs, but generally, her music is quite heavy.

— What serves as your source of inspiration?

[Finally, a question no interview can go without!] Everything. Absolutely everything. Primarily, it's about contrasts. That's why everything is needed, to have contrasts.

Life Habits & Interests

— What can't you go a day without?

Let's skip the clichés like water and so on. I've already said a lot about music. But overall, it's the feeling of happiness. You can't experience it constantly, but personally, I consider myself a very happy person. I know how to appreciate the things that are always there, and I continue to exist thanks to the ability to even in the toughest moments, pause, realize that I can smile, and see true beauty. In those moments, I feel genuine happiness. Moreover, it has become a habit. Not that such perception ever appeared, it has always pursued me. It's just that at some point, after analyzing automatic perceptions of certain things, I realized this is what happiness is.

— Besides art, what else are you passionate about?

As you may have already gathered, I have a deep love for music, so much so that sometimes it's hard to put into words! I also have a passion for fashion. Surprisingly, I'm fascinated by medicine; its language comes naturally to me. I find it intriguing to stay updated on the latest developments in the medical field. While I don't particularly enjoy mathematics, I appreciate disciplines where there are clear, logical answers. I'm interested in philosophy and psychiatry. Although in psychiatry, there are rarely straightforward answers (laughing). I enjoy discussing these topics with friends, especially those with whom the conversation is engaging. It's a form of exchange. Exchange is essential in everything.

Career and plans

— Which artists or movements have had the greatest influence on your work?

I would highlight not specific artists, but rather periods of artistic development, naturally intertwined with architecture. I'm particularly impressed by the period from the 12th century to the present day, but there are also earlier fascinating works, such as the earliest discoveries of artistic expressions on stone, the use of tempera, for instance, the depiction of a dying bull. Previously, animals were portrayed without eyes, but this bull is one of those examples where eyes appear, and it is dying, showing the transition from life to death. This creation dates back not just to the second century BC, but much earlier. The fact that people at that time couldn't even speak but were able to convey such emotion absolutely captivated me.

Then there's the Renaissance, both in Italy and the Northern Renaissance. Of course, Bosch. There's always something in life that he depicted in his triptychs — some sort of paradise and hell — but now it's very vivid and accessible even to those who don't think much about it. One of my recent works is dedicated to this story; I was inspired by Bosch. For several days in a row, I dreamt that I was in his triptych and afraid of ending up in hell, being eaten by a creature. If you remember, in the painting, a monster eats people and then excretes them. I woke up with these thoughts, realizing that the parallels with today are quite evident. So I created my triptych, on one canvas, but with divisions, as if three works are merged together. The painting is called H-SOMETHING IN THE MIDDLE-H, which stands for Heaven-SOMETHING IN THE MIDDLE-Hell. I named this work in English because I like the play of letters visually — H (heaven) and H (hell).

In every era, there's someone I really like; it's definitely not just one artist. I wouldn't even say that I love one film or book, although I must admit, I was never particularly fond of reading (laughing).

Among architectural styles, I used to love Gothic architecture.

Someone impresses with emotion, perhaps even negative, like Munch. Someone amazes with the colors of the sunrise or some impossible but actually existing colors, such as Renoir's greens with sunbeams, variegated red lips. Absolute sex and flirtation, perhaps not so obviously readable, but in fact, that's what it transmits. It would simply be impossible to stop enumerating the artists who inspire me!

— Your recent performance in Moscow was undoubtedly impressive. What emotions and reactions did it evoke from the audience? How did you feel yourself taking part in this event?

[Thank you very much, I'm glad you liked it!] You know, when I arrange a performance, I enter a kind of trance. I'm almost unaware of what's happening around me. I'm immersed in the process, interacting with people tactilely, sometimes verbally, but I don't perceive their reaction. I'm keenly aware of the energy exchange happening, which I give and receive — it's incredibly inspiring.

In my works, I always emphasize the fact that nature exists within humans, and it was important to me that every guest at the performance felt this connection within themselves. One way or another, we instinctively react, no matter how much we evolve. Each of us has a flower inside that grows and dies — this is the moment of pushing off the bottom. Every human being experiences such a moment in life. The reasons can be different. But this is our flower, and it's important not to forget about it.

When the performance ends, and I step away from the process, I'm extremely interested in the feedback from critics. I'm open to any opinion. I don't want to hear only positive reactions because I understand there are eight billion of us (laughing). Many people attended the performance, so it's impossible for everyone to experience the same emotion. The main thing is for people to maintain a respectful attitude. I won't mention names, but some art critics can write disrespectfully, unpleasantly about an artist. And then there are those who, even without understanding the artwork, write very cultured critiques. I respect that. I always treat people the way I would like to be treated. And I expect the same from others. Although, you know, it's also interesting to observe a vivid reaction, whether it's positive or negative.
— What are your plans for upcoming exhibitions and projects?

You know, I always say: until plans are realized, I prefer not to talk about them. I want people to see the finished result, and sharing the process of creation kills the desire for me to do it as I would have done it if I hadn't shared it. I don't know why, but by announcing my plans, I partly feel as if I've already accomplished them, which ultimately works out quite differently. So let's see!

— Any advice for aspiring artists?

I'm not one to hand out advice freely, but since you're asking... (laughing) I'd suggest not holding back. Express your thoughts, reveal your emotions. It's crucial because, in art, authenticity shines through, distinguishing genuine expression from the rest. And that authenticity resonates deeply with viewers. For example, consider revisiting an artwork you created years ago. Though your emotional landscape may have shifted, that piece still encapsulates the essence of your feelings at that time. Conversely, you might sense something lacking, a hint of hesitation, perhaps fear of judgment. I've encountered those emotions in my own work, and there's a certain depth to them, reflecting a specific moment in time. When I overcame that fear, I found myself embracing even more inspiration, like a sponge soaking up water. It's about opening up, letting go, and allowing yourself to be fully vulnerable. You uncover these parts within yourself, empty them out, and then fill them up even more. The more you empty, the faster you fill. And if someone fears being an open book, they need to understand an artist just can't be that way because there are things that are only accessible to the creator.
— How would you sum up your creative journey in just one word or phrase?

[I'm a big fan of the number 21, and it's cool that our interview wraps up on the 21st question!] If I had to sum up my creative journey, I'd say it's all about contrasts.