FIRE IN HIS HANDS
One of the more significant works of Georgian mosaics is the work created in 1979 by the outstanding Georgian artist Givi Kervalishvili, dedicated to firefighters, that decorates the right side of the Fire Department building in Ortachala.
Of the four mosaic panels created by Kervalishvili for the Fire Department building, two survived while two others were destroyed during renovation and reconstruction of the building. These works will be mentioned below in more detail.
One of the two surviving fragments is a huge panel, simultaneously decorative and realistic, depicting a symbolic image of the Fireman-Defender of the city. According to the artist, the work is called “Fire in Safe Hands”. Indeed, the slightly elongated, vertical composition is an image of a firefighter standing against a background consisting of important architectural structures of the time.
Dominating the composition is the male figure, firmly gripping writhing jets of flame in his hands, preventing the fire from pouring freely into Tbilisi depicted in the background. When you look at the large, muscular figure that is standing confidently while taming the flames, it is inevitable to associate him with mythological gods, leading in the hierarchy of the divine pantheon. Without a doubt, even if the author did not intend for it to be perceived this way, his firefighter embodies the archetypal image of a father and of the lord, which is a unifying human symbol. The deliberately emphasized static posture of the figure and background gives the impression of reliability, steadfastness, and stability of the main character and further emphasizes the rapid movement of the fiery streams that pulsate in his mighty hands. The flowing outlines of the fire compositionally combine the bottom and the upper panels that will be explained in the second portion of the text. In addition to the brilliant plastic and compositional decisions, the panel “Fire in Safe Hands” has another undeniable advantage: it is a kind of thorough historical evidence of the architecture of the city.
As mentioned before, the background consists of a collage of the more significant buildings in the city. It is adjacent to the Cathedral of Sioni, the Mosque and Synagogue, the famous Metekhi Church, the Rustaveli National Theatre, the Opera House, the Georgian branch of the all-union Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute (that now has the Biltmore Hotel in its place), the circus building, gymnasium, the more fashionable hotel for that time period – hotel Iveria (currently transformed into the Radisson Hotel), the National Stadium named after Boris Paichadze (Dynamo Arena), the funicular building, as well as the collective image of the architecture of Old Tbilisi and the characteristic for the time street lantern that are no longer seen on Georgia’s territory. Practically all of Tbilisi as it would have been seen in the 70s, fit into the mosaic space… And what accuracy of depiction, what meticulous detail!
Are archival photos of that time able to compare with such highly artistic works of art in terms of the power of influence it has on the viewer? Some of these buildings are still preserved in the everchanging modern urban landscape, but for how long? Either way, it would not be unreasonable to assume that in a couple of decades these “atavisms” of the second half of the 20th century – architecture that very few are concerned with and whose historical value is not yet represented – will be destroyed by enterprising investors, giving way to newer, much more modern and functional buildings. Our grandchildren and grand-grandchildren will forget about one of the “faces” our of multifaceted city, which was previously admired as it was built by their not-so-distant ancestors. Nevertheless, works of art – partially works of the monumental genre – have the chance to preserve and convey to descendants the information about unique architecture of Tbilisi, similarly to how immortal mosaics of cities buried under volcanic ash (Pompeii and Herculaneum) managed to bring to us the memories of the beauty of their ancient architecture.