Ana Tkabladze Dances with Glass

Ana Tkabladze
On a warm May evening in old town Alexandria, a small silver shop is buzzing with activity. There is excitement in the air and the ice-cold Cha Cha is flowing. Ana Tkabladze has a show. The entrance hall is jammed and people spill out into the historic brick-lined street. Inside, there is a bar, but more importantly, Ana's work is upstairs.

Working in any medium to produce art is difficult, but Ana works in multiple: silver and enamel, and also gold and gemstones. She is also facile working in copper. Combining materials in this way has challenges in spades, and those multiply when one of them is enamel. The smith must first anneal the metal properly, hitting the right temperatures to shape and texture the material (which differs with the type of metal) without causing later structural issues. Even then when everything is executed perfectly, to add enamel is literally another layer of extreme complexity. Each piece carefully laid out in advance and then predicting which way the glass will flow once it hits the 1300-1500 degree kiln. The enamel must fuse properly to the metal. The colors must not mix when meant to be separate and must blend when meant to blend. It is a dance and one that cannot be executed without years of devoted practice.

Upstairs, there is a throng waiting to get the chance to see each of these lithe necklaces and rings in the gleaming cases. I take in each one and as good enamel does, I am left amazed by both the textures and the color of the work. But this is not the same enamel work as any I have seen before. There is perhaps a similarity with the quality of the great enamalists in mid-century Norwegian work like David Anderson or Aksel Holmsen. But the style is completely fresh and the shapes of the pieces are not at all the same. A woman looks at her husband, points at a piece and says, "Frank Lloyd Wright." Perhaps I think.. A little, but no, not really at all. The fact is, to look at Tkabladze's work and try to reduce it as something derivative isn't possible. The work is truly unique. She brings her own eye for color and texture and overall design as well. These pieces are timeless, sophisticated, elegant. You've never seen this before. As an artist, she is sui generis.

In the beautiful warm evening, I strike up a conversation with a sophisticated young woman. I ask her which is her favorite piece. At first she struggles to name it, as would I, but then makes her way to a pair of multi-tiered dangling earrings. Her face lights up as she talks about what she would wear with them and then takes me across the room to see the Egyptian Revival necklace. It's a triumph. There in a glass and ormolu vitrine is a remarkable necklace. All at once Egyptian. And the colors are stunning. Between the lapis scarab focal and the vivid green and azure inset above a gilded field, this is a dazzling work. She talks about how the necklace evokes her memories of living in Egypt with her mother and of her continual visits back there-- a country itself steeped in silver work. Noticing how emotional and evocative it is, it's easy to see that this isn't merely jewelry.

The winged necklace harkens back to the period in 1820-40 when there was a mania for all things Egyptian in many parts of the world. The greatest discoveries were just happening at Giza and for a couple decades, the cities of Paris, London, and New York frenzied for the style of these ancients. Of course Ana knows that. She is formerly trained in archaeology and so these kinds of historical references are integrated into her work with aplomb and grace. The most difficult part of working with enamel is to exercise restraint, but allow it to shine. Too much color and pizzazz and enamel becomes garish. Not enough and it's cold. This is why, looking at these pieces, it's clear that they will be treasured. It's this kind of work that will be studied and debated in a century. Sought after.

Tkabladze Ring
I would be remiss not to mention the fact that the work also has roots in another place. That place is Georgia. No, not the one near Alabama. The one in the Caucasus region of Europe. Ana's work has been recently exhibited at the Georgian Embassy in Washington, DC because of its close ties to the country. You get the sense that there are echoes of Georgia in the work. There are the curves in the cloisons, and the dancing colors that seem to be move together all at once alive and full of vigor. At the bar, there is a discussion of the dances in Georgia, their importance to life, and the weekly dance gatherings in Washington where the traditional dances of Georgia live on.

Somehow each piece manages to marry a calm and loose style with an absolute precision and intent. In fact, it is an intricate dance between these two characteristics. In my experience in enamel work, you'll usually find one but not both of these qualities. And to me, this is why this work is important and exceptional. It is difficult to believe when she tells you that she has already achieved her remarkable success in just three years of working in spare hours from her apartment studio.

A Tkabladze triumph
One example of this is the rectangular pendant. This piece is so cosmopolitan. So exceptional. And like truly great pieces of jewelry, there is a surprise. Great jewelers are beyond just competently putting together a piece. They add surprises, fun, and unexpected elements. And so it is here where the center medallion (with its fields of deep aqua and triangular insets) is completely removable. Another centerpiece could be made. You could transform this necklace with a subtle slide on the back. It's a technical accomplishment. Also, important is to note the textures. The gently oxidized silver with its matte lines and the fused chain. Taken together, it is a master work. And as if that weren't enough, there is a matching ring


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