Tamuna Sirbiladze, whose brushy paintings hovered between figuration and abstraction, and who had her first New York solo show in August, died in Vienna on Wednesday of cancer-related causes. She was 45.
Though Sirbiladze had been showing for a while in Europe, with exhibitions at places like Jonathan Viner Gallery in London and Secession in Vienna, she wasn’t known to New York audiences until last year, when she had two shows of her abstract paintings, at Half Gallery and James Fuentes. For the former, Sirbiladze turned Half Gallery’s Upper East Side space into an installation—two walls were covered in a series of purple, dark-blue, and green smears, and paintings were hung on top. In the past, Sirbiladze had also experimented with other forms of display, at times propping paintings against each other.
Sirbiladze’s paintings played with the division between figuration and abstraction, often melding the two in ambiguous images. Genitalia and bodies can be glanced in some, while in others, objects like jugs and fruits seem to materialize. Sirbiladze’s paintings recall the work of Henri Matisse and the Impressionists in their light, expressive brushwork.
Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1971, Sirbiladze was exposed to art mostly through books—her home country had few museums. She knew early on that she wanted to be an artist, however, and cited the colors of the art she came across as the reason she ended up painting. “Searching for light and color is my main engagement,” she told Forbes in an interview last year on the occasion of her Half Gallery show.
When Sirbiladze moved to Vienna, she met the artist Franz West, whom she married and had two children with, and whom she later ended up surviving, when he died in 2012. Despite West’s fame, she never felt overshadowed. “Franz hated all this authoritarian stuff,” she said in a 2013 interview.
James Fuentes, whose eponymous Lower East Side gallery began representing Sirbiladze last year, remembered the artist for her devotion to her family and her short period of exposure in New York. “She was filtering the history of painting to a point where she visually reflected a near-collapse or disintegration of these iconic images and forms,” Fuentes said in a phone conversation. “It really resonated with me as very timely work… Her career was really just starting to kick off in the United States, and we were only at the beginning of our journey together.”