One of my favorite things to do is to get lost in any city and find street art, somewhere off the beaten path. While wandering in Tbilisi, I realized that I am specifically drawn to the work of TAm OOnz. I had no idea who she was. But I sensed that it was a female artist. After getting back home, I kept going through my photos and looked up TAm’s name and found her FB page. I sent her a message and she responded. Coming up with questions for someone like TAm that just exudes power and creativity wasn’t easy. And I deeply appreciate her punctuality and the time she put in answering to my questions so poignantly and expressively.
When did people start painting murals in Tbilisi? And who were the first artists?
TAm OOnz: You mean graffiti? The first person who did stencils in the streets of Tbilisi was MIRO, it was in 90’s and he was doing famous and funny Soviet cartoon stencils and not only cartoons. I remember that as a kid. After that everything else started from the beginning of 2010, and I was among the very first few people who started doing graffiti and murals. My friends and I were running in the streets at night or daytime and painting graffiti with spray paint, wheatpasting our ideas. Graffiti artists like Dr. Love, Lamb, Chil, Miro, etc.
Mural making is like a performance – you’re in a public space and you might get a lot of attention. Does this distract you when you’re working?
TAm OOnz: Yes, it is like a performance when you are painting outside. Everyone can see the process from beginning to end. It is very interesting for ordinary people to see the magical process of creation of an artwork. It’s even more curious when the graffiti artist is a woman. Usually, people stop and ask questions. Yes, sometimes it gets annoying to communicate with everyone who stops, but I understand them too and I am trying to be nice and talk to them. I am using the trick with headphones, so it often helps.
You’re blowing up your female characters and their hair up to huge scales and getting noticed for it. Tell me about the significance of hair in your work. What does it symbolize for you?
TAm OOnz: I believe in energetic and spiritual connections between human beings and the universe and I believe that long hair is one of the powerful tools of the human body, especially for women. Since childhood, I was wearing my long and curly hair down. I was very proud of my strong hair. They looked very healthy and gave me a lot of confidence. But as I was going through a negative period in my life, my hair became weak and started to fall out. Something was going on with them and I decided to cut them off, as hair tends to keep a lot of information. I wanted to lose any connection with the negativity and clean my energy fields.
As I give hair so much meaning, I love to paint them. It is a very meditative process for me to draw hair. All the characters I draw are mentally and physically strong, so that’s why they have a huge volume of hair.
You feature a lot of feminine power in your paintings and murals. Are you exploring “feminine power” or “sexual power”?
TAm OOnz: I am not thinking about feminine or sexual power as I am drawing. In my creative moment, it is just me, the artist without any gender. I am not proving anything. I am simply enjoying my freedom to paint whatever I want to paint at that moment.
What do you see as your biggest obstacle or your peer’s biggest obstacle as muralists in Tbilisi?
TAm OOnz: Street art is still new in Georgia and we are still in the process of establishing ourselves in this field. There are fewer artists interested to do street art and murals these days. It’s not easy to paint murals and, physically, it’s very hard to do it. But we are trying, so let’s see…
Do you have a routine that gets you in the flow for painting?
TAm OOnz: Well, I don’t have any special routine to get in the flow for painting. I am always ready and inspired to create, even if there are a lot of people around me. I just need to focus on what I do, so don’t need any special environment.
The only transformation I go to is that something changes in me: I become a different person. My drawing style changes a lot when I change my location. That’s the reason why I love to travel. But not as a tourist, quickly passing through. I love living in a new place I visit as a local, as it gives me a lot of inspiration. The new world around me, new smells, new people …, helps me discover something new in myself as an artist.
The only routine I have is to draw fast. I never spend more than two days on the same drawing or mural.
The role of women in art. What’s your take on this?
TAm OOnz: The role of women in art is very important. We have our unique vision and that needs to be spread around the world more. In the past centuries, art created by women was largely ignored and hidden. We see very few female artists from different artistic movements and periods shown in museums all over the world. But today we come across very interesting female artists in every artistic direction, be it sculpture, ceramics, fine arts, etc. And it makes me happy to see more women involved in street art too.
Graffiti is used for a great number of things: to express ideas, the exercise large scale painting skills, to put your mark on something, to make a protest. Why do you do what you do?
TAm OOnz: The question is my answer. I would just add that I love painting on the walls, it’s my way of expressing myself and to show my identity and power. I feel proud of myself when I do big walls. It’s my way of fighting for approval that women can do anything and everything. That we are free to do whatever we want to do and be free from stereotypes.
Do you think graffiti artists are going to be written out of Art History?
TAm OOnz: I think graffiti artists have already made their own big page in Art History and it is still being written. The art form is progressively growing. It is still new but we already have such big names like Banksy, Shepard Fairey, and many more. Graffiti and street art is a new form of modern art, just like there was a renaissance, impressionism, etc. It is a new culture which is around us every day, we already live in it and it’s all over the world. Every city has graffiti. So, I think people who are creating graffiti or street art can’t be and won’t be ignored. If someone dares to wipe or write them out, we will write it again and again on your walls.
How do you identify yourself?
TAm OOnz: I identify myself more like Illustrator/Street Artist since I am not sure how to call what I am doing. I am not focused only in one area and I am always curious to try different directions in art.
In the world so clearly divided into male and female – how do you feel about being the most prominent and recognized female muralist in Tbilisi?
TAm OOnz: Well, I never felt discriminated for being a woman and a muralist, graffiti/street artist. Wherever I go I am welcomed by very positive vibes and attitude. I get a lot of respect and love from people, especially in Georgia.
Do you have a favorite childhood memory about Tbilisi?
TAm OOnz: I have a lot of good memories about Tbilisi. I grew up here and I have a lot of friends in this city. But my fondest memory is when I discovered Miro’s works when I was a kid. It was something new and fresh in the city full of negativity and gray.
What would you like to change in Tbilisi?
TAm OOnz: There are a lot of things I would love to change, first of all, I would like to add more parks and trees, I want to see less high rises built in the city, I’d rather see masses of green. I’d love to have a better environment for living, so people would be calmer and in harmony with themselves. Now everything is chaotic here and I don’t like it.