Sopiko Barnovi is a talented decorative painter and cloisonné artisan who grew up within a community of artists in Tbilisi, Georgia and now resides here in New York. We visited Sopiko in her Brooklyn studio to have a conversation about her creative process and what inspires her decorative works of art, faux finishes, cloisonné, murals, textile design, and hand-painted watercolor illustrations for wallpapers.
Sopiko Barnovi painting in her Brooklyn studio. Photography by Laura Wheatley.
Along with painting and creating cloisonné works of art while in Georgia you were also a dancer in the National Georgian Ballet and earned your master's degree in textile design at the Tbilisi Academy of Arts. What elements of those experiences shaped your mindset as an artist today?
In Georgian ballet there is structure and there are rules to everything—everyone should look the same [and be synchronized] to create a beautiful visual effect, and solo performance is a big part of Georgian dances. There is beauty to that and I loved our dances, but at some point I just wanted freedom. I wanted to freestyle it. While studying at the Academy of Arts, I was learning the technical side of everything such as composition—it was more of a classical training.
And when you moved to New York you were able to have that freedom to create what you wanted and get outside your comfort zone?
Yes. After moving here at first it was hard to get used to—there are tons of people, different types of views and ideas, and the system is different. I started to get outside my comfort zone every day little by little and I liked the mix of cultures and people. I started looking at things differently and had more of an open mind with my art. I still use my own sense of color and everything, but my experiences that I have here show through. I began thinking more abstractly with my art, too. Art can give you more freedom and you can try any crazy idea you want. If you have enough passion in art you can do anything.
Cloisonné is such a unique art form as it combines both metal and enamel to create intricate pieces of art through a detailed process. You even go as far as forming your own metal wires for the designs from molten silver and gold. What are you drawn to most about this ancient technique?
I really like that with cloisonné you have some flexibility to combine colors and create gradients—which is the tricky part—and it can be used in everyday life and for interiors. It is basically painting, just a different medium. Once you learn the basic techniques it is all about improvisation—bending the wires to create whatever designs you want and mixing what colors you want. I love it.
How do you envision cloisonné being used in interiors?
You can create all kinds of things such as mirrors, bookcases, door handles, lamps, and room dividers. You can also make [inlaid] cloisonné tiles for walls—I would work with a plaster artisan to set it correctly as the metal part does add weight, but it is all definitely possible.
How do you approach your creative process when helping to bring a client's project to life?
Often a client knows exactly what they want and other times they are inspired by my other [more experimental] samples and I end up offering them something they might not have thought of before. Or, I offer a solution if they are wondering how to get a certain look, and in that case I might say something like "Oh, well, this particular glaze would create the effect you want."
It seems like whatever you set your mind and paintbrush to, whether it’s a sweeping scenic wall mural or a rare wood faux finish, you have great passion and dedication for what you do. Any thoughts to share on learning and applying new artisan techniques?
I think you should just experiment a lot with mixing techniques and materials—often you will get something very interesting. Let's say you want to see a dark background [underneath a wall's surface] and you put plaster on the top. It will shrink [when it dries] and you end up seeing the [dark-colored] lines on the back which gives a dramatic effect, and having this next to a brick wall would contrast nicely. It changes the look and creates something new.