Just play ball

Eleven-year-old Beso Kazaishvili is about to have his first UK exhibition, the latest step on the road to fame and fortune as an artist - at least that's what the minders say.

Ever met a child prodigy? For me, it was an incongruously novelettish experience. There was the 11-year-old painter-genius playing with a ball. And there was his art dealer, Roy Miles, saying: "He's going to be an internationally famous artist - even if I have to grab him by the hair."

It is 11.15 in the morning in Roy Miles's gallery in Mayfair. The scream of an electric drill making hook-holes for prodigy paintings - pounds 3,000- worth have been sold even before the opening of the one-boy show - drowns the cork-pop of a bottle of red Georgian wine. The telephone rings. Another press inquiry. "I'm taking no commission," Mr Miles tells the caller, "no commission at all."

Eleven-year-old Beso Kazaishvili, from the town of Akutaisi, in Georgia, is late. "Just when we need the boy, he's not here. It's outrageous," Mr Miles fumes. When, I wonder, will the role-playing stop? The only prop missing is a fat cigar for Mr Miles.

Young Beso eventually canters in, all smiles, bouncing his ball, accompanied by the Georgian Ambassador, His Excellency Teimuraz Mamatsashvili, and his wife Irina, a jolly couple with whom Beso is staying. Beso has not seen his parents and two brothers and two sisters since last month.

There seems to be some misunderstanding about a press statement that His Excellency has issued. It says that Beso wants to be a neuro-surgeon. Not exactly what Mr Miles has in mind. "Let's not have any more of these bits of paper going out," he tells His Excellency, pointedly. Then, turning to me: "The boy really does want to be an artist. Never mind what the parents say, poor darlings. They think this neuro-science business is chic. It dates back to the astronauts. I had a quiet moment with Beso when I first met him and he told me he wanted to be an artist."

I, too, had a quiet moment with Beso, with Mrs Mamatsashvili acting as translator. "What do you want to be?" I asked him. "A neuro-surgeon," he said. Which prompted Mr Miles's clarification about the possible need for hair-grabbing.

At least the paintings, by "Master Beso" as the glossy gallery brochure styles him, seem to be unscripted. Semi-abstract, they have a boldness that is not a child's - bright blocks of colour enclosed within firm black lines.

Dali is the only artist whose influence he admits: "my favourite", he calls him. It seemed a cruelty, but I asked him whether he thought he painted like Dali. "I do not paint like Dali, but I do feel like Dali," he says. He answers curtly, absorbed in the ink drawing he is doing on a clipboard.

His Excellency hovers with a camcorder. "They'll show this on television in Georgia and he'll be three times as famous," he says. "Our movie star!" says Irina. "What I love about him," says Mr Miles, referring to Beso, "is his complete naturalness. He has his feet firmly on the ground. Back home he enjoys boxing."

"What do you like playing at most?" I ask Beso. "Football," he says. I begin to wonder whether Beso is the only natural person in the room. There is a stillness about him. He takes my silly questions in his stride. What does he feel about all the attention he is getting? "I like it," he says. And would his work be influenced by all the art books that Mr Miles is threatening to buy him? "I'll be glad of them, but I'll still create in my own way."

Mr Miles deals in Russian art. The Ambassador introduced him to Beso last month, when Beso visited London for the opening of his show at the European Bank, of which His Excellency is governor for Georgia. "I had heard about Beso when I was in Georgia but had never met him." says Mr Miles. "When I saw his work at the Bank, I was staggered. The paintings were just nailed to boards, so I've had them properly stretched and framed. They're going to walk off the walls. There were two women in here wanting to buy the lot, but I refused. Let them wait until the opening." A trust fund is planned and the gallery's exhibition brochure has been funded by well-wishers.

Mr Miles leads an early viewer, 72-year-old Joseph Fitton, former chairman of Rochdale College of Art and art adviser to the late LS Lowry, towards one of Beso's pounds 200 ink drawings. "I'd have this one myself," he tells him, "but I'm here to sell for the boy." Mr Fitton buys it, then looks at a big abstract oil (pounds 1,000).

"Bloody hell," he says, standing back from it, "this guy knows when to finish. I've always been sceptical about the genius business, but this is unbelievably good. I've been collecting art since the age of 18 and I've never seen anything like it."

"My star," says Irina.

"Of course," Mr Fitton continues, "one is always looking for influences. You could see a bit of Erte here, a bit of Kandinsky, Cocteau, Braque, something of Dali. But he couldn't possibly ... I've never seen images like these."

Beso presents him with the drawing from his clipboard. Irina shows him how to sign it and write "For Joe". Beso speaks only Georgian, "but seems to understand every word you say".

An eye motif crops up continually in

his paintings. "He feels that an eye might

be watching him," says Irina. "He feels it

in the skin on the back of his neck."

Had the civil war affected him? He might have seen Russian troops arriving and leaving, says the Ambassador, and there would have been bandits, but the hardest thing had been poverty.

"Is your home poor?" I ask Beso. "No," he says, through Irina. "The situation is changing for the better each day."

As the trio is about to leave for lunch, Mr Miles answers another telephone call. "Sky Television!" he announces. "That's one million people. You're not to go yet."

Beso begins pacing up and down, bouncing his ball. "Poor darling," says Mr Miles, "he's hungry"n

Master Beso at the Roy Miles Gallery, 29 Bruton Street, London W1, from tomorrow to 6 June (0171-495 4747)

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