The Artistic Gravedigger Of Highgate Cemetery

The Artistic Gravedigger Of Highgate Cemetery
A man in a cap by a lion shaped tomb
Zurab Gogidze is an assistant gravedigger at Highgate Cemetery, and uses his workplace to inspire his art.

"The place is beautiful, sometimes I think magically beautiful."

It is perhaps rare to be enchanted by your own workplace, but this is the case for Zurab Gogidze. An assistant to the sexton at the bewitching Highgate Cemetery, among his duties are helping to dig graves, as well as tending to the purposefully-overgrown landscape. He also attend funerals, and sometimes helps the coffin bearers.

"I was temping for various gardening companies in London," says Gogidze, originally from Georgia, "until one day I was sent here. I knew Highgate by then, I loved the area and the cemetery, and was happy for the opportunity to do some work here.

"Then I was lucky enough to be offered a permanent position, with the addition of the gravedigging aspect of the job."

A sketch of an angel tombstone
" I loved the area and the cemetery, and was happy for the opportunity to do some work here." © Zurab Gogidze

But the story doesn't end there, because Gogidze is also an artist, and his muses became the myriad tombs and statues peppering this 'Magnificent Seven' cemetery. In particular, he finds inspiration in the mourning angels: "Their faces and posture very well express the peaceful mood of cemetery, which I describe as a sad but hopeful involvement in the circle of life and death, and of the material and the spiritual."

Among the statues Gogidze finds himself most drawn to at Highgate are two figures situated across from each other, flanking a path in the 'Meadow' area in the west of the cemetery.

He has created a series of pictures of Highgate's angels, but Gogidze also uses his necropolis surroundings as a jumping off point for more interpretive art. His ink and pencil pictures also whisk you into worlds where anonymous figures, silhouetted in moonlight, row across the sea; and balloons with gondolas glide over weather-vaned steeple tops — journeys to the other side... whatever that other side may be.

A balloon gondola drifts in the moonlight over a weathervaned steeple
His pictures whisk you into worlds where anonymous figures, silhouetted in moonlight, row across the sea; and balloons with gondolas glide over weather-vaned steeple tops. © Zurab Gogidze

Has his job as a cemetery gravedigger/gardener/artist given Gogidze any new perspectives on that final journey into the unknown?

"When I die, I want it to happen without me feeling the fear of dying. Whether I achieve this, I will only know when I won't need to know anything. But until then I want to draw, write, enjoy life and stay involved."

If you venture to Highgate Cemetery, though, don't expect to find the sexton's assistant setting up his easel; Gogidze doesn't like working in public. "I choose an angle, take a photo and later, when I am free and relaxed, I draw."

An exhibition of Gogidze's work, Peace on Paper is currently on at Lauderdale House, Highgate until 30 January 2023. Entry is free.

Last Updated 24 January 2023

Continued below.