Rare Sveshnikov April 25 - May 19, 2013

Boris Sveshnikov


Boris Sveshnikov’s oeuvre epitomizes the ability of the creative spirit to prevail in the most inhumane of circumstances. In 1946, when the artist was 19 years old, he was arrested under false accusation of terrorist activity and sent to a labor camp. Sveshnikov was falling trees until, due to poor health, he was transferred to a carpentry workshop. This fortunate circumstance permitted the artist to draw on duty. During his years in incarceration, Sveshnikov produced numerous meticulously detailed drawings, where the plethora of imagery was limited only by the artist’s imagination. Their surreal narratives, ostensibly detached from the artist’s real life experiences, have little to do with the daily life of labor camp. Drawing on his vast readings of literature, Sveshnikov carefully disguised Gulag atrocities behind universally recognizable images of human weaknesses and sins. The singular sophistication of the artist’s drawing turns the scenes of unbound Renaissance-style revelry and explicit erotic encounters into the metaphors for endurance and survival. Inspired by romantic aesthetics of E.T. Hoffman and Victor Hugo, Sveshnikov created a visual language of extreme sensibility. A faithful follower of the tradition of romanticism, the artist celebrated human form, simple everyday pleasures and vibrant nature as escape remedies against historic vagaries and the ugliness of totalitarian regime. In Sveshnikov’s later phase, the joyful intensity of his earlier work is substituted by whimsical interplay of the phantasmagorical and otherworldly. His black and white labyrinths are inhabited by creatures of unknown origin and purpose. Behind their quirky forms and erratic behavior, the viewer can decipher the artist’s humanistic message of art defying death and beautifying the ugly and the unknown. Nature occupies a special place in the artist’s late oeuvre. Sveshnikov’s delicate landscapes of translucent hues and unassuming natural imagery become the artist’s escape into the simple yet harmonious world distant from the tragedies of history.

Boris Sveshnikov was born in 1927 in Moscow. A student of the Moscow Institute of Applied and Decorative Arts, in 1946 he was arrested by the Soviet authorities, imprisoned for a year and later sent to a labor camp in Ukhta region in Komi USSR. In 1953 the artist was released and settled in the town of Tarusa.  Considered rehabilitated in 1956, he received the permission to return to Moscow where he made his living as a book illustrator.

Boris Sveshnikov’s works have been subject of numerous group exhibitions of Russian non-conformist artists as well as solo exhibitions in notable art institutions such as the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum. His works are found in the collections of The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg and The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.