Dr. Albert Kostenevich
Chief Curator, Modern Western-European Paintings Collection
State Hermitage Museum

The discovery of Boris Chetkov is a gratifying moment in the modern artistic life. It seems that the creativity and the very biography of the artist are the purely Russian phenomenon: it is hard for a Western spectator to understand their severe “soviet” context: ordeals of life experienced by the artist in his young age — hungry childhood, Gulag, war; professional development under the cruel pressing of the totalitarian state, long years without recognition, artistic and informational hunger, and isolation from the world art process. All this sounds like a historical and political documentation interesting mostly for specialists on the political history of the Soviet Union. However, the scale of Chetkov’s art is such that all these circumstances are a kind of background, and the drama of the art itself remains the main thing. Certainly, fate and life left their mark on Chetkov’s art, but didn’t determine its contents. They rather gave to the artist’s work the energy of resistance, which became the inner impulse of his self-development. Due to this energy Chetkov’s creativity gained not a regional, but a trance-international scale.

Though Chetkov graduated two art colleges of higher education in the Soviet Union, there were two meetings in his youth that influenced his work: a short acquaintance with the artist N. Yevgrafov — the former pupil of the Russian avant-garde classic Pavel Filonov (Chetkov was a young worker from the Urals who just showed interest for art), and the training at the studio of V. Eifert, the artist with encyclopedic knowledge. Both artists were outcasts from the official point of view, but meeting them was mystically important for the professional and spiritual development of Chetkov. Everything else Chetkov achieved himself: high artistic culture, advanced artistic thinking, and despite of informational isolation, an amazing “tuning” to the wavelength of European modernism, first place, to the creative work of Matisse, Klee, and Picasso.

To some extent, Chetkov is a national spontaneous modernist with a highly characteristic demiurge complex of independent transformation, re-encoding of the world. Especially, it shows in his portraits. There his inclination for authorization, even appropriation of the surrounding world depicted in the images of his models matches the traditional Russian aim at a dialogue. With all his aspiration for plastic implementation (actually, re-creation according to his measures and ideas) Chetkov sometimes is very respectful to his characters. He is attentive to their identity: sometimes he is interested in psychological, sometimes — in behavioral pattern, sometimes he is looking for visual analogue to the professional world of a model, for instance, music in the portraits of musicians. I am sure, Chetkov’s portraiture — spirited, passionate, sometimes naïve, but always humane will become a discovery for experts and lovers of this genre.

Dr. Albert Kostenevich