It was in late 2001 when I was ﬁrst presented with photos of Chetkov’s paintings. Having spent years studying and appreciating Russian art, I immediately recognized something unique, an unabashed sense of freedom in the artist’s expression — something not often seen from painters of the Soviet Era. This was something different.
I promptly arranged to meet the artist at his studio near Narvskaya Metro in St. Petersburg. After climbing the seven ﬂights of stairs, I arrived at the roof level and Chetkov welcomed me. What a delightful man — clear and present, childlike, open and lively, but at the same time mystical as if on another wavelength. The studio was small, maybe 400 square feet, with an easel in the middle and hundreds of paintings stacked everywhere. He served fruit and tea and we looked at paintings until we were exhausted. This was the beginning of a wonderful friendship that would last until his ﬁnal days.
In the years that followed, I visited Boris many--- times. He would share his insights and we would talk about art, and although he was in early 80s his energy was boundless — working all day, every day. Boris’ wit and humor were ever present. He enjoyed costumes and would often appear in some sort of regalia. His favorite was a red silk Chinese folk outﬁt complete with a matching hat.
But beyond the pleasant rapport, I had been seriously impressed by his paintings and refreshing vision. The more I saw, the more I loved his work. These were paintings that I could look at a thousand times and never be bored. I came to understand that this was an important artist who followed his vision and found his own way — a painter who had come to the same conclusions as Picasso and Klee and yet his work stood on its own, apart from comparisons. In spite of the hardship that Soviet life had delivered, he persevered and channeled his immense range of emotions with brilliant color, masterful technique and a positive, magical outlook.
Chetkov’s trajectory took him from childhood in a rural peasant village to being incarcerated at the infamous Nishny Tagil Gulag, through the frontlines of WWII, through artistic oppression and rejection, to ﬁnally come full circle in the twilight of his life with critical acclaim and the ﬁrst one man exhibit ever held at the presidential residence, the Palace of Congresses in Strelna, St. Petersburg.
In the wake of his passing and as the years go by, various essays by distinguished Russian Art scholars have begun to peel back the layers in understanding this enigmatic personality and his six-decade long journey as an Outsider - in the truest and most courageous sense of the word.