Boris Chetkov was an outlier – an artist whose output was markedly different from anything else produced in his country at the time.
Born in the Soviet Union in 1926, he lived through collectivization, the Gulag and World War II, painting for himself, mostly in secret, every single day until his death in 2010. His output was prodigious: he had a profound creative urgency and his collected works span the ‘Khrushchev Thaw’ of the 60s and 70s, the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the turn of the 21st century.
The arc of his career can be loosely charted over these periods: he painted the majority of his portraits whilst living a double life under communism, working as Chief Glass Artist at the 1BBW Glass Factory by day and painting by night. Arguably this is where he developed his distinctly ‘Chetkovian’ colour palette – an ability to assemble high key colours and summon forms out of their density and weight. There is a noticeable thread of the Avant Garde in his early work, as if picking up the artistic trajectory of Mashkov, Goncharova and Malevich, cut off by the revolution. As the Soviet Union began to crumble, he responded with celebratory experimentation and a vast outpouring of abstract expressionism – more than 200 paintings created a couple of years. Then, as Russia was looking to redefine itself, Chetkov turned to his own memories – the landscapes of this childhood and the glass works he created – and conjured forth spectacular landscapes and still lifes in vital and emotive colours: neon pinks, lemon yellow, lilac, cobalt blue and malachite.
He had a strong sense of rhythm in art: his brushstrokes swirl and twist in syncopated patterns. He also painted many musical subjects and horses in motion throughout his career. His work is currently being considered and revised by Russian art specialists, establishing his place in the canon of 20th century Russian art.