La Jolla, California
La Jolla, California
Interview with Russian Artist, Oleg Sheludyakov
I met Russian artist Oleg Sheludyakov (b. 1971) while we were both living in Berlin, Germany several years ago. His gentle, unassuming nature complemented the intensity of his gaze, revealing a highly intuitive, introspective individual whose visual language matches his intellectualism. As a friend and avid supporter, I have followed his artistic journey and continue to remain inspired by his ability to evolve. The artist currently resides in Marseille, France. His work was recently part of the Yellow Butterfly Effect exhibition in his Siberian hometown of Novosibirsk, Russia.
I asked Sheludyakov to describe when he decided to embark on this particular journey, and it would seem that he was always destined to become a professional painter. In 1977 his parents enrolled him in Kaleidoscope Fine Art School for children. He recounted with nostalgia being completely enchanted by the ambiance of the atelier with its fresh smell of paint, life-like plaster models, magical paint brushes, colorful palettes, and a profusion of art history books – a veritable Paradise on Earth. It was during these formative years that Sheludyakov decided to embark on a non-traditional professional path.
The artist’s trajectory has been susceptible to frequent oscillations and shifts in forward momentum. However, it has never diverged far from its intended course. At the age of 17, he began his studies in architecture at the Novosibirsk Engineering Institute and later graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Humanities from Novosibirsk State University in 1995. He then studied monumental painting at Novosibirsk Fine Arts and Architectural Academy and drawing at the Fine Arts Academy in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Sheludyakov’s paintings clearly reflect his Russian sensibilities lightly dusted with French influences – a charming combination which reinforces the enigmatic nature of his work and clearly distinguishes him from other contemporary artists. Over the years, the prolific painter has capitalized on a vast artistic repertoire and solid work ethic. His work is deeply personal, reflecting profound intellectual and artistic growth.
The artist’s signature work reflects a very specific iconography and complex visual lexicon, with extensive references to his native Russia. He has masterfully implemented particular subjects, images, and applied techniques which faithfully appear as leitmotif. The nu féminin (female nudes), seaside and urban landscapes, nautical themes, music, animals and a profusion of cobalt blue throughout are primary examples.
With half of his international clientele preferring the nu féminin, Sheludyakov’s work is constantly evolving and reflects a deep appreciation of the female form. This fact intrigued me, and I was interested in the specific demographics of those who purchase his nu féminin. External variables such as age, nationality, and profession vary widely – from students to investment bankers. Sensitive to feminine beauty, Russians tend to be the most frequent buyers, followed by Germans, French, and Americans, who often purchase his most expensive works.
Subject, style, color palette, and technique afford a clear, visible translation of human emotion and themes. The vast spectrum may range from pure, gentle and harmonious to somber, expressive, and frenetic. With a large percentage of his work explicitly devoted to the creation of the nu féminin, I was curious as to origins of this admiration. His response was both philosophical and poetic. The artist believes very few things rival the ethereal beauty of this particular genre. He is careful to define beauty within the realm of abstract or conceptual theories. By respecting the boundaries between intangibility and physicality during the creative process, Sheludyakov is able to explore the origins of beauty, grace, femininity, elegance, harmony, and sensuality without restraint. The question remains as to how Sheludyakov chooses his models. Selection of nude models is surprisingly uncomplicated — acquaintances, friends, or family members, for example. It is simply a matter of identifying specific traits unique to each individual, and then accurately translating those traits into a cohesive image.
Sheludyakov only has one exception: professional models. Through experience, their body has become a logical, physical tool which remains distinctly detached from their authentic self. This ultimately limits emotional emancipation and decreases the possibility of unveiling the true, feminine essence. Although this degree of professionalism is highly admirable, the artist prefers the innocence of amateur models. Sheludyakov is known to be a prolific painter, so I asked about the duration of the entire process. He stated that creative processes vary from beginning to end. For example, the technical aspects of creating a nu féminin are somewhat similar to that of painting landscapes or producing images from the imagination.
However, the existential journey inherent to the production of a nu féminin is unrivalled due to lasting emotional bonds between subject and painter; painter and canvas. Commissioning live models facilitates the creative process by guiding line, form, and volume. It is important to remain vigilant so as to avoid producing flat, naturalistic work. Thus, understanding the difference between the physicality of form and a more profound, metaphysical side is essential.
The same holds true for landscapes. The immediate perception of colors, interpretation, and subsequent translation of experiences is more powerful during the plein-air painting process. Sheludyakov attempts to expedite the entire process in order to retain a certain freshness and spontaneity. For acrylic works, three to four days is sufficient. However, oil paintings require more finesse, averaging approximately ten days.
Once the paintings are finished, Sheludyakov lovingly releases them to the public with an open heart. When asked to define an exceptional painting, in general, the artist confidently stated that a true chef-d’oeuvre is the antithesis of indifference because it evokes admiration and encourages reflection. This type of work reaches deep emotional depths of the spectator and ultimately has the power to inspire others.
I recently obtained my third Master of Arts degree in Global Communications from the American University of Paris, and I have conducted extensive doctoral research about the effects of globalization on the Opéra national de Paris, so I was curious as to how the current international climate has personally affected Sheludyakov. It is evident that the globalized economy has transformed the art market, artists, and artistic production.
The notion of evolution is a salient topic which artists cannot ignore. Remaining in an isolated sphere is no longer a viable option or lucrative alternative. Sheludyakov is clearly aware of this paradigm shift in contemporary society and adopts a philosophical approach. Since creativity does not exist in a vacuum, artistic evolution is directly linked to inevitable transformation, active exploration, and ultimate change defined within the context of relevant sociocultural parameters – even if this approach may sometimes lead to an impasse.
Unfortunately, the sale of Sheludyakov paintings has suffered due to globalization and the inevitable democratization of the art market. Throughout the 1990’s until the early 2000’s, there was a strong appreciation for Russian contemporary artists. Since then, interest in Russian art has decreased significantly. In addition, the internet is saturated with artists of every genre, rendering it difficult to clearly differentiate one’s brand. Fortunately, Sheludyakov has maintained a close circle of faithful collectors and gallerists over the years. This is partially due to a resistance to short-term trends, increased online visibility that has been carefully nurtured, and complete confidence in the creative process.
Less is More: The Evolution of my Aesthetic Preferences
Universally accepted socio-cultural codes are inherently cross-generational. They have always existed, whether firmly stated, gently whispered, or clearly implied. Interest in the complex interrelationship between fashion, art, and society began very early and continue to evolve. Although I am from southern California, I have spent a significant amount of time living abroad learning how to adapt – and not assimilate – my own preferences to those of the culture that embraces me.
I am always eager to find a way to merge my interests into a cohesive, external shell that most accurately reflects my authentic self. The iconic Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn have always provided inspiration for me with their natural grace and understated elegance. I tend to agree with the renowned architect, Mies van der Rohe: “Less is More”.
Over the years, I have become more flexible and tastes have been gently transformed without sacrificing my fundamental values. Having lived in a multitude of international cities including Paris, Florence, Berlin, Toronto, and London, I have been fully immersed in other societies, appreciating the subtle nuances of cultural norms, linguistic codes, and acceptable attire while still protecting my core sensibilities. Therefore, I am always eager to find a way to merge those interests into a cohesive, external shell that most accurately reflects my authentic self.
When I am at home in southern California, I am encapsulated in a sunny world of cool, ocean breezes and beautiful, sandy beaches. Therefore, I tend to adopt a minimalistic approach. It is only appropriate that I slip into an airy sundress and sandals. However, working at the Opéra national de Paris – Palais Garnier, and now at Rémy Cointreau on Haussmann Boulevard in Paris, requires a more conservative approach with elements of controlled creativity.
Although I was raised in a family with strong ties to the Armed Forces, I ultimately attended a Quaker boarding school. The complex interrelationship between the individual, socially acceptable dress codes, and attitude were rather dramatic, to say the very least. At home, we fervently adhered to the old adage, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” in all aspects of life. There was no higher compliment than to be referred to as someone who was “neat and tidy”. Even now, I feel most comfortable in clothes that are easy to wear with simple, clean lines and monochromatic colors.
My adopted Quaker environment was diametrically opposed to strict military standards, both in lifestyle and ideology. Fashion was relatively non-existent, but individual expression, creativity, and curiosity were highly laudable traits. At first, I was uncertain about the unabashed enthusiasm that erupted over the mixing of fabrics, textures, colors, and proportions. I found myself questioning the taste and sanity of classmates and professors who seemed to have reached a soothing state of nirvana in their wrinkled trousers, colorful scarves, and comfortable Birkenstocks.
Karl Lagerfeld’s Haute Couture Spring Collection held at the Grand Palais Paris is January 2017 is an accurate reflection of my aesthetic preferences with the feminine silhouettes and cinched-in waists. The luxurious fabrics and embellishments elevate the ensembles. Yet, there is something quite conservative and inherently minimalistic about the heritage collection.
Trends have never peaked my curiosity, but the timelessness and enduring traits of an exceptional product never cease to inspire me. It has been a natural progression that has attracted me to internationally renowned French heritage brands which reflect discreet, understated elegance. Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel are clear examples of brands which value quality, excellence, and craftsmanship while providing effortless style.
Karl Lagerfeld and the Opéra national de Paris: A multi-sensorial, artistic collaboration
The haute couture ballet costumes and set design for George Balanchine’s Brahms-Schönberg Quartet were created by Karl Lagerfeld for the Opéra national de Paris. Renowned dancers Bart Cook and Maria Calegari served as the choreographers, and I acted as the cultural liaison and assistant to choreographers, artists, and directors. The luxurious costumes reflect an innovative, collaborative approach to fashion in the rapidly evolving globalized community. Moreover, they fully activate the five senses while providing elements of fantasy of a bygone era. For, “There will never be a world without fantasy, which expresses the unconscious unfulfilled” (S. Kaiser, 1997).
This is an essential point, since art, fashion, and culture inhabit the same multi-sensorial landscape. They represent a constantly evolving visual language which must be effectively transmitted to spectators. Inaugurated in 1875, the OnP formerly represented an elitist Parisian society. The institution was historically linked to utopian images of wealth, power, prestige, and elegance. Therefore, Lagerfeld’s costume designs for each of Balanchine’s four acts needed to the encapsulate the Zeitgeit of the OnP. That essence was effectively transmitted through a consistent visual theme involving textures, costume accessories, and classical ballet silhouettes. A muted color palette of white, pale pink, and crème-orange created a bold visual juxtaposition with the monochromatic interjection of black and white details and piping. Traditionally feminine elements and curvilinear shapes were visible with velvet headpieces and armbands, satin ribbons, tulle/chiffon tutus, and bejeweled caps. These contrasted the straight lines and geometrical shapes traditionally considered masculine.
Lagerfeld conceptualized various sketches which were inspired by the Vienna Secession, an artistic movement established in 1897. Costumes were skillfully constructed in the OnP couture atelier according to Lagerfeld’s initial artistic intentions, but still allowed for subsequent modifications and adjustments of material, fabric, and accessories. Thus, costumes were individually adapted to each ballet dancer, taking into consideration rigorous choreographic maneuvers. They also accounted for other variables including lighting, sound, and stage conditions. This resulted in the creation of regal, yet fashionable costumes which contributed to the multi-sensorial landscape while integrating an advanced degree of technological innovation and functionality.
Lagerfeld’s extensive research resulted in the creation of tailored men’s black and white suede waistcoats, as well as folklore-inspired, embroidered headdresses. The women’s costumes included black and white bodices with princess seams in satin and velvet attached to voluminous tutus constructed of pink, orange, and white tulle/chiffon. Use of luxurious fabrics and detailed embroidery created a sophisticated, glamorous environment of classic, understated elegance. It also alluded to a previous era where clothing was symbolic of an individual’s social status and morality – whether actual or contrived. Lagerfeld’s set design purposefully evoked an ancient palace adorned with heavy, gray, floor-length drapery. This contrasted the color palette and texture of the costumes. Such an atmosphere was meant to reference the waning splendor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Artistic collaborations between the French heritage institution and fashion have steadily increased in the globalized economy. The OnP has hosted a variety of cultural events and fashion shows such as Stella McCartney and Dries van Noten. Moreover, the OnP has collaborated with renowned fashion designers including Christian Lacroix for George Balanchine’s Le Palais de cristal, and Yves Saint-Laurent for Roland Petit’s Notre-Dame de Paris. Recently, it has begun collaborative efforts with contemporary, avant-garde fashion designers such as Iris van Herpen for Benjamin Millepied’s Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward, Alessandro Sartori for Millepied’s La nuit s’achève, and Mary Katranzou for Justin Peck’s Entre chien et loup.