Postcards: Paris, France
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.
Russian artist Oleg Sheludyakov was born in 1971 in Novosibirsk, Siberia and attended Kaleidoscope Art School. At the age of 17, he began his studies in Architecture at the Novosibirsk Engineering Institute. In 1995 he graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Humanities from Novosibirsk State University. He later studied monumental painting at Novosibirsk Fine Arts and Architectural Academy and drawing at the Fine Arts Academy in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He has been a member of the International Federation of Artists and National Creative Union of Russia Artists since 2001.
Sheludyakov has been an active art professional for fifteen years, based primarily in Nice, France and never had any other career aspirations before becoming a painter. Although he was raised in a highly intellectual Siberian city known for its scientific achievements and advancements, the artist believes that any academic diplomas, degrees or certificates he previously obtained have not played a significant role. Instead, he insists that the practical skills he has acquired over the years have been the most important factor in his artistic process. For Sheludyakov, conceptualizing and preparing a specific work of art is a fluid, flexible process. His atelier, or studio, is located in his apartment.
However, he dreams of opening his own fine art gallery in the future, especially since the art world in Nice, France is quite rigid – everything is extremely structured. In order to gain success, he stated that artists must associate themselves with a particular group or society. Such rigidity in the system makes it difficult to work as an independent artist. Conversely, the process is more flexible in Novosibirsk where he is more well-known and respected. This is due to the strong family and community ties he continues to nurture even though he resides on the Côte d’Azur in southern France. In addition, he believes his style is perfectly suited to the local tastes of his native city. Unfortunately, the Siberian city lacks a solid art market – it is virtually non-existent. Perhaps this is due to its geopolitical isolation; its relative location being far removed from the world’s great art markets in New York, Beijing, and Berlin.
In order to attract interest for his work, Sheludyakov often prepares painting and drawing workshops in his atelier. Despite increased advances in public relations and social media marketing methods, the painter has limited interaction with other international art professionals and shuns current trends in the art world. He was influenced by other artists, writers, architects, and designers many years ago, but now relies on the immediacy of his environment for inspiration. The artist is reluctant to utilize Facebook and Twitter as a vehicle to promote his work. Instead he relies on alternate methods of artist-gallery channels of communication. This uncertainty about social media is proving to be difficult in an age of continual news feeds and instant status updates.
The lack of an official agent or manager also impedes his progress, somewhat. In addition, it is sometimes rather difficult retrieving your work after an exhibition, since some gallery owners lose both interest and motivation to return borrowed items afterward. However, there are many advantages of working as an independent artist. Sheludyakov is able to confront the “metaphysical side of reality” every day. He is an avid reader, amateur photographer, and enjoys the cinema and traveling. He appreciates feminine beauty and attempts to magically translate that love onto a canvas or linen, his preferred medium. When asked if his work as a particular message or theme, his response was quite simple: “Enjoy life.”
Shelduyakov has had exhibitions in more than 25 countries, including Russia, France, Italy, Germany, and England. His works are included in the art collections of Novosibirsk Art Museum, The House of Scientists, Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as well as in various public and private collections around the world. His most successful exhibitions have been in Crete, Hamburg, and Novosibirsk. The least successful was in Washington, D.C. five years ago. He explained that an artist must fit the tastes of the local environment, and should be able to deal with professional gallery owners and art curators. Recent exhibitions have been in Duisberg, Germany and Novosibirsk, Russia (2012), a group exhibition on the Côte d’Azur (April 2013), and a solo exhibition in Novosibirsk (2013).
Note: The artist currently resides in Blois, France.