Much about Nicholas Chistiakov – his art, persona, and autobiography – is cultivated with a perplexing and intriguing nonconformism. The contemporary Belarusian-American artist, born in Minsk in 1981, displayed a creative flair and artistic talent at a young age, and was admitted to the Academy of Arts in the Republic of Belarus, studying there for three years before immigrating to the United States at the age of 22.
The hybrid nature of his aesthetic style expresses a kind of turmoil, as his work refuses to be categorised into any neat compartment. In his paintings, one can find familiar modern artistic motifs: the fragmentation of space and perspective proliferated by Picasso and the Cubists, solemnly dark portraiture evoking Max Beckmann, an haunting figures in distorted spaces à la Francis Bacon. Elements of Pop-Art and Surrealism are prevalent also, confronting the viewer with scenes that at once look both familiar, yet unsettlingly peculiar.
Recently, Chistiakov published a self-interview, detailing his life trivia and personal quirks in the form of a whimsical self-dialogue. Indeed, entertaining as it is to read, it also speaks to a greater significance which parallels his work, namely that his creative output visually resonates as an introspective conversation with the artists’ psyche. His first solo exhibition, ‘Time and Measure’ in 2007, centred on the subject matter of a girl in a museum, executed through photo-based oil painting. Inspiration from the show was birthed from a romantic encounter in Germany, specifically a museum in an old castle, where the geometric tiling of the floor, medieval weapons, taxidermy, and the spirit of historic travelling fed into the visual direction of the exhibition. The show was hugely influenced by the work of Tim Eitel, whose work ‘Centre of Gravity’ affected the artist when he saw it at the Pace Gallery that same year.
However, a stint of psychological crisis as a result of various personal factors and immense stress transformed his artistic output. He was hospitalised four times in New York, the first as a result of a fallout with a girl, and even undergoing drug injections as result of a US court order. More apparent reference to postmodern philosophy and conceptual fluidity within his works, a result of intense introspection during this dark time, lead Chistiakov onto an exploration of larger themes surrounding contemporary morality and existential cynicism through the dark ambivalence of his figurative paintings.
The range of artistic inspirations Chistiakov draws from is undoubtedly vast. His political portraits, such as ones he made of Bush and Putin, can serve as a culmination of these, and draws a politically provocative edge whilst recalling Warhol’s legacy, as well as those of more contemporary artists, such as Damien Hirst. His deconstruction of these icons, both artistically in aesthetic fragmentation, as well as interrogating their aura and grip on the modern world, demonstrate that Chistiakov resolutely does not shy away from controversial statements. It boldly and candidly remarks on the disillusionment with modern politics, shattering the facade of its supposed respectability and representation, a sentiment which is most likely shared by many, though few would be so audacious as to express it quite like Chistiakov.
Indeed, it would be a gross misstep to typify Chistiakov as a one-trick pony or to typecast him as a romanticised ‘tortured artist’. In fact, as his portfolio reveals, the artist has vastly more to offer: his ‘Ideas’ series present an abstract vision of psychology, building both on digital geometry and psychological, Rorschach-esque images; his recent drawings in ‘Lines’ evoke a subdued yet poignant style whilst rendering the female nude; Chistiakov even ventures into the realm of graphic and industrial design, showing a finesse and capability over a variety of media. This especially demonstrates an overturning of the stereotype of any particular ‘style’, as he demonstrates his finesse in multiple disciplines. Though drawing influence on his artistic predecessors, he is defiantly subverting their iconic status, carving his own path in a diverse and unpredictable manner.
Whether you are confounded, confused, shocked, provoked, or disturbed by Chistiakov’s work, one thing you won’t be is bored.
See below for a selection of Chistiakov’s works, or see his full portfolio online here.