Valery  Nikolaevich Koshlyakov

Valery Nikolaevich Koshlyakov

Valery Koshlyakov is an artist whose artworks can be attributed to postmodernism and who entered the arena of contemporary art in the period of "perestroika" in the late 1980s and, according to Forbes magazine, has achieved the position of one of the most recognised and sought-after contemporary Russian artists. Koshlyakov is not afraid to experiment with" non-standard " means of artistic expression in his works, using everyday things such as sticky tape, corrugated cardboard, foam, a variety of packaging materials, and also something like garbage bags as well. However, despite these eccentric and bold manifestations of artistic vision and new spatial challenges, Valery Koshlyakov has always been fascinated by traditional drawing culture and art which reflects the real human feelings and experiences. In addition to painting, the artist is best known for its large-scale and intellectually demanding installations. 

Koshlyakov was born on June 21, 1962, in the city of Salsk in the Rostov region, in the southern part of Russia. Even though the boy grew up in the province, he had ambitions and craving for art since childhood. According to the artist: "As a child, I remember two burning desires - to go somewhere far away and learn to draw". His first impressions associated with painting were those reproductions of famous works of art from the popular magazine "Ogoniok", which his father and grandfather hung on the walls of the apartment where the family lived. Thus, the boy from the small town of Salsk had the opportunity to get acquainted with the works of Rembrandt and other classics of painting for the first time. As a child, Valery Koshlyakov tried to copy from black and white photographs of mediocre quality which depicted works by Claude Lorrain, Vasily Polenov and old Dutch masters. When a first art studio opened in the town, Koshlyakov began to attend drawing classes with Vasily Shekhovtsov, the father of the later iconic contemporary artist, Sergei Shekhovtsov.

In 1979, Valery Nikolaevich moved to Rostov-on-Don and entered the Rostov art school named after M. Grekov at the Theatre Department. As a student, Koshlyakov went to serve in the border troops in Georgia, and upon returning, he transferred to the faculty of painting. After graduation in 1985, the artist tried to get a job in Moscow, where he planned to work in the Metrostroi (the organisation concerned with the building of underground railways). However, this kind of life ceased to seem appealing to Koshlyakov from the very beginning, and he returned to his native land. Valery Nikolaevich was allocated to the tiny provincial museum in the village of Pukhlyakovskaya to serve at the position of the museum's director. He was giving lectures on art for the local residents, sometimes made trips to Moscow and most of the time was happy to devote all of his spare time to painting small sketches. Still, this rhythm of life, which prevailed in the little settlement, did not contribute to the realisation of Koshlyakov's creative potential: he was definitely craving for more. Therefore, a year later he returned to Rostov and, applying his educational background, got a job s a set designer in the Theatre of Musical Comedy, where he subsequently worked from 1986 to 1989. It was during this period that the artist met with key figures in his early creative biography: Avdy Ter-Oganyan and Yuri Shabelnikov. These representatives of the local art society introduced Koshlyakov to the avant-garde movement and plunged him into the atmosphere of the experiment, giving the young artist, who was fond of classical traditions in painting, a new look at what art can be. According to the art historian Ekaterina Andreeva, "The city of Rostov, which was exuberant with the power of a joint creative effort in the artistic sphere, is explicitly felt in Koshlyakov's sketches of the late 1980s. The open workshop of Shabelnikov was always holding a collective process of discussing new painting, Ter-Oganyan was constantly launching the city's routine with his exhibitions as protests, Vasily Slepchenko and Alexander Kislyakov were creating art with their words and paints - all this has contributed to the early art of Koshlyakov". Rising to the status of leadership together with Ter-Oganyan and Shabelnikova, Koshlyakov organised an artistic community with a pretentious name "Art or Death", which included the most prominent artists of the Rostov region. The community has organised exhibitions-protests which are especially interesting not so much because of the works that were exhibited there but because of the hype around the organisation of the event and a kind of Manifesto inherent in this process. He first such remarkable event took place in 1988 in Rostov and was called "Provincial Avant-garde". It was the first exposition where Koshlyakov exhibited his works. However, the exhibition was closed with a big scandal the next day by the city's authorities, as the venue was, in fact, a public toilet. Valery Koshlyakov recalled this occasion: "We were young, we wanted everything at once, but nobody perceived us seriously. And it was the time when "Perestroika" has just begun, and there was an opening of a new cooperative toilet: very clean, beautiful, no different from any exhibition space. From our side, it was a conscious action".

Thanks to such a strong public response associated with the first exhibition, Koshlyakov and his colleagues from the "Art or Death" community have gained overwhelming popularity among the local public and in the artistic circles of Rostov. Their next exhibition called "Italy has the shape of a boot" was held in the hall of the Rostov Union of Artists and attracted three thousand people to the opening. It was a great success, and the works from the exhibition were immediately acquired by the Rostov art Museum. The next important step for Valery Koshlyakov was moving to Moscow, where the artist in the 1990s could realise his wildest dreams. He worked in his art studio in Trekhprudny lane (Trekhprudny Pereulok), where he settled together with Ter-Oganyan in 1991. This building will later become a cult place for gatherings of radical, fresh-thinking rebel artists who form the basis of Russian contemporary art in the 90s. The artist successfully exhibited his works at his first group exhibition "The great magicians of painting" in Moscow in 1990, participated in exhibitions held by Ter-Oganyan every Thursday in "Trekhprudny", made friends with an art dealer and gallery owner Marat Gelman, who was fond of "southern school" and began to actively promote Koshlyakov.

The success of the artist was confirmed and strengthened in his personal exhibitions "Night in Venice" and "Under the sky of Italy", which took place in 1991. Since then, Koshlyakov's reputation and the public's interest in his art was rapidly escalating and his works have begun to be acquired by the Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, the Moscow Centre for Modern Art, the New Museum in St. Petersburg, and other significant galleries and museums both in Russia and in other countries, such as the Museum of Modern Art in Avignon, in France. Koshlyakov has participated in numerous art projects both in Russia and abroad, including the painting of the city wall in Stuttgart in 1996 and the installation "Residence" in Geneva, which opened in 1997. The artist has been vigorously looking for new methods of self-expression with the help of unusual materials, forms, compositions, as well as different environments and different spaces to create works of art. Many of his works are site-specific. Since the mid-90s Valery Koshlyakov's exhibitions have started to take place in Western Europe, he spends a lot of time on trips, especially in Germany, and in the early 2000s, he became so celebrated that he participated in the 25th Biennale in São Paulo and the Venice Biennale, where he managed his own project in the Russian pavilion. In 2004, Koshlyakov's solo exhibition called "Empire of culture" was organised in an uncommon place for such an event - in the Church of St. Louis at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. Koshlyakov has often been compared with one of the most outstanding contemporary Western artists of our time - Anselm Kiefer, whose exhibition was held in the Church of St. Louis right before Koshlyakov. Valery Nikolaevich was also showing his works at the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of the "Russia!" project.

In recent years, the artist has been returning to painting increasingly, rethinking the accumulated experience, delving into the possibilities of this medium and applying his unique style. This period of reinstatement of tempera and canvas is especially manifested in the artist's solo exhibition called "Elysium" which happened in 2016 in the Moscow Museum of Russian Impressionism. Today, the artist mainly works and lives in Paris and regularly visits Moscow. Valery Koshlyakov has commented on the topic of his residence and his Russian legacy: "As a Russian artist and a man, I'm mentally in Russia. But in Moscow, it is impossible to have such a studio as I have in Paris... In France, the artist is much more comfortable, and I moved here for the sake of convenience. Well, in terms of communication, I, like any visitor to a new country, of course, experience a terrible deficit. Yes, we are not very different from the old wave of immigrants. With the Russians in the West there are problems of a spiritual nature, problems with a mentality, with art, with the time, lived in their own county… It would be a lie to say that Russian artists can fit perfectly in Western culture". 

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