Boris Chetkov exhibition at Vail International Gallery opens Saturday, Feb. 17 | VailDaily.com

Boris Chetkov exhibition at Vail International Gallery opens Saturday, Feb. 17

Wren Bova
Special to the Weekly

For most of his life, when Boris Chetkov painted he had no hope of an audience. Posthumously, he has found one in Vail.

An opening reception at Vail International Gallery on Saturday, Feb. 17, from 4 to 7 p.m. will kick off the exhibition of the artist's vibrant body of work.

Marc LeVarn and Patrick Cassidy opened Vail International Gallery more than a decade ago, and from the very beginning they had a focus on Russian art.

"People ask why, and the answer is simple," LeVarn said. "A, we like it. And B, our clients like it."

Though originally dismissed by Western critics, most art historians and critics now agree that Soviet Russia created incredible artists and art. And Chetkov, with his wild colors and penchant for abstract expressionism, is almost alone in his field.

"If you look at Chetkov's paintings, he looks like someone who lived a carefree life, and that is not the case," Cassidy said. "He was born in 1926, and his parents were successful peasant farmers. He had an idyllic life and (early) childhood, but that came to an end when Stalin collectivized everything."

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Families were broken up, and were sent to work on other farms, laboring not for themselves but for the state. Chetkov was arrested as a teenager and sent to the infamous Gulag Archipelago, and then assigned to the front lines of World War II as part of a penal battalion from which few survived. Chetkov didn't just survive, but eventually he won the right to go to art school, a rigorous undertaking in Soviet Russia.

He worked in a glass factory during the day, and at night he painted. He did so at enormous risk to himself, since all artists were supposed to create art exclusively for the state. But Chetkov couldn't comply. Often using inexpensive materials since he couldn't afford to do otherwise, he painted and painted and painted. Instead of painting to promote the Soviet ideology, he painted for himself with abundant energy.

"This is part of what attracted me to him, and is the benchmark of a true artist. He painted because he had no choice," said Kenneth Pushkin, the American art dealer who discovered Chetkov in 2001.

Pushkin ended up buying Chetkov's entire collection: 1,200 paintings.

"It was all just an exercise, a therapy, a channel. So whatever his emotions were, anger, passion, whatever he was feeling would come out in these paintings," he said.

A look at the work itself and it's obvious he felt quite a lot. To experience it in person, visit Vail International Gallery. For more information, visit http://www.vailgallery.com.