Painting for the Grave: The Early Works of Boris Sveshnikov

Self-Portrait by Boris Sveshnikov
Apr 06, 2008 - Oct 12, 2008
DuBrow Gallery

This show focuses on oil paintings and drawings produced between 1940 and 1961 by the Soviet artist Boris Petrovich Sveshnikov (1927-1998). During this period Sveshnikov developed his signature idiosyncratic style and produced a large number of his most intense artworks. All works in the exhibition are part of the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union.

In 1946, when the nineteen-year-old artist was still pursuing a degree at the Moscow Institute of Applied and Decorative Arts, a false accusation of terrorist activity was leveled against him; it completely changed his life. Like millions of other innocent Soviet citizens, Sveshnikov was incarcerated, denied a fair trial and sent to one of the Gulag labor camps where he remained until 1954. During the final years of his imprisonment, Sveshnikov was transferred from Ukhtizhmlag (Komi Autonomous Republic) to the Vetlosian camp, where he served as an indoor night watchman in a carpentry workshop. The nature of this position gave the artist an opportunity to produce a number of drawings in pencil and ink on paper that today comprise an important part of this exhibition and the Dodge collection.

Following his incarceration, Sveshnikov continued to work in his peculiar style of fantastic realism. Despite the fact that Sveshnikov is considered a powerful exponent of Russian nonconformist art, the artist never perceived himself as a dissident. On the contrary, Sveshnikov’s production is highly personal and apolitical. As the artist once stated, “What I painted at home I did for myself… All of my works are dedicated to the grave.”

Boris Sveshnikov


Oil on canvas

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers

Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union