Sergei Alexandrovich Sharov

Born in 1945 in Sverdlovsk. In 1969 graduated from the Moscow Institute of Architecture. Has been painting since 1965. A member of the Moscow Branch of the Artists’ Union since 1985. A participant in art show of the “Twenty Moscow Artists” (1978-87) and the exhibitions ARS-1 and ARS-2 in Moscow, 1988. One-man show in London, 1989. His works are in the possession of private collectors from Russia, USA, Japan, Sweden, Germany and other countries.

The first thought that crosses your mind when you see the works of Sergei Sharov is that he is a natural born artist. In this era of rampant dilettantism, pointed inability to prime a canvas or draw the human figure, he remains true to the aesthetic principles handed down from the old masters and has a virtuoso mastery of painting skills. He can convey the hardness of rock, the softness of down, the texture of silk and human flesh, the transparency of air and the flow of water. This is not an illusory kitsch, but rather, the firm serene skill of a master. Sergei Sharov is one of the founders of M’ARS Gallery, the first independent modern art gallery in Russia. At this gallery, technical skill is valued above all.

Paradoxically, the tastefully and lovingly painted world which he creates on canvas is in fact only an illusion, somewhere between dream and reality, a phantasmagorical vision reminiscent of Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries”. Come to think of it, dreams can assume a reality greater than of life itself. It suffices to make a study of art of various epochs and nations, this precise chronicle of the history of man, to see that it all forms a chain of the wildest, most unreal saga, beginning with the primitive man and leading up to the present day.

What makes Sergei Sharov’s work special, in his own words, is that he sets himself to goal of reconciling the irreconcilable – “of creating a marriage of dialectics and metaphysics”, resolving their conflict in the painted image. Oddly enough he succeeds. An expert on medieval demonology, he intricately combines it with the early European avant-garde of de Chirico and Magritte. His work overflows with literary and artistic reminiscences; he is neither ashamed of them nor does he hide them. They are part of the natural language of art, a language whereby the artist coveys his complex allegorical thoughts to the initiated; as for the uninitiated, those people who love simplified art, he has no intention of lowering himself to their level or making any efforts to make his work more accessible to them.

There are great subjects to the history of art which have been dealt with in every epoch and which will never be exhausted. One of these subjects, which had come down to us from the Middle Ages, is the “Temptation of Saint Anthony”. The struggle between Good and Evil, Light and Dark, symbolized by the contraposition of the Saint and the infuriated demons has always appealed to artists throughout the centuries, each of whom has added his own special tough to this theme. Sergei Sharov has also paid homage to this subject. The M’ARS Gallery’s Collection includes an amazing panel he rendered in pencil depicting the struggle between the Saint and the demons. It is a complex composition of dozens of bizarre figures, in the execution of which the artist acquits himself as well as his beloved Bosch. Among these figures we also find ones that were unknown in the Middle Ages – for example the combination of human and machine forms – the cybernetic nightmare of the 20th century. Undoubtedly this is every step of our historical progression. They hide in the cast ironwork of GUM building in “Early Morning”, crawl out into the foreground of “Mansion”, frolic on the fire extinguisher in “The Surfacing”. We also frequently encounter ichtheos, the fish – an early Christian symbol for Christ or the human soul…

But topicality, even in the historical context, is only one of the meanings, one minute layer of Sharov’s work. Like the Renaissance masters, he constructs his pictures according to a multiple layers principle, similar to a Russian nesting doll: behind each layer there is another, more profound idea. Renaissance aesthetics demanded that a true work of art should not be one-dimensional, but have several shades of meaning: factual (historical), allegorical, morally instructive, and finally, religious, spiritual. Sharov’s creations adhere closely to this pattern and can be interpreted in all four of aforementioned categories.

As an example, let’s look at “Mansion”, which is clearly the key picture in the series “Moscow Capriccios” (which include “Early Morning / Mansion / Bathing Palace / The Fire Station / Moscow Yard / Surfacing / The Last Lock”). This picture depicts the bright and raucous atmosphere of the NEP era in the 1920s, yet on the other hand it is teeming with allegorical statements. The fish is not only a symbol of Christ or the human soul, but also a symbol of metal (silver), the moon, a cold melancholy temperament (philistine). The primus stove is not only an attribute of the disorganisation of life in the post-revolutionary period so vaunted by Zoshenko, but also a symbol of the bonfire of worldly passions, burning the human soul. The unusual “bestiary” on the second floor balcony personifies the seven deadly sins, leading the dance to Death’s violin. Across from Death is a flock of birds (a symbol of purity, reaching upwards) who listen to Velimir Khlebnikov, poet-prophet, eccentric and unpretentious man, reading his poetry (incidentally, he has a poem about birds). There is another meaning to this painting – a profound, naturally philosophical one (Nokilai Zabolortsky is the artist’s favorite poet). The four elements are depicted from top to bottom: air – water – fire – earth, but in this kingdom of the absurd their natural hierarchy has been disturbed and therefore fire travels through an hourglass (time) to become earth, dust, scattering into nothingness… We could continue with our interpretations and guesses as the artists provides us with a great deal of material to work with, but we have shown enough to demonstrate the intent and profundity of his conceptions.

Another aspect of his work which often goes unnoticed is humor, which does a lot to soften the intense atmosphere of his works. Here the artist also follows in the steps of the old masters: when they were tired of serious themes they painted demons surrounding Saint Anthony which were more humorous than frightening.

Let us conclude by discussing the architectural constructions which set the stage for all of Sergei Sharov’s works. An architect by training, he adjusts the proportions painstakingly, using the principal of the “golden mean” in the best traditions of architecture, carefully drawing in every detail of the moldings, each crack in the wall. According to him, every one of his paintings begins with the idea of a building. Moreover, each building he paints really exists. The wonderful house of Price Sherbatov in the painting “Mansion” (the artist lived in a communal apartment there with his family after the war) still stands on the corner of Garden Ring and New Arbat. “Moscow Yard” is in fact a gateway on Solyanka St.; at one time there was a cellar there where prisoners were assigned to prisons. This netherworld was known to among the locals as “Under the Angel”. “The Bathing Palace” is the swimming pool at the Likhachov factory, and the firetower still stands near the “Sokolniki” metro station. Who knows, maybe someday tour guides at the M’ARS Museum of Modern Art will take visitors on a special tour of “Sharov’s Moscow”

Oleg Torchinsky, 1992