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In the 1970’s, by accident I discovered the extraordinary Russian artist Sergei Chepik. During a walkabout in St Petersburg I came upon the marionette theatre, of Yevgeni Demeni, one of the oldest in Russia. Curiosity led me inside.
In the foyer of the theatre, there I saw an artist working on a vast mural on the wall of the staircase. I later discovered that this complex and highly detailed mural full of images of puppets and popular theatre motifs was, in fact, a woven tapestry. Unfortunately, lack of time, and the Russian language, made it difficult to linger longer and speak to the artist. Although I did mange to take some photographs.
Many years later I found a well-
I wrote to Roy Miles to help me contact Chepik, but at first he was very reluctant to do so. I later paid him a visit at his gallery and showed him the photographs that I had; they surprised him. He finally offered to forward a letter to Chepik. He duly kept his promise, and shortly afterwards I received a delightful letter from him asking me why it had taken so long to make contact. Since that time we have been good friends and have been able to amass a large collection of material about his work, including a fine detailed engraving that he presented me with and bearing the title ‘Hoffmann Tales’ depicting numerous resting marionettes, including ‘Petrushka’ a character that appears in many of his paintings.
Chepik was born in Kiev in 1953, the son of the painter Mikhail Chepik and the sculptor Ludmila Sabaneeva.
Chepik was a child prodigy and entered a number of leading academies of art in Kiev, and Leningrad. In 1978 he graduated from the famous Repin Art Institute, and entered the Union of Young Artists in Leningrad.
After this he continued to study in the studio of Professor Mylinikov, and subsequently became a member of the USSR Union of Artists.
In 1986 he met Marie-
In 1988 Chepik immigrated to Paris after a number of major exhibitions in Russia. In the same year he exhibited in London for the first time, in the Roy Miles Gallery, and the following year in a second group exhibition of ‘Russian Paintings’.
The following year Chepik had his first Solo Retrospective Exhibition at the Roy
Miles Gallery; it was a sell-
Amongst his many outstanding personality portrait commissions were one of Margaret Thatcher, and the last portrait of Rudolf Nureyev.
In 2002, Chepik exhibited his masterpiece ‘Golgotha’ In St Paul’s Cathedral. In 2005 the inauguration of four large canvases took place, with the title ‘I am the way, the Truth and the Life’ by the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.
I very well remember a visit to his immaculate Paris studio, high above the rooftops overlooking the city. The studio wall hung with many familiar pieces of his work. On his easel stood a large newly finished painting with its back facing us. He started to play part of a recording of Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’, and slowly turned the painting around, it was his masterpiece ‘Golgotha’. It was such a memorable, powerful, dramatic and moving experience.
In recent years he concentrated on a number of extraordinarily dramatic religious masterpieces. Even so, he continued to return to his cultural roots as a source of inspiration. His Russian landscapes and works based on folk tales are some of the finest examples of Russian art that exist.
Chepik’s vast output also contains work based on his love and respect for popular forms of entertainment and their performers, including the puppet theatre, boxing, bullfighting, the circus, the Venetian Carnival, and the Parisian cabaret. He spent a year drawing all aspects of the lives and work of the artistes of the world famous Moulin Rouge. The opening of his exhibition of this work in London was accompanied by a troupe of ‘Can Can Dancers’ in full costume.
In so many of his early works, Petrushka and other puppets are strongly represented. He spent a great deal of time in his early career with the puppeteers of Yevgeni Demeni’s marionette theatre which obviously inspired his remarkable mural in the foyer of the theatre, and his continuing love of puppets and puppeteers which he depicts with carefully observed and knowledgeable detail.
The are three lavish mono graphs of Chepik’s wide ranging works and ideas, illustrated
by fine detailed coloured and black and white photographs, each book written by Marie-
Sergei Chepik, works 1970 to 1994’.
Sergei Chepik. From the Red Square to the Moulin Rouge ‘ works 1994-
‘Epiphania, the religious paintings of Sergei Chepik’.
Sergei Chepik died suddenly on the 18th November 2011 in his studio; he was 58 years of age.
John M. Blundall