Mikhail Shemyakin and his art in Saint Petersburg
A black hat, a pair of thick-glassed wide eyeglasses and a scar along his right cheek: those are the three trademarks of Russian artist Mikhail Shemyakin, whose works of art are now displayed all over the world.
Mikhail Shemyakin was born in Moscow, in 1943. Throughout his life he stood out for his quirky personality and rebel spirit, which has caused him to be suspended from the Repin Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in Leningrad and, eventually, to be exiled from the URSS. However, despite the long time he spent abroad – he lived in Paris for ten years during the exile – his heart and soul are still in Saint Petersburg, which the artist himself describes as rapture and pain in one single city.
In recent years Saint Petersburg has become the display of some of Mikhail Shemyakin’s quirky sculptures and creations, which keep arousing people’s curiosity because of their mysterious and fairy-like look.
Monument to Peter the Great (what’s wrong with his legs?!)
Bumping into this monument, people usually wonder who is the sculpture behind such a badly proportionate figure. Peter the Great sits like a criminal awaiting his execution on an electric chair. His fingers are disproportionately long as well as his legs, his head is small and his knees are unusually pointy.
However, what people may don’t know is that the spidery appearance of Russia’s first Emperor has been carefully studied by Mikhail Shemiakin, who supposedly wanted to convey a message: the statue, erected in 1991, aims to show Peter the Great’s human side – with his weaknesses and vulnerabilities – through an awkwardly looking figure that deviates from commonly accepted aesthetic canons. The mystic aura around Peter the Great’s figure is hence somehow questioned, for the first time.
The sculpture is located in the grounds of the Peter and Paul’s fortress and its edges are now shiny and smooth due to visitors touching them (it may bring good luck, you never know) and children climbing it up to sit on Peter’s knee.
The skull-faced Sphinxes
There are two double-faced Sphinxes on the Roberspierre Embankment, and their look is somewhat spooky: their skull-looking side is turned toward Kresty Prison, while their human-looking one is facing onto the city.
Mikhail Shemyakin, who built the monument in 1995, dedicated the Sphinxes to the victims of Soviet political repression: it is no coincidence that the skulls, symbolizing death, are facing onto Kresty Prison, the place where many victims started their journey to the gulags after persecution.
On the Sphinxes’ pedestal touching quotations and poetries by famous Russian authors are also displayed, as a further condemn to Russia’s totalitarian regime which only led to pain and despair. Here’s a famous quote by Anna Achmatova, Russian poet whose son was imprisoned in 1938:
“In those years only the dead smiled,
Glad to be at rest: and Leningrad city swayed like
A needless appendix to its prisons.”
A fairytale in a shop window
There are a dozen leprechauns advertising tasty delicacies on Nevsky Prospekt. They are wearing bright clothes and waving their little hands as people pass by. Don’t believe us? Then go to the Eliseyev Emporium, on Nevsky 56, and you will find a living fairytale… in a shop window.
Mikhail Shemyakin once defined window shops as small theatres: living in cities such as Paris and New York, he has always been struck by how window shops can literally turn into fantastic works of art during the Christmas time. By decorating the Eliseyev Food Emporium’s window shop, he wanted to create such fairy and magical atmosphere in his favorite city, Saint Petersburg, enabling passerbyers to enjoy an unexpected magical scene all year long.
Mikhail Shemyakin is also a jewel designer: the mushroom-shaped pendants and stone-carving miniatures created according to the artist’s sketches were presented in 2016 in the Jewelry House Sasonko, both in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
In 2008 the artist also took part in the realization of Hoffmaniada, a 2018 stop-motion animated feature film from Russian studio Soyuzmultifim. Mikhail Shemyakin was in charge of the concept and all of the art design, through which he expresses his artistic genius to the fullest. The movie, based on the tales of E.T.A. Hoffman, exclusively uses puppet animation and its first 20 minutes were screened in Saint Petersburg.
If Mikhail Shemyakin’s fantasy world intrigues you, don’t wait any further and drop by his works of art in Saint Petersburg. Also, don’t forget to check his foundation website https://mihfond.ru/, where you will find upcoming events and expositions in the city.