About Alexander Sheltunov


Alexander Sheltunov.1986. The photo by Alexander Knyazev

1986. The photo by Alexander Knyazev


Alexander Sheltunov was a famous Irkutsk artist. It is doubtful whether anyone from a well-educated audience undertakes to refute this assertion, as everybody knew Sheltunov. We can even say that he was a very called-for and “stylish” artist. His pictures decorate many public places.

This obvious evident of an artist’s professional success does not usually help to evaluate a real depth and originality of his talent. While an artist is next to us, his creativity is habitual and we expect more and more pictures as they are getting a pleasant and necessary part of an everyday life.

But, all of a sudden, the master passed away and created emptiness shows substantial talent depths, but in another way with a painful loss. It has been known for ages that time is the best and independent expert in painting. Several years have already passed since Alexander Sheltunov left this world. However, the feelings of irreplaceability of an important part of a cultural city life are getting more acute.

Sheltunov was not a native Irkutsk resident, but for him (as for many other representatives of our Art School though) it is Irkutsk that became a place of his spiritual birth and establishment. It is very symbolically that the last monumental artist’s message was devoted to the 350th Irkutsk anniversary, as it is the city which he loved and gave all his best years of life and all treasure of his creative powers. As if apprehending the end of his life, he was determined to overcome time frames and he paints the works which were dated “350”. In 2011, the artist was supposed to reach his 60th milestone, and he was planning a large-scale exhibition of his works devoted to his anniversary and the city’s anniversary which he had been preparing beforehand. The project has been accomplished but unfortunately, the artist himself is not able to take part in this event.

Alexander Sheltunov was a painter by the grace of God. It is a real gift to perceive the world in all its diversity of colors and lights’ display. Such a talent is the same as musician’s absolute hearing, except it is much difficult to recognize. One more complicated task for the artist is to gain knowledge and skills that allows the painter to reproduce a great number of impressions and frames of mind on the paper or on the canvas which, as a result, has the right to be called a pictorial work. Anyone who has tried to take up the brush knows that it is difficult to implement their ideas. Even at the initial, dilettantish level, it is necessary to possess certain techniques to fulfill the work. The guarantee of a successful professional activity is first of all, “solid” professional school (Alexander’s student works made in Irkutsk Art School prove that); second of all, the necessity to maintain continuously “professional shape”. Here is like in sports – if you give up daily trainings, forget about great results. The formula states that success is made up from 5 % of talent and 95 % of continuous creative work is especially topical for artists. Sheltunov’s efficiency is well-known and undoubtedly it can be a sample for his colleagues. I clearly remember the end of a working day at his studio: there were dozens of watercolor sheets and endless search of an authentic expression of ideas and emotions. All sketches are made at a high professional level. But there are always “the pearls” – especially successful and significant works. And that story went day by day. No matter where the artist worked, whether it was abroad, on his business trips or at the studio his working schedule was very hard. Meanwhile, the artist’s creative work is connected with a dense psychological tiredness as it “burns the soul out”. Many artists find a salvation from creative-psychological stresses in spirits. However, it is the way to the creative and physical downfall. Fortunately, the artist could find a balanced way of life, where undoubtedly, the main place was occupied by his profession. At the same time however, he quite rationally organized his personal everyday existence where he found calm and rest and the main part belonged to his wife Galina.

The first acquaintance with Alexander was memorable. He brought several not very big watercolors – very fresh landscapes which were painted with sincere feelings but with a great delay when the “Youth. Creativity. Modernity” conference positioning had already taken place. These were the works of a quite mature master. It seemed to me there was a spirit of tactfully used Chinese painting’s tradition. Despite the fact that the paintings appeared in the exposition almost purely by chance, the artist became an exposition winner. As a matter of fact, we can consider the start of his professional career. He visits creative summer houses of the Artists Union, gets acquainted with the top Russian watercolorists. Of course, these trips helped him in the artist’s establishment. M. G. Royter headed one of the watercolor master-class at “Old Ladoga” Artists Union summer house. The stylistics of his works and the philosophy of his creativity impressed Alexander very much at that time. It was a rare case when he thought and reasoned out loud about the creativity of an artist. But he was not in the habit of enlarging on the other artists’ works (as well as his own ones, by the way). “The work is done – watch and judge on your own” as if the master said exposing his works. Royter’s influence can be traced in Alexander’s step aside from his first experienced watercolor works’ transparent detailed graphics. It was changed for a free game of wide color and light planes on large posts. However, it would be wrong to insist that in his watercolor works the artist completely followed M. Royter. The master’s creative manner always remained original which surely did not exclude the influence on it of different pictorial schools. So undoubtedly, in his watercolors of the 1990s there is a feeling of impressionists’ influence and it comes out in the open color implementation and some portrayals’ mosaic structure. It is not just a feeble imitation or a blind succession of some samples but an original creative synthesis with a dominant author’s origin for fair.

Another major stylistics turning point in his creativity took place at the beginning of the XXI century. He gave up watercolors and turns to painting in oils. It is worth mentioning, that quite courageous turning point was a challenge to the artist. As in watercolor paintings he had acquired quite an effective system of technical methods which “was subconsciously deposited”. Technique changes remind the emigrant‘s ones who left his motherland and was trying to adapt to a different cultural tradition. Willingly or unwillingly but the man tries to implement his past experience in new environment facing misunderstanding and censure. First Sheltunov’s canvases amazingly resemble his watercolors. But the things which seemed light and limited in the watercolors appeared to demand a serious tension in painting. Here, by the way, one artist’s creative thinking essence affected. His seemingly light and inclined to improvisation artistic method is very conservative per se. Sheltunov formed his style very patiently; he carefully worked out and collected technical methods. That is why it required a great amount of a constructive energy and phenomenal master’s capacity for work to make painting in oils a free creative activity field. Painting in oils is traditionally considered as a long-term and a multistep process. It starts with canvas preparation and prime coating. Then, painting is gradually formed as several-colorful-layers. There is glazing i.e. multiple transparent layers painting on the definite parts of canvas in the arsenal of its technical methods. Otherwise, painting in oils requires a multiple drying therefore, long expenditures of time. It is still unclear how Alexander even with his fantastic capacity for work was able to create such a great number of high-quality pictorial works for relatively short period of time.

It is rather difficult to characterize Sheltunov’s paintings in a style significant content. As it was mentioned above, he was the artist of a distinctive original gift. But it is necessary to contemplate some parallels and compare his creativity with other masters as well as other art schools in order to define his position in a creative tradition and painting heritage of our city. It seems to me in this case it would be efficient to draw the analogy of his creativity with the works of such French artists as Markel, Matisse, Dufy, who painted at the beginning of the XX century. I personally did not hear from Alexander any statements about these artists. However, I tend to think that they were very close to him in some significant things. This closeness was basically defined by the modern feeling of color. Not all painters are equally familiar with it. Every epoch finds its pictorial works’ color decision. Let’s say henna-red Tiziano gamut of colors corresponds to the epoch of the artist. Open blue, yellow, orange and red being implemented in a maximum degree of the paint intensity and expression equally correspond in a great extent the contemporary human perception of the world. Exactly this color perception and devotion to certain color decisions create an affinity of the artist between above mentioned masters of the French painting. Renunciation of the strict academic drawing canons and schematic simplified but saturated with a profound symbolic content pictorial forms implementation is another quality inherent in these painters. The main idea of the painters who created at the beginning of the XX century was stagnation overcoming, immobility and lifelessness of an official tradition, the gain of grater degrees of freedom and possibilities for self-expression.

Let’s highlight again: one should not try to find straight parallels with one or another master’s style in Alexander Sheltunov’s creativity. He was undoubtedly original as his works are recognizable in no time. He had a pictorial style, a pronounced art temperament and recognizable self-expression manner of his own.

It seems that the gain of grater degrees of freedom is one of the fundamental goals of his creativity and life in general. Probably Sheltunov himself would never define his life goals this way. But isn’t the gain of a real freedom a fundamental life value for all of us? On the other hand, only a few can gain this degree of freedom. Alexander managed to do that. I have every reason to say that he fulfilled his life purpose in a maximum possible degree.

The text writer: Iraida Fedchina