Olga Chernysheva: drawing for awe

Olga Chernysheva: drawing for awe

A multi-media artist from Moscow has become the first Russian winner of the prestigeous Prix Guerlain, an award for graphic art launched by a couple from a French family of art patrons.

Olga Chernysheva has just become the first Russian artist to win the Prix Guerlain. On 19th of May 2022 all three finalists were in Paris to face a distinguished jury at Palais Brongniart a historic building once a Stock Exchange. The winner was announced on the same day.

This coveted drawing award was founded by Daniel and Florence Guerlain in 2007; the first prize winner was Swiss artist Silvia Bachli (b.1956). Since 2010, the prizes have been awarded during the Salon des Dessins, a leading art fair for works on paper in Paris. Each year, three artists receive an award: the artist in first place is given a cash prize of €15,000 and the other two finalists receive €5,000 each. The Daniel and Florence Guerlain Foundation for Contemporary Art donates the winning works to the graphic arts department at the Pompidou.

What we call a drawing today is an open question for both collectors and artists. "Whatever the author says, that's what we should call it," says Olga Chernysheva, "because we can't come to anything from the material; today there is paper canvas and there are graphics on canvas. I am always drawing - sketches, cartoons for example," the artist admits, "I think a drawing should retain its practical roots. I was trained as an animator: the point of animation is that the drawing is washed away - you draw on celluloid and then the next phase and the previous drawing is washed away."

Her own biography is similar to this characterisation. Every year there are new exhibitions of her work, she has had more than 50 solo shows alone. Olga Chernysheva graduated from the VGIK (State Film Institute) in Moscow in 1986 and began exhibiting at the 17th Youth Exhibition in 1988, which became the starting point for the new art of the Perestroika era. Then there was the Royal Academy of Arts in Amsterdam. For more than 30 years, she participated in all the major panoramas of Russian art abroad, as well as big European art festivals. Olga has appeared twice at the Venice Biennale, in a group project by Okwui Enwezor at the 56th Biennale (2015) and in the Russian Pavilion at the 49th Biennale (2001), with her own exhibition.

The Guerlain Prize is a cumulative merit award: it is awarded not so much for a particular series, but for an artist’s entirecreative output in the medium of drawing. The candidate submits a portfolio, and then a panel of experts selects the finalists from the portfolios. The founders of the prize themselves take part in the selection. They met Olga Chernysheva's work for the first time in Moscow, at the Iragui Gallery, who represents her in Russia. Daniel and Florence Guerlain are leading French art collectors and recently there was an exhibition of their donations to the Pompidou Centre at the State Pushkin Museum in Moscow. They inherit a long family tradition of collecting and art patronage. For example, Jacques Edouard Guerlain (1874 - 1963), the famous French perfumer, was an acknowledged collector of paintings and patron of the arts.

Drawing gives the collector a direct sense of connection with the artist. "Drawing is the most corporeal of all forms. It has to do with the hand, with writing, with thought, with size, with the shape of the notebook," says Olga Chernysheva, "I like quick drawings after all. All the psychosomatic stuff is in them. You won't confuse Pushkin's prose and Dostoevsky's prose, you would easily distinguish a drawing by Pushkin from a drawing by Dostoevsky. A drawing by Dostoevsky consists of timid lines, always ready to hide, to merge; it lacks the romantic boldness, elasticity of drawings by Pushkin or Mikhail Lermontov.

The artist has worked with many media including photography, video, painting, and installation. "I'm interested in things at the borderline, and drawing is one of them. I have invented my own theory: the psychology of materials. I think that in painting, oil gives you the opportunity to make layers of failures and then everything comes together. In the case of charcoal, all your searching, every stop is always in the drawing. You have to be friends with watercolour as with a horse,there's incredible freedom and incredible discipline. Graphite is a story close to human life: graphite is a failed diamond, but you can make things with it that are more valuable than a diamond."

Olga's new spacious studio is located on the top floor of a Stalinist house in the centre of Moscow: summer light floods her fresh work as she narrates: "Drawing is a trembling thing. I am very fond of Leonid Lipavsky's saying that no one lives for themselves, no one for others, but all live for awe".

Olga Chernysheva’s website

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