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CONSTANTINE CHERKAS

Aesthetic Innovation and A Search For The Truth

The Burden

By DAN PERAGINE

F

or Constantine Cherkas (Cherkasheninov), the path from Moscow to the United States was filled with fear, war and survival — and from a most unlikely individual, whose love of art gave Constantine a lease on life and an art career that spanned decades. Born in 1919 and living in Russia during the German invasion, Cherkas and his then fiancée, Kira (who later became his wife), made the decision to flee from the advancing horde and they were walking from the Soviet Union during the invasion and into Austria where they were captured. Their harrowing journey was pocked with surviving devastating bombings of villages and cities, where they found shelter in homes that miraculously would be standing amid neighbor’s rubble. People would invite them into their homes for good luck, seeing that they had managed to stay alive under the most extreme of conditions. During their honeymoon, they were captured by the Nazis outside of Vienna and placed in a German labor camp. During one of our many conversations, Constantine, speaking in his heavy Russian accent, said, “I snuck out one night and I went to the Vienna Academy. There I spoke to the Director to ask him about going to school there. He took me in for the evening and we talked about my background. The next day I snuck back into the labor camp, but 16 • Fine Art Magazine • December 2013

was caught. Several days went by when a guard came to my cell with the director and told me, ‘If you want to go to art school you need permission from the Gestapo.’ So we went there and the officer said to me, ‘Art before politics! You go to Art School!’” That decision changed the course of his life allowing Constantine and his newlywed Kira to go to Vienna, where, in 1946 the Director of the Vienna Academy, Professor V. Dimmel, stated, “Colorists like Constantine Cherkas are born only once in a century.” Able to travel to the United States, the Cherkasheninovs initially arrived in Philadelphia where Constantine found representation with the Newman Galleries. He worked as a portrait artist and was commissioned to paint a mural of America’s national pastime, baseball. While the subject matter may have been a stretch, mural painting was the family business. Constantine’s father Mikael gained fame as a muralist in the former USSR. The tradition of color in Cherkas is genetic, and contagious. Cherkas paintings are like a gem refracting light but beyond the surface. There is an intrinsic value beyond the immediate surface and subject. Once, during a conversation over coffee, Constantine told me that the carefully colored combinations, incorporating shafts of light, not only lend to compositional elements but were indicative

Winter 2013  

Profiles of artists, art fairs, international art, American artists, famous and soon-to-be-famous artists written for all to enjoy

Winter 2013  

Profiles of artists, art fairs, international art, American artists, famous and soon-to-be-famous artists written for all to enjoy

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