Because of his name, Wilhelm Shenrok is regularly listed as a German artist, but he is truly a Russian and his artistic experience and expression are very much those of a Russian freethinker. His name is thanks to his German ancestry; he actually grew up in Abrau-Dyurso near the Black Sea coast, and having loved drawing as a child he went on to study art, graduating from the Krasnodar Art College in 1969 and the Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry in 1982.

His studies were punctuated in 1972, when he was exiled to Siberia for three years to work on building an oil and gas pipeline. This helps to explain the creative restlessness that permeates much of his work; as he explains, ‘I have spent long periods with people whose views and behaviours I completely disagree. Maybe I should adapt, but I don't like these people, having nothing to do with them. I am not one of their herd.’ He does not claim to have any sort of exhaustive understanding of his own place in the history of art – ‘I do not interfere in the lives of my contemporaries,’ he says, ‘I have neither the education nor the conviction.’

But that has not detracted from his prolific output of drawings and paintings, characterised by their combination of careful technique, wicked imagination, and barefaced challenge to the mainstream art world. Though now based in Moscow, he has also spent long periods in New York immersing himself in Western art history, at the same time witnessing the paradox of the commercial sexualisation of imagery and the portrayal of the naked human body in ‘acceptable’ art.

In an extended 2019 article by Jonathan Goodman entitled ‘Eroticising Art’s History’ in the online Fronterad magazine, which you can read in full here, Goodman writes ‘Wilhelm Shenrok’s work reflects his wide knowledge of Western art history, and is at the same time infused with an often direct eroticism that is very much his own vision, being at a distance from, if not at odds with, such artists and art as he imitates in his paintings: Renoir, Modigliani, Van Gogh, and examples of classical and surreal aesthetics. As much a visual archivist and historian as a highly-skilled, classically-trained painter and draughtsman, Shenrok moves in the direction of an appreciation that is both conventional and quirky. The sexualised nature of much of what he does should not be questioned – there is a considerable historical model for erotic expression in fine art – but must also be understood in light of contemporary culture, with its predilection for unabashed sexual presentation – this despite the fact that such work has traditionally been on the edge of the spectrum of what we usually see. But with the saturation of sexuality in culture worldwide – the result not so much of intimate feeling but of the need to parade desire as an act of self – Shenrok’s work is full in keeping with our current wish to keep sex open and accessible, without commenting on the question of its more visually elusive precedents, as well the notion that such art can be understood as necessarily marginal, even in an ethical sense. This may, or may not be a problem for those looking at Shenrok’s body of work, which has become as eclectic in recent years as it is technically accomplished.’

Wilhelm Shenrok’s website is here, and his Instagram page here.

We are very grateful to our Russian friend Yuri for introducing us to the work of this artist, and for supplying most of the images.

Example illustration