04.06.1926 – 18.11.1997, Moscow
Painter, graphic artist, monumentalist, teacher
Shvartsman was born into the family of a small-scale entrepreneur who was continually on the move because of harassment by the authorities. According to family tradition, his drawings were shown to Malevich in Nemchinovka at the start of the 1930s. At the age of 15 he began working in a factory in Syzran, to where he had been evacuated during the war. After returning to Moscow he worked as a freight handler. He was called up into the army in 1945, was wounded, and after the war served at the rocket test site at Kapustin Yar. He was demobilised in 1950 and entered the Moscow Higher Industrial Arts School (the former Stroganov Institute) in the metal department, later moving to the monumental art department. He studied under Pavel Kuznetsov and Alexander Kuprin. He was fascinated by Byzantine and ancient Russian art and travelled to Ferapontovo and Kirillov in the north to paint. He completed his training as an external student in 1956, after six years instead of eight.
At the end of the 1950s he began working on a new artistic canon, and by the early 1960s had developed the concept of ‘hieratic art’: an esoteric graphic system that combined modernist experience with the mysticism of the ancient Russian icon. At about this time he had contacts with the unofficial artists’ circle. He worked at the Moscow Training School for Decorative Arts in 1956–66, designed book graphics, collaborated with publishing houses in Moscow and produced posters for Sovexport. From 1966 to 1985 he was the senior artist of the graphic design group in the Special Bureau of Art and Construction at the Ministry of Light Industry. He took part in exhibitions in Russia and abroad of graphic advertising and posters. Together with Grigory Dauman he produced three monumental panels for the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. In 1966 he founded his own ‘hieratic’ school and soon converted to the Orthodox Church. After the collapse of the first group of students in 1970 he set up a new school and community of hieratic painting in Sokolniki; it lasted until 1979. Before emigrating in 1977 the collector George Costakis purchased several of his works. In 1983 Shvartsman participated in the first exhibition of Non-conformists at the Moscow Committee of Graphic Artists. During the Perestroika period he rejected suggestions that he take part in exhibitions and auctions, including the famous Sotheby’s 1988 auction, even though there was a lot of interest in his work, and insisted on his own concept of how works should be exhibited. In 1993 the Mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov, provided the artist with his first ever studio. Mikhail Shvartsman’s solo exhibition took place in the Tretyakov Gallery in 1994. F.B.