Mark Tochilkin and Artist Repression in the Soviet Union

Artist Mark Tochilkin, born in 1958, was born in present day Ukraine, and grew up in the Soviet Union. While he displayed a propensity for art very early on, the Soviet Union was far from being a favorable or welcoming place for artists.  

Under Joseph Stalin's regime, there was only one form of state sponsored art, known as Socialist Realism. During this time, artists were commonly used by the Soviet government to create art that, to those within its borders, made harsh state mandates a bit more palatable; and to those outside its borders, portrayed the Soviet Union in the best possible light. There were terrible consequences for those who did not comply and it was not uncommon for art students to be sent to labor camps. After Stalin's death in 1953, artists were still heavily criticized, but less persecuted.

It was in this climate that Tochilkin pursued his talents. He entered the Academy of Art in Leningrad in 1977, which was still heavily pushing the government's Realism agenda. Once he graduated in 1983, Tochilkin became much more expressive and incorporated influences from around the world in his art.

During this time, artists in the Soviet Union were becoming bolder and there was a wave of artistic experimentation and renewed expression. Art from this time is very revealing about what Soviet life was actually like. Once Mikhail Gorbachev stepped into power in 1985, artists were allowed yet more freedom. Gorbachev's policies were focused on repairing the economy and creating a more transparent government, and with it, less censorship. While we credit Gorbachev with de-escalating the Cold War, in the eyes of his people, he was also responsible for the decline of the Soviet Union.

Tochilkin moved to Israel in the early 1990s and enjoyed a boom in popularity shortly after. Israel's art scene had renewed focus on Jewish art, as a response to the aging and decline of Holocaust survivors and Tochilkin was a welcome participant in religious art exhibitions. Since then, he has expanded into sculpture and has enjoyed international renown for his nostalgic and harmonious artworks.


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