Denis Mikhaylov was born in Russia in 1974, and quickly rose to a level of artistic ability that granted him access to the Union of Artists in Russia in 1995. Mikhaylov is one of the four founders of the famous artist’s union “Inoy Vid Udovolstvia” and has garnered critical acclaim by taking first prize in the London Art Biennale in 2015. The successful direction of his career is a trajectory one could have hardly predicted looking only at the first 20 years of his work.
Mikhaylov presents visually rich, complex, and historically nuanced images drawing on religious themes of famous Old Master and Social Realist works. He gains inspiration from black and white photographs, and the juxtaposition of light and dark on the figures’ surfaces. This is the origin of his signature “stained glass” technique, whereby the sections of light and colors create a Caravaggesque composition. His paintings are simultaneously realistic and mysterious. The religious subjects evoke an emotional response in the audience, due to erotic narratives. His paintings pay homage to Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Raphael, and are accompanied by Socialist Realist extracts. Set against the backdrop of the underground transit system in Moscow, the paintings create a conversation about the opposition between moral principles and earthly sins. The Moscow Metro was one of the USSR’s most extravagant architectural projects. Stalin ordered the Metro’s artists and architects to design a structure that embodied radiance and a radiant future, to remind its riders that Stalin and his party had delivered something substantial to the people in return for their sacrifices.
Mikhaylov’s intention is to reinvent the way we view a painting containing subjects that possess such significant meaning, and demand interpretation. He reminds us of the complicated nature of belief throughout history, as well as in our daily lives, and in doing so implores us to question the evolving nature of man. His paintings are in the collection of The State Russian Museum, other private collections in Europe and the United States, and also in the private collection of Michael P. Mezzatesta and Loreen Arbus.