Vladimir Chaika considers himself an artist swimming against the current in an attempt to create meaningful images in a changing Russian society.
To reach his goals, Chaika–honor laureate for the 10th Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition–creates posters that mirror Russia’s struggle to balance post-communist ideals with the economic, political and social realities a new democracy brings to daily life.
A collection of Chaika’s work and a presentation by the laureate will kick off the 10th Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition, the only event of its kind held in the United States. The exhibition begins with a presentation by Chaika and a reception 5-7 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center, 417 W. Magnolia St. Chaika’s work, along with posters by the juror, exhibition directors and high-school students from the Northern Front Range, also will be part of the Lincoln Center exhibition. The show, which runs through Oct. 27, is free and open to the public.
Chaika, 41, started his career when communism still burned bright in Russia. The Moscow native studied at the USSR Academy of the Arts, where he took part in exhibitions that quickly drew attention from professional design circles. Immediately following his studies, Chaika was offered a position at the Arts Fund’s Graphic Arts Complex, a showcase for top designers in Moscow. During his tenure at the complex, Chaika worked on many projects that gained him more professional acclaim and ultimately netted him an offer to serve as chief artist and artistic director of the agency.
But in the late 1980s, Chaika abruptly ended his professional career by turning down the job offer and quitting all contact with official organizations, including the Communist Party. Ever since, Chaika has worked as an independent designer, a move some critics believe liberated the artist to reach new heights in his work.
"It is impossible to do graphic design in the Soviet Union," Chaika said in a recent interview in GRAPHIS, an art publication. "When there is not enough bread on the shelves, there is no need for attractive packaging. No choice eliminates any need for advertising…In a country of constant deprivation, design becomes a superfluous decision."
Some of Chaika’s best known work brings that message home in exquisite forms. To announce his departure from Moscow’s graphic design community, Chaika took out a one-page ad in a widely read Russian publication. Taking one of the most prominent graphic symbols in Russia–the Coca Cola logo–Chaika reproduced a sign posted on outdoor pavilions in Moscow when there is no more beer: "Beer nyet," meaning, "There is no beer." For his own declaration of independence, Chaika added, "And I don’t need beer."
Chaika’s departure from the official Moscow graphic design milieu did no harm to his stature as a premier artist. Chaika has earned numerous awards for his work, including honors at the Ninth Colorado International Poster Exhibition and from official artist circles in Moscow. His poster, "For Rent," was one of three gold medal winners at the CIIPE poster exhibition in 1995. Last year, Chaika received the National Award for Culture and Fine Art in Moscow and the Alfons Mucha Prize at the 17th International Biennial of Graphic Design in Brno, Czech Republic.
Although optimistic about what democracy might eventually bring to Russia, Chaika often speaks about his frustrations as an artist in a country where materials are often of poor quality or difficult to find.
"I am a designer without technology," he told GRAPHIS. Regarding technology, he added, "I need it, but it’s impossible. Let me explain. A good musician can actually play on the tabletop without any sound, because he hears inside."
The 10th Colorado International Poster Exhibition runs Sept. 11-Oct. 24 at Colorado State University. More than 400 posters from 124 artists worldwide will be showcased as part of the event.
Exhibition sponsors include Colorado State University, the Fort Collins Lincoln Center, Poudre School District, the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Collins Convention and Visitors Bureau. Financial sponsors include Colorado State’s department of art, the Colorado Council on the Arts, Fort Fund from the city of Fort Collins, the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation and many private donors.