As a child, he was fascinated by music, poetry and painting, and while he decided to pursue a career in the fine arts, he never abandoned the other two.He failed the entry exam to the School of Fine Arts of Kazan because he did not know how to draw, and his father sent him to different academies in Moscow. There he discovered the Impressionists at the Tretiakov Gallery while becoming acquainted with avant-garde literature and painting through the exhibitions he attended in 1910. All of this strengthened his artistic calling.
That same year, he was called up to serve in the army but, in 1912, he decided to desert. After traveling through Europe, he sought refuge in Paris. He enrolled in La Palette Academy, popular among the Cubists. There he met the woman who would become his partner: sculptor Helena Grünhof.
When World War I broke out, the couple moved to Spain. They stayed in Barcelona until 1917. During that time, Charchoune was impressed by painted ceramics, ceramic tiles and Hispanic-Muslim art. At this time he started his “Ornemental art” period, adding geometric gold and silver elements to his painting.
In 1917 he became acquainted with the Dadaists through Picabia. He attended the scandalous Dada Festival organized by Salle Gaveau and, from then on, took part in all of the group’s activities. In 1921, he was in charge of killing Barrès in the famous dramatization Mock Trial of Maurice Barrès, which the Dadaists performed in the Salle des Sociétés Savantes. Only a few canvases from his Dadaist adventure are well known, though many of Charchoune’s excellent drawings with variations on a similar theme are highly appreciated. This is also the time when starts developing his literary interests in Russian. In 1921, he published his first book, a work containing the poem Foule immobile, which Soupault helped him translate and which was very well received by the Dadaists, and featuring twelve of his own illustrations.
In 1922 he was in Berlin. His contacts with the Dada movement became less frequent and his style change radically, moving closer to analytical Cubism (“cubisme ornemental”). Although he initially planned to participate in the Russian Revolution, Isadora Duncan’s account dissuaded him. This was not the case with Helena Grünhof, who departed for Russia.
One year later, Charchoune returned to Paris, made illustrations for magazines and continued pursuing his notion of dadaism on his own. He then connected with philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, which impregnated his life and work, an influence followed by the effect that Ozenfant had on him.
After the isolation and despair of the thirties, the artist bounced back in the next decade when he found a studio and was able to sell several of his paintings. Water and music were his source of inspiration from then on, and exhibitions soon followed. In 1971, the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris organized his first retrospective.
Noemi de Haro