Petrovsky-Shtern, Yohanan


In his bright, bold paintings Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern enters a sophisticated dialogue with a wide range of traditions—from folk and neo-Primitivist art to avant-garde experiments with reducing the color palette and emphasizing pure geometrics. In his works, which often engage with historical and mythological motifs, he daringly transposes these classic plots into a highly contemporary mode of generating intimate emotional engagement with the viewer.Petrovsky-Shtern’s paintings speak of ancient archetypes and universally relatable passions, and do so in a way that is fresh, engaging, and ultimately unforgettable. 

Curated by Professor Vitaly Chernetsky

Artist Statement

I am a scholartist, a strange specie, half-a-scholar and half-an-artist. I inhabit a History Department office at Northwestern University where I place a canvas against my bookshelves and produce my paintings which are called scholart. This art is inspired by my interest in East European literature, history, and culture and is generated by my research in that field. My scholart painting is a fusion, a juxtaposition, and a synthesis. It creates an image that grows from intuition and results in a paradoxical vision that defies scholarship. What I cannot achieve in my scholarship, I seek to accomplish in my art. There are moments in my teaching, usually the most dramatic, when words fail to convey what I’d like to impart to my students. I can explain the context, the behavior of the agents of historical calamities, the sinister logic of a catastrophe, and the results thereof. But when I need to talk about the victims’ experiences, words fail me. Millions of Ukrainians starved to death by the Soviet regime; millions of Jews gassed by the Nazis… Unable to cite the experience of the victims, I express their experience in my artwork. My suppressed emotions flow into brush strokes. To be precise, when I fail as a scholar I succeed as an artist.