Iakov Chernikhov was born on the 17th of December, 1889 in Pavlograd, Ekaterinoslav province (now Dnepropetrovsk region) and was the 12th child in the family. In 1906 he left Pavlograd for Odessa and entered the Odessa Art School that was a branch of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. To earn his living young Chernikhov had to work as a docker, carton factory worker, passe-partout maker, retoucher/ photographer, and as an architect assistant to design and construct the Odessa Commercial and Industrial Exhibition, due to which he had early commanded various aspects of graphical skills.
In 1914, having graduated from the Art School, he moved to St. Petersburg (from the 31st of August 1914 – Petrograd, from the 26th of January 1924 – Leningrad) and entered the Academy of Arts, the faculty of painting, and simultaneously took courses of the Higher Pedagogical Academy. In 1916 Iakov Chernikhov switched to the architectural faculty and in 1925 he graduated it as a certified architect / artist. Among his professors were such classical school educators as Kiriak Kastandi and Gennadiy Ladyzhensky in Odessa, Vladimir Becklemishev, Dmitriy Kardovsky, Georgiy Kosyakov, Ivan Fomin and his main schoolmaster — architecture academician Leontiy Benua — in Petrograd.
Iakov Chernikhov launched his independent career in perspective art and graphics in 1912; in the same year he began his educational practice, which lasted all of his life. In 1927 Iakov Chernikhov established his own Science and Research Pilot Laboratory for Architectural Forms and Graphical Studies to get actively involved, together with his disciples and assistants, in experimental and design work.
Relatively late, having joined the Constructivism movement, when the climax of laboratory researches were behind ( late 1920s – early 1930s), Chernikhov published his books of architectural fantasies that made him famous worldwide and honored with a title of ‘Soviet Piranesi’: Basics of Modern Architecture (1929-1930), Design of Architectural and Machine Forms (1931), and Architectural Fantasies. 101 Compositions (1933). Perfectly formatted and printed, they have become a source of inspiration to many generations of architects.
In 1933 was opened an exhibition of Iakov Chernikhov’s works 2222 Architectural Fantasies, arranged in Anichkov Palace, under the direction of Sergey Kirov.
Then, in the early 1930s, when new state just started to form, architectural fantasies of Iakov Chernikhov seemed unrealizable, and to many professionals who knew the price of the project concept realization they seemed a complete utopia, in spite of the spirit of overall renewal and drive for future which reigned in architectural circles. May be, that’s why, when Basics of Modern Architecture by Iakov Chernikhov was published, the academician of architecture Alexandr Dmitriev3 addressed to him the words incused on the walls of the Main Pavilion of Art and Industry Exhibition in Darmstadt: “Show us your world, artist, which never existed and will never be”.
Living with myriads of ideas at a time, Iakov Chernikhov expressed himself primarily in architectural fantasies that combined spatial and graphical elements of architecture. Architectural graphics, having become an independent field of architectural creativity, in his interpretation offer to spectators specific perspective of the world through the artist’s individual way of thinking. That is why these works live their independent lives, very much like a painting, sculpture or erected constructions. Their perceptible architectonics, in combination with exquisiteness and musicality, produces a specific magnetic effect on spectator. That’s why Iakov Chernikhov’s art is so difficult to classify. In those years an artist was considered as a unique master of architectural graphics. Indeed, he perfectly commanded all known graphical techniques, though it had never been the end in itself or rather not the only end.
His passion for hand-made graphical art in the age of machined graphics, foretold by himself, now looks unnecessary and old-fashioned. But he was absolutely confident that in the new century graphics would become the second language of civilization, and it would be necessary not just to know it, but to have a good command of it, be able to express ideas and emerging imaginations, to construct and compose new forms. Iakov Chernikhov’s graphics are both means of expression and means of composition at the same time.
However, architectural fantasies of Iakov Chernikhov are like projects by Ivan Leonidov, works by Konstantin Melnikov, and other pioneers of Soviet architecture, even never implemented, gave to new generations an opportunity to recognize the great art of architecture in all its splendor and beauty. “If we could only implement everything that we had in mind then!- said Konstantin Melnikov, speaking of the 1920s. -We had deprived of art several generations.”