Pepperstein was born to Irina Pivovarova, an author of children’s books, and Viktor Pivovarov, a well-known painter. From 1985 to 1987, he studied at The Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. In 1987 he co-founded the experimental group of artists called Inspection Medical Hermeneutics (P.Pepperstein, S. Anufriev, Y.Liederman, V. Fedorov). The ideology of Medical Hermeneutics was the fusion of incompatible descriptive language, from contemporary western philosophy and Orthodox theology, Daoism and Buddhism to the language of psychiatry and pharmacology, which created a completely unique manner of expression.
Since 1989 Pepperstein has been an independent artist, writer, critic, art theorist and rap musician. His work is a continuation of the tradition started by the Moscow Conceptual School. During 1994 he was Visiting Professor at the Städelschule in Frankfurt, Germany.
His exhibitions include the 53rd Venice Biennial in 2009, in the Russian Pavilion, where his installation Landscapes of the Future was widely acclaimed and received numerous positive reviews from critics. Writing about the Venice Biennale in Süddeutsche Zeitung, Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk said he found consolation in the work of Pepperstein, which reminds him of William Blake. In June 2014, Pepperstein was personally invited by the distinguished German curator Kasper König to appear at Manifesta 10, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art. In October 2014 Pepperstein was invited to take part in a group exhibition Manifest Intention. Drawing in all its forms at Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea. The exhibition, curated by Beatrice Merz, was entirely dedicated to the leading practitioners of the art of drawing from the last 100 years. Pepperstein’s work also features prominently in a book on contemporary figurative drawing written by Roger Malbert, a senior curator at Hayward Gallery in London. The book, entitled ‘Drawing People’ and published by Thames and Hudson in April 2015, focuses on contemporary artists for whom drawing is a primary means of expression and who focus on the human subject.
Roger Malbert writes, “Word and image flow from the same pen with a facility and grace that appear peculiarly timeless in the work of Pavel Pepperstein. His drawings hark back to a pre-technological age when handwriting was cultivated as the primary expression of the self, and great illustrators such as Saul Steinberg could invoke a multiplicity of styles with a few lines. In Pepperstein’s universe political allegory is couched in the symbolic language of Russian Suprematism of the early twentieth century, an avant-garde so far ahead of its time that a century after its manifestation it still appears to foresee a future at which we may never arrive. Paradoxically, for a figurative artist like Pepperstein, with one foot in children’s book illustration and the other in political cartoons, it is Malevich’s Black Square (1915), the absolute negation of figurative imagery, that heralds the new order. This would be the mystical ‘end of history’, when all conflicts are resolved, gangsters no longer rule the roost and justice prevails”.
Echoing the attention Malbert pays to word and image in Pepperstein’s art, Boris Groys states in After the Big Tsimtsum, “Pavel Pepperstein is quite clearly more than just an artist. He is also a poet, writer, critic, curator and theorist. Above all, however, he is a designer of social spaces”. The curator Hans Ulrich Obrist calls Pepperstein “one of the most important contemporary artists”.
And the critic Filipa Ramos has said of Pepperstein, “In his vast body of work, the artist has explored the possibilities of combining linguistics, outlandish experiments, popular narratives, and science fiction in a way that seems to be immune to the ideals and expressive forms of post-perestroika”.
Pepperstein’s art has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, including The Louvre in Paris. His paintings, drawings and installations can be found in the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow, the Russian State Museum in St Petersburg, the George Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Deutsche Bank Collection and in many public and private collections both in Russia and abroad.
In December 2014, Pepperstein was awarded the Kandinsky Prize, Russia’s premier contemporary art award. Pepperstein is a somewhat mythical figure. An intensely private man, he rarely appears in public and has no permanent address or studio, preferring instead an anchoritic lifestyle and nomadic existence.