Chemiakin was born to a military family. His father, a Kabardinian from the Caucasus Mountains surnamed Kardanov, had lost his parents and was adopted by a friend of his father's, White Army officer Piotr Chemiakin. The artist's father eventually became a Soviet Army officer. He received one of the first Order of the Red Banner at the age of thirteen. Mihail Chemiakin spent his early years in East Germany. His father served in the Army there. His family returned to the Soviet Union in 1957 and he studied at the secondary school of art affiliated with the Il’ya Repin Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). In 1961 he was subjected to forced psychiatric treatment to "cure" him of views that did not conform to Soviet norms. He later got a job at the Hermitage Museum. With his colleagues from the museum he organized an exhibition in 1964, after which the director of the museum was fired and all the participants forced to resign. In 1967 he co-authored with philosopher Vladimir Ivanov a treatise called "Metaphysical Synthesism", which laid out his artistic principles, and created the "St. Petersburg Group" of artists . In 1971 he was exiled from the Soviet Union for failing to conform to Socialist Realism norms.
He settled in France and he published Apollon-77, an almanac of post-Stalinist art, poetry, and photography. He moved to New York City in 1981, and currently lives in France.
Chemiakin works in a broad range of media and subjects, as can be seen in the 2010 two-volume book on his art, Mihail Chemiakin (Azbooka publishers, St. Petersburg). In 2001, commissioned by the City of Moscow, Chemiakin created a monument "Children Are the Victims of Adult Vices", a group of sculptures in a park 2000 feet south of the Kremlin, behind the British Ambassador's residence. Other sculptures by Chemiakin include Peter the Great in St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress, Peter the Great in London, Monument to Victims of Terrorism in Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia), Vladimir Vysotsky in Samara, Russia.
Since roughly 2001, he has been working as artistic designer on the upcoming Russian animated feature film ''Hoffmaniada''. In 2001 he directed and designed an entirely new production of ''The Nutcracker'' for the Mariinsky Theater, where he also created a second ballet based on the same tale by Hoffman, "The Magic Nut". In 2010 the artist created a new production of "Coppelia" for the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater.