Evgenij Kozlov: B(L)ACK ART 1985 - 1987 page 1
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Evgenij Kozlov: B(L)ACK ART 1985 - 1987
If we approach Evgenij Kozlov's works of the 1980s from a formal rather than thematic point of view, we notice a developmental process that leads to a new style emerging about every two years, without, however, completely replacing the previous one.
His artistic language comprises both a painterly element, i.e. shaping the composition (including figures) using only colour, and a linear element, i.e. fashioning the form by means of contours or lines. These two elements, which might be called painting and drawing, or, to be more precise, surface and line, colour and symbol, appear in different proportions at different times. This allows us to speak of several stylistic periods.
Yet it is only rarely that the artist follows one of these developmental tendencies exclusively, which makes it difficult to strictly define such stylistic periods. There are almost always works that cannot be assigned to the predominant style of the period. The great number of such works makes the stylistic description of Evgenij Kozlov's oeuvre a very challenging task. This can also be said of the prolific eighties period.
Before I delve deeper into this developmental process, I should narrow down the meaning of “style” for Evgenij Kozlov. Style as such is secondary for him, as it is merely a medium of expression for creating harmony of a particular kind. Harmony is a complex joining of polarities, which will be discussed later. This joining of polarities is not arbitrary, but has an infinite potential. The ways in which the artist proceeds in realising this potential lead to the alteration of stylistic periods. Out of this harmony comes the freedom with which Evgenij Kozlov masters various stylistic elements, transforms them and gives them a new meaning. Due to his drawing skills, flair for colour, and eye for composition, he is able to take each style to its full potential. At the same time, he remains free to abandon it at any moment, because he is not obliged to define his art through style.
Stylistic Periods of the Eighties
As a matter of fact, pure painting can be found only at the beginning of the eighties. Thus, it holds a special place amongst the stylistic periods of this decade. When I speak here of pure painting, I do not refer to abstract or non-objective painting, which is almost absent from Kozlov's work. Rather, I mean that figurative elements are created purely through colour, with their shape emerging out of its surface. There are no lines, i.e. no strokes (Тише, не тревожьте сон / разговоров сыпь трескуча / Silence! Do Not Wake the Sleeping / With a Crackling Hail of Talk, 1981).
Along with pure painting, there exist drawings in pencil, coloured pencil, tusche, and lithographic crayon, sometimes in combination with monotyping. The rest of the decade is characterised by a combination of painting and drawing, unique to each particular period. Every year, new symbols (figures, signs) are created that hold out for a while and then give way to their “successors”, yet may suddenly reappear, sometimes in an altered form.
In 1982, the artist created a series of miniatures on pages from a “Book of Hours” (a “Chasoslov”, containing Church Slavonic canonical hours or prayers). The Church Slavonic text fills each picture with a special energy; the meaning of the text, however, is not taken into account: only the names of the pictures refer to it. Here, colour and line are of equal importance.
From 1982 to 1983, the main emphasis was placed on paintings with multi-figure compositions. These are group portraits in a highly innovative form that incorporate elements of pop art (Noli me tangere, 1982 more >>, Комиссары / Commissars, 1983).
In 1983, the artist employed the stencil technique for the first time, which lends sharp outlines and precise movements to his figures (SIT VENIA VERBO. Традиции ХХ века / SIT VENIA VERBO. Traditions of the XX Century, 1983 more >>). There is also a series of beach motifs in lithographic crayon which have equally well-defined contours, but are softer in mood with their sweeping, undulating lines closely following each other (Петродворец. Финский залив. / Petrodvorets. The Gulf of Finland). see top right of page. The monochrome drawings are graphics in the purest sense of the word, while the corresponding paintings with their coloured surfaces emphasise the painterly aspect of the series (Петродворец. Красный проспект / Petrodvorets. Red Avenue, 1983).
Collage and photo collage have a special place in the 1984–1985 period. It should be noted that collage elements were also used before and after this time, but mostly in combination with painting or drawing. In creating collages, the artist follows an associative approach, which takes into account their content as well as the aesthetics of their individual elements.
The content or the “meaning” of the picture is composed in a linear way from (overpainted) photographs and newspaper clippings, whilst the pieces and strips of coloured paper, which serve to deepen the emotional impact, have more of a painterly nature..
Photography played a significant role throughout the eighties period. It fulfils the task that otherwise belongs to sketches, namely the elaboration of certain motifs. more >>
Photography played a significant role throughout the eighties period. It fulfils the task that otherwise belongs to sketches, namely the elaboration of certain motifs. For the stylistic period of 1985–1987, the technical treatment of negatives was of special importance: contours and strokes are produced by scratching the wet emulsion of the negative and then transferred to graphics and paintings more >>. The works of this period with their “speaking” symbols have the strong expressivity of graffiti or comic strips. The dynamics of the picture are defined by the expressive gestures and looks of the figures, whose movement is emphasised by strokes and linear ornaments (Когда вы начинаете чувствовать мускулы! / When you start to feel muscles!, 1986 more >>).
The development of purely sign-like symbols and their subsequent usage in pictures reached its peak in 1987–1988. In contrast to the geometric symbols of 1985–1986, these symbols were based not on three-dimensional, but rather on two-dimensional shapes that show a certain symmetry. This also applies to the letters. Shapes and letters originate from Soviet symbols, yet are so dramatically transformed that their conveyed atmosphere becomes positive (Улыбающийся серп / Smiling Sickle). From 1988, the abstract figures became archetypes such as man, woman, sun (МаМа ПаПа / MaMa PaPa, 1988; Точки соприкосновения / Points of Contact, 1989; Новая классика / New Classicals, series, 1989–1990 more >>). Still, it is at this time that one finds outstanding examples of a painterly-linear manner strikingly different from the predominant style of the period. The famous Portrait of Timur Novikov with Bone Arms is one such work (Портрет Тимура Новикова с костяными руками, 1988). more >>
Thus, pictorial symbols do not dominate Kozlov's artistic expression, but ultimately expand the possibilities of painting. In the late eighties, the artist created a number of large multi-figure paintings with a strong presence, including Анна Каренина I / Anna Karenina I more >>, Анна Каренина II / Anna Karenina II more >> Акула / Shark more >>.
Evgenij Kozlov “invented” a special presentation for these works: before priming, he would take in the edges of the canvas (a cotton fabric), giving it an undulating look. The edge is emphasised by a wide coloured border, so that the viewer looks at the picture as if through a window. These paintings draw on the experience and knowledge accumulated by the artist in the previous years. They are linear painting and painterly drawing.
In 2012, after many years of intense work on graphic art for the series Century XX, Evgenij Kozlov defined the difference between painting and drawing through the following pairs of opposites:
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