Hannelore Fobo

Evgenij Kozlov: B(L)ACK ART 1985 - 1987 page 2




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Evgenij Kozlov: B(L)ACK ART


B(L)ACK ART

To take a closer look at the period from 1985 to 1987, it is necessary to go beyond a concise stylistic analysis of Evgenij Kozlov’s pictures and examine their content. From 1985 to 1988, and in some cases until 1990, the general situation in which the artist was living is more directly reflected in his work than at other times. Again, it should be noted that this characteristic is not shared by each and every work of this period.

 

By the “general situation” I mean the time of perestroika, which defined the atmosphere of Leningrad in the mid-eighties. With Mikhail Gorbachev coming to power in 1985, the aggressive Soviet rhetoric against NATO and especially against the USA was superimposed with the rhetoric of perestroika; the USSR began to open up..
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov B(L)ACK ART. mixed media, paper, 72 x 52.2 cm, 1986

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
B(L)ACK ART. mixed media, paper, 72 x 52.2 cm, 1986

A native of Leningrad, Evgenij Kozlov was thirty at the time. He had already received recognition in avant-garde artistic circles and became one of the founding members of the New Artists, the leading Leningrad artist group. The individuality of his worldview was manifest as early as the seventies. It is related to his specific perception of the reality and primordial nature of colour, shape, and space, and of the living forces that create them. This individuality brought him both admiration and stern rejection, as well as many difficulties in leading life on his own terms. It gives his art a philosophical character, because he reflects upon these perceptions, explores their deeper meaning and deliberately incorporates the results when composing his works. The diaries of 1979–1983, where he tersely describes possible compositions for future works, can give us an idea of this process. These descriptions are interspersed among reflections on existential phenomena: God and man, the whole and nothingness, the origin of thought. Evgenij Kozlov discusses the influences that shape the process of artistic creation. Here is a quote from 1983 that stresses the importance of architecture for the experience of space (page 4-17 >>):

 

    „Мысль человека-художника скорее дальше продвигается вперед и правдивее. Среди строительства действительно отвечающего в худ. и эст. смысле духу времени - это тот постоянный допинг - толчок подсознательный, который способен организовывать объемы и простанства и цвет, которыми мыслит художник.”

    “The thought of the artistic person moves forward faster and more truthfully. Those buildings that really reflect the zeitgeist in the artistic and aesthetic sense: this is the constant ‘doping’, an unconscious impulse capable of organising volume, space and colour, in which the artist thinks.” more >>

 

Besides the visual influences of pictorial art (particularly in the Hermitage), the artist was interested in literature, music, and fashion. This interest quite naturally includes the culture of Western Europe and USA of the twentieth century. In the diaries, we come across numerous names, from Thomas Mann to Pierre Cardin and Steve Reich.

 (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov untitled Frottage, tusche, paper, 18.2 x 12.6 cm, 1986

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
untitled
Frottage, tusche, paper, 18.2 x 12.6 cm, 1986

Despite official criticism and censorship, this culture, especially music, had long played an important role in the life of the Soviet youth. At the very least, this was true of the avant-garde circles from the big cities that had contact with foreigners. Jazz, as long as it was not free jazz, had gone mainstream. Pop, rock and jazz vinyl records could be bought on the black market or copied to tape. Radio Luxembourg, which could be received clearly at night, transmitted all the latest hits. In Evgenij Kozlov's archive, there is a notebook from the eighties that lists the contents of seventeen tapes, for A- and B-sides separately. They include Pink Floyd, Charles Mingus, Chick Corea, Chicago, and many others. Contemporary art and popular culture reached their audience through coffee-table books about Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. Page for page, Evgenij Kozlov translated Steven Hager’s 1987 book ART AFTER MIDNIGHT. THE EAST VILLAGE SCENE, a chronicle of punk and new wave in the New York of the early eighties. It contained descriptions of the most popular clubs and exhibitions, the names of fashionable galleries and artists, including the ones mentioned above, as well as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf.

 

The knowledge of international cultural trends strengthened the New Artists’ sense of identity and gave it an aggressive component, or, to be more precise, a positively aggressive component, that is, creative and not destructive. With this self-image, the New Artists began to conquer new social territories that previously remained closed to them. In the eighties, the repressive measures of the security apparatus were not as massive as in the seventies, and new possibilities opened up in the course of perestroika.

 

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov B(L)ack art Ink, paper, approx. 71.8 x 45.3 cm, 1986

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
B(L)ack art
Ink, paper, approx. 71.8 x 45.3 cm, 1986
It is an amalgam of conflicting and contradictory powers. Arising out of this situation, from 1985 to 1987 Evgenij Kozlov created a number of pictures similar in subject and style that I would like to term B(L)ACK ART, the name belonging to several works of this period. In these works, the name also functions as a graphic element. However, the “L” is not put in brackets, but acts as a dotted separator between B and A, so that the word can also be read as BACK ART. I try to reproduce this double reading through the use of brackets.

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The artist takes these conflicting forces and transforms them through his own forces, giving them a new dynamic. As he lives in art, they become universal, that is, lifted out of the political context. I have chosen the name B(L)ACK ART because, in my opinion, it expresses the subversive humour which is characteristic of this stylistic period. This is humour with an aggressive note, both subtle and blunt, ambiguous and direct – a special kind of black humour. B(L)ACK ART has the refined aesthetics of understatement which affects naivety and spontaneity – street art, back art. In 2009, Evgenij Kozlov defined spontaneous, unplanned art as CHAOSE ART. Unlike CHAOSE ART, B(L)ACK ART is carefully composed, and its spontaneity is only a pretence. In the chapter on the picture When You Start to Feel Muscles!, I will discuss how such a composition is built.

 

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov untitled, tusche, paper, 29.6 x 21 cm, 1980

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
untitled,
tusche, paper,
29.6 x 21 cm, 1980

B(L)ACK ART shows the expressivity of graffiti or comic strips described above: plastic, sharply outlined abstract signs and figures, e.g. a grim moon, a sputnik with an exhaust plume, a skull-headed manikin in a peaked cap, an explosion, skyscrapers, soldiers, a woman in a bikini. Later, in 1987, this group of symbols was joined by the Smiling Sickle mehr >>, which marks the transition to the graphic transformation of Soviet symbols (1987–1988) that eventually lead to purely geometrical figures. Another feature of B(L)ACK ART is the use of fonts and text or, rather, of letter-like, onomatopoeic strings of characters as “speaking” symbols: zigzagging ribbons, loops, spirals, asterisks, and so on. There are drawings that anticipate the composition and style of B(L)ACK ART from as early as 1980.

 

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Внешний Облик Отношений Двух Держав / The External Appearance of the relationship between the Two World Powers „Мертвые Ласки Века“, До .../ “Dead Caresses of the Century” Until….  Tempera, gouache / cardboard, 95 x 71 cm, 1980

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Внешний Облик Отношений Двух Держав /
The External Appearance of the relationship
between the Two World Powers
„Мертвые Ласки Века“, До .../
“Dead Caresses of the Century” Until….

Tempera, gouache / cardboard, 95 x 71 cm,
1980
more >>

The content of the pictures deals with a polarity of forces or powers, which sometimes manifests itself in the polarity of the USA and the USSR (“CCCP” in Cyrillic script), although not exclusively. These pictures also have a precursor in 1980: the painting Внешний Облик Отношений Двух Держав / The External Appearance of the relationship between the Two World Powers, later renamed “Мертвые Ласки Века До / Dead Caresses of the CenturyUntil. The USA and the USSR are represented here figuratively. They are protected by an angel standing behind them. Both thematically and formally, this picture holds a singular position among Evgenij Kozlov's works of this period, if not in all of his oeuvre. These examples show that B(L)ACK ART did not appear out of nowhere, neither can it be explained purely by the influence of certain current trends, be they political or artistic.

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However, from 1985 to 1987, conflict and struggle come to the fore: characters, mostly arranged in pairs, are in a more or less direct confrontation. They keep each other at bay, or there are winners and losers. A 1987 work CCCP – USA, which exists in several variants, is expressly fashioned as a comic composed of six pictures. The title is painted in large transparent letters across the whole width of the picture. It is the struggle of David against Goliath, although which of the two figures is associated with the USA and which with the CCCP remains unclear.

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(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov CCCP - USA. Mischtechnik, Baumwolle, 83,5 x 61,5, 1987

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
CCCP - USA. Mischtechnik, Baumwolle, 83,5 x 61,5, 1987

 

In all the B(L)ACK ART pictures in general, a not insignificant role is played by the outer space and its conquest, which was more than just a matter of prestige for both the USA and the Soviet Union. Of course, there were military interests connected to space exploration, but it also involved a somewhat romantic search for life in the universe, known to us from science fiction movies and books of that time.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Полет Американцев в космосе. / Der Flug der Amerikaner im Kosmos. Gouache, Papier, 72 x 45.6 cm, 1986.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Полет Американцев в космосе. / Der Flug der Amerikaner im Kosmos.
Gouache, Papier, 72 x 45.6 cm, 1986.

 

In 1961, with Gagarin becoming the first human in outer space, the USSR won the race against the USA; in 1969, after the first manned moon landing, the USA caught up. The space race became the subject of Kozlov's picture The Flight of the Americans in Space (1986). The lower third of the picture shows a rocket with its passengers kneeling behind each other in an indecent posture and reaching out with their arms in the direction of the flight, while the rocket speeds on with great acceleration. This representation mocks the penetration of outer space, which here acquires a explicitly sexual component. The wish to conquer space through manned space flight was later rejected by Evgenij Kozlov, this time without any mockery, in a seven-part series НУ ЮР, НЕ УЛЕТА ТУДА / Hey Yuri, Don’t Fly Awry created in 2011. [1]

The space beyond Earth can also be explored spiritually, without any physical movement. And as for “black holes”, they can be known in no other way at all.

 

From 1986: Шок АРТ / Shock ART (different versions), Джеймсс Бонд / Jamess Bond, Когда вы начинаете чувствовать мускулы! / When you start to Feel Muscles!, Полет американцев в космосе / The Flight of the Americans in Space (different versions), Центральное телевидение / Central Television, B(L)ACK ART (different versions),  Д.А.С. / D.A.S., CCCP – USA, „Опять 25.” „Ахтунг, Ахтунг! Н.З.Л.П.Д.П.” Немецкий Зольдатн! / “Twenty Five Again”. “Achtung, Achtung! N.Z.L.R.D.P.” German Soldatn! more >>. Last but not least, from 1987: АЭРОКОБРА / AEROCOBRA, Все Опасно для Жизни / Everything is Dangerous to Life, Oile, СОС / SOS, CCCP – USA; and finally, Страх Врагам / Terror to the Enemies created in 1988 more >>. Themes and symbols were developed in numerous preparatory drawings, sketches and overpainted photographs. [2] The small size works are extremely helpful in tracing the development of the symbols, as the date for some paintings is uncertain and others were dated only some years later. As a result, it is no longer possible to establish the exact sequence of the works. Especially fruitful for the development of B(L)ACK ART was a series of photographs that Evgenij Kozlov took in 1985 during a session with Timur Novikov, Igor Verichev and the Dutchman Johann. They served as a source of inspiration for a total of twelve photo collages, works on paper, and paintings. more >>



[1]In the original Russian, the last letter of the verb “uletay” is intentionally omitted, which gives the name of the picture its rhythm and sonority: Hey Yur, ne Uleta Tuda. The English version, in contrast, creates a play on words based on the similarity between “away” and “awry.”


[2] The destructive power of the so-called peaceful use of nuclear energy became obvious in 1986, after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which became the subject of two 1987 sketches by Evgenij Kozlov. Here, the artist quotes, among others, a statement that plays down the danger which he ascribes to M. Rosen (Morris Rosen was the director of nuclear safety in the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA): “В повседневной жизни все мы подвержены радиации / All of us are exposed to radiation in our everyday life.” Even if one cannot see any direct relationship between this event and the subject matter of the paintings, the threat that radiation poses to human existence is firmly fixed in the artist’s mind. He told me once how he and his friend Viktor Labutov went fishing in a rowboat on the Baltic Sea in the vicinity of the Sosnovy Bor nuclear power plant. As the artist looked up at the sky, he saw a huge cloud in the shape of a skull. His friend, however, did not notice any such likeness.

 

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