Evgenij Kozlov on the Leningrad Eighties and the “New Artists” page 1

Questions by Yelena Fedotova, art magazine “Artchronika” (Moscow), on the occasion of the exhibition
“Brushstroke. New Artists and Necrorealists 1982-1991” at the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, February-May 2010

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In 1982, the artistic group New Artists was created. How did it happen? When was the name coined? Was it at the same time or later?

Еvgenij Kozlov, „Wenn ihr beginnt, Muskeln zu spüren", 118,5 x 155 см, 1986 Sammlung Staatliches Russissches Museum The main trends in the Russian art of the 80s were academic art, folk art, surrealism and conceptual art, the last being mostly a Moscow phenomenon. In the scope of thirty years, we can see that the «New» were formed of artists whose expressive means differed dramatically from all these trends. There was an explosion, and all of a sudden these artists appeared, presenting their own values, ideas and new views, seeking to express them not only through painting, but in all fields of art: poetry, graphics, graffiti, collages, photography, fashion, music, as well as in their way of thinking.

Before the 1980s, there was the art of the dissidents. Without any doubt, it played a significant historical role, but it brought no new impulses into art as such. Political opposition is important for a society’s freedom; it does not, however, give birth to art in its truest form. Art is of a different nature, it does not exist in order to criticise the world. Art emerges from a different space, and it does not intend to come into conflict with our world. On the contrary, it is our world that is constantly in conflict with art, because, in the moment of its birth, art is not intrinsic to it.

Еvgenij Kozlov, “When you start feeling muscles”, 118.5 x 155 сm, 1986
collection of the State Russian Museum

click to enlarge picture >> 

Suddenly, there appeared a new Malevich and a new Tatlin, Larionov, El Lissitzki, Filonov, Rodchenko, Chagall, Kandinsky, a new Goncharova and Popova. In other words, when taking interest in the 80s, we examine Russian art as a part of international art.

I do not remember (and it makes no difference, because there are others who do) any particular date or meeting, anything resembling a founding ceremony of the New Artists as a group. At least, there is no such entry in my diaries of 1979-1983 more >>. On the other hand, I did not write these diaries as a chronicler of my time, instead I put down my artistic thoughts. For example, one can find there the following entry dated 10.8.1980: “art is free, bold, new.” This entry reflects very accurately the artistic demands of that time.

Еvgenij Kozlov, Umschlagseite des Magazins „Neue Künstler - Neue Mode“ 1984. Detail.
Еvgenij Kozlov, cover of the magazine
“New Artists - New Fashion” 1984. Detail.
click to enlarge picture >>

Looking back, I can say that for me, as an artist, 1982 became a turning point. My artistic reorientation, marked by the work “Noli Me Tangere” (1982) more >>, was completely in line with the founding of the New Artists. This picture was the beginning of a new stage in my art that followed a much more narrative one. “Noli Me Tangere” has a strictly structured composition that consists of five Tuaregs, whose sheer presence expresses a powerful reality belonging to this world and simultaneously to another world. But it is not the static nature of the composition that is important, but rather the new approach to single elements, the colour saturation smoothed out by the hot air of the desert, the collage motives of pop culture and the expressions of the faces and hands.

Two entries in my diary show that I fully realized the significance of this work.

The first entry has no date: The second entry was made in December 1982:
Евгений Козлов - «ТУАРЕГИ» /обращение к будущим находкам в искусстве/. Евгений Козлов - с«ТУАРЕГИ» – это шедевр. Гениально. Полотно мне нравится все.
"TUAREGS" /Addressing future findings in art/. It is the technique itself that must reveal the idea of the composition / Rembr. “The Ret. Of the Prod. Son” the Hermitage /, and not the literary part of the picture brought in by the artist as the author of the idea.

“TUAREGS” is a masterpiece. Stroke of genius. I like it entirely. Over a month after completing the painting, I examine its elements in relation to each other, their placing, the general impact, the pleasure one receives from looking at the surface in any lighting, the boldness of the painting, the new relations and forms: everything satisfies me. It is the second time that I have achieved such an effect on a large painting after the work I created a year ago.
I cite these quotes in such detail because they reflect two thoughts characteristic of any New Artist. Firstly, it was a matter of giving impulses for a future art that was yet to come into existence. And secondly, this art required “the boldness of the painting, the new relations and forms”. These points were common to everybody in the group, linking us together. They can be regarded as the motto of the New Artists. The group’s name, New Artists, logically follows from this motto. That is why I cannot say for sure whether there was any particular artist, for instance Timur Novikov, who invented this name. But Timur undoubtedly had a special intuition that enabled him to sense the main tendencies of the time, and a special gift of clearly defining them.

Еvgenij Kozlov in front of his painting “Noli Me Tangere” view painting >>
photo: E. Kozlov
Еvgenij Kozlov vor dem Gemälde «Noli Me Tangere»

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New Artists and Necrorealists 1982-1991” in the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, 2010
Выставка в Государственном Русском музее « Удар кисти. Новые художники и некрореалисты 1982 - 1991»