(E-E) Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.v Berlin
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov: art >>
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov • White on Red
Five paintings from 1987Text: Hannelore Fobo, April/May 2020
|Page 1: Image and sign|
|Page 2: White on Red|
|Page 3: Star|
|Page 4: Star. 6. Figures|
|Page 5: CCCP|
|Page 6: The Human Being Comes First
|Page 7: Smiling Sickle|
|Page 8: Exhibitions|
White on Red
Fortunately, many of Kozlov‘s anti-visual-propaganda sketches from 1986/1987 have been preserved in his archive of early works – drawings made with the help of felt pens, red crayons, pencils, or ballpoint pens on small pieces of paper from notepads or notebooks, 13x9 cm or somewhat larger. Some leaves still display the decorative fringe of the spiral binding perforation. These sketches show us how methodically Kozlov worked out his designs.
Applying some of the drawing techniques employed in sequential art (comic strips) Kozlov made these Soviet symbols more dynamic and complex, and most importantly, more individual. Lines and hatches not only structure the background against which he set specific symbols. As in sequential art, they also function as spatial motion lines and emanata (visualising emotion when applied to characters). In this way, the artist bestowed personality upon abstract forms.
Kozlov had been using such features since 1984, especially in his graffiti-style works, but also in his portraits. To be precise, motion lines and hatches first emerged in Kozlov‘s 35 mm black and white negatives: with the help of a needle or scalpel, the artist scratched “agitrons” (indicating vibration) into the moist film emulsion as additional features to the motifs. He continued pursuing this “animated” style even during his constructivist period (which lasted until 1995), and there are, in fact, numerous cross-influences between the artist‘s loose and strict styles.
Many sketches are variations of a particular motif. Thus, there are seventeen different drafts of a skyscraper with pyramidal setbacks at regular heights, the letters CCCP standing on top. Such variations may offer different perspectives upon a specific object, or they may present various shapes of objects and letters, introduce new features and relate these elements in different ways. In some cases, the artist carried out new ideas directly in an existing draft rather than drawing a new one.
In 1987, Kozlov selected specific motifs to create five large paintings, each (roughly) two metres high, but with different widths, between 1.50 and 5.83 metres. Several scale drawings show how he adapted these sketches and developed them further, with the help of a grid system or calculations, to upscale the motifs (see E-E-187098 >> and E-E-187067 >>).
These pictures were painted with white (wall) paint on a red calico called “kumach” (кумач), a light plain-woven cotton textile dyed to a vibrant red. Originally manufactured by the Tatars for embroidered dresses and shirts, the kumach became the perfect material for Soviet banners and was widely used for spreading topical political slogans in factories and cultural centres. Kozlov used a panel of this red calico in a 78 cm width, and he had to sew several pieces together to produce the surfaces he needed for his paintings. The artist was experienced in sewing and frequently used the old Singer hand crank sewing machine, a family heirloom. It was a 15K pre-war model, made with the traditional black cast iron body and a portable wooden case – and practically indestructible; his grandfather acquired it in 1937.
Evgenij Kozlov took the red calico from the “Petrodvorets Combine of Canteens”, where he was employed from 1983 to 1986 to design script for signs and banners (although he was in fact absent from his workplace most of the time, which was another advantage this job offered him). In two of the five works discussed in this article – Star and Star. 6 Figures – Kozlov first applied a sewing technique that allowed him to create paintings with irregular borders instead of straight, rectangular ones, and between 1988 and 1996, this new feature was present in many of his larger works. see video discussion of Peace/Terror to the Enemy. The Fires of Petrodvorets >>
Yet the artist occasionally mounted red calico on stretcher frames, simply for lack of proper canvas. Examples are his “Portrait of Elena Gritsova” from 1984 as well as his well-known “Portrait of Timur Novikov with Arms Consisting of Bones” from 1988. It is only when looking at the reverse of these paintings that we notice that they were carried out on this rather soft red textile: the reverse now displays a white marbled pattern created by the undercoat as it seeped through the material.
In contrast, the five paintings from 1987 were made without priming: the red, slightly shimmering colour of the calico has become an essential feature of the compositions – just as essential as in its primary use for banners.
I recently summarised these five paintings as White on Red. The textures of the white and red areas are in fact quite different, as the red shapes are the negative spaces left by the white paint. Upon drying, the white water-based paint has become rather solid, and although it has not completely lost its elasticity, its firm texture stands in contrast to the soft (unpainted) red spaces of the composition.
In Soviet iconography, red, the colour of communism since the nineteenth century, was of primary importance, integrating an older tradition: in Russian, krasniy, red, is also related to krasivyi, beautiful, and in Eastern Orthodoxy, a “red corner” is an icon corner in a private house.
Red incites to activity, but also to festivity. The Soviet flag was red, and its plain red surface displayed just a small yellow emblem consisting of a hammer, a sickle and a tiny star, tucked into the left upper corner like a buttonhole.
This creates a paradox: if Kozlov used not only the colour symbolising the Soviet Union, but also the very material used for banners, the reference to the Soviet flags seems obvious. How then can the paintings in question be images, not signs, as argued in the previous chapter?
This will have to be shown for each of the five paintings separately, but there is another aspect to the title White on Red: an obvious allusion to El Lissitzky‘s famous suprematist propaganda poster Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1920). Yet other than in Lissitzky‘s poster, white and read forms are not combatting each other in Kozlov‘s paintings – they create a synthesis: white “covers” red to counterbalance the effect of red. This type of synthesis reduces the sign quality in favour of the image quality.
The five paintings are:
1. Звезда / Star (207 x 225 cm, collection of the artist)
2. Звезда. 6 Фигур / Star. 6 Figures (211 x 230 cm, collection of the artist)
3. CCCP (193 x 583 cm, collection of the artist)
4. На первом месте находится человек / The Human Being Comes First (approx. 200 x 130 cm, whereabouts unknown)
5. Улыбающийся Серп / Smiling Sickle (approx. 200 x 200 cm, possibly in the Jeannette Bonnier Collection)
To be exact, one of the paintings, “Smiling Sickle”, uses a slightly different media and some additional colours, but it shares the same stylistic features. Therefore, such a common title makes perfect sense.
The numbers in front of these five works are not implying that the works were actually painted in exactly this order, but were chosen in order to describe them more systematically. As a matter of fact, the pictures taken at Kozlov‘s Peterhof‘s apartment-studio “Galaxy Gallery” merely suggest that Star and Star 6. Figures were created around the same time, and also Smiling Sickle and The Human Being Comes First.
Text: Hannelore Fobo, April/May 2020
Uploaded 4 May 2020