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(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov • White on Red

Five paintings from 1987

Text: Hannelore Fobo, April/May 2020





(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov at his solo exhibition USA-CCCP-CHINA, Egbert Baqué Contemporary, Berlin 2018 more >> Left: Звезда / Star, white paint on red calico, 207 x 225 cm, 1987 Right Звезда. 6 Фигур / Star. 6 Figures, white paint on red calico, 211 x 230 cm, 1987 Photo: Hannelore Fobo

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov at his solo exhibition USA-CCCP-CHINA, Egbert Baqué Contemporary, Berlin 2018 more >>
Left:
Звезда / Star, white paint on red calico, 207 x 225 cm, 1987
Right
Звезда. 6 Фигур / Star. 6 Figures, white paint on red calico, 211 x 230 cm, 1987
Photo: Hannelore Fobo



White on Red

 (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Unitlted Felt pen and pencil on paper 21.5 x 13.8 cm, 1987 inv. no. E-E-187078

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Unitlted
Felt pen and pencil on paper
21.5 x 13.8 cm, 1987
Inv. no. E-E-187078

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.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Timur Novikov on a picture from the AR negative series "Timur on Horseback. Kozlov scratched "agitrons" directly in the moist film emotion. more>> Inv. no. E-E-pho-AR41  (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Портрет Георгия Гурьянова / Portrait of Georgy Gurianov Mixed media on paper, 62 x 48 cm, 1987 Inv. no. E-E-187014 (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov "Сегодня В Номере" / In Today’s Issue Painted photo collage 29.4 x 20.9 cm 1985 Inv. no. E-E-185001

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Timur Novikov on a picture from the AR negative series "Timur on Horseback. Kozlov scratched "agitrons" directly in the moist film emotion. more>>
Inv. no. E-E-pho-AR41


(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Портрет Георгия Гурьянова /
Portrait of Georgy Gurianov
Mixed media on paper, 62 x 48 cm, 1987
Inv. no. E-E-187014


(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
"Сегодня В Номере" / In Today’s Issue
Painted photo collage
29.4 x 20.9 cm 1985
Inv. no. E-E-185001

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.

 (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Untitled Felt pen on paper, 13.1 x 9, 1987 Inv. no. E-E-187083  (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Untitled Felt pen on paper, 13.1 x 9, 1987 Inv. no. E-E-187089  (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Untitled Felt pen on paper, 13.1 x 9, 1987 Inv. no. E-E-187088

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Untitled
Felt pen on paper, 13.1 x 9, 1987
Inv. no. E-E-187083

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Untitled
Felt pen on paper, 13.1 x 9, 1987
Inv. no. E-E-187089

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Untitled
Felt pen on paper, 13.1 x 9, 1987
Inv. no. E-E-187088

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 >>).

The Singer 15K hand crank sewing machine Evgenij Kozlov used to sew the canvas for his paintings from the White on Red series – a family heirloom Kozlov‘s grandfather acquired in 1937,
The Singer 15K hand crank sewing machine Evgenij Kozlov used to sew the canvas for his paintings from the White on Red series – a family heirloom Kozlov‘s grandfather acquired in 1937, when he worked in Leningrad and his family lived in a small village in the Kostroma region. The family had two sons and five pretty daughters, the oldest already looking for a fiancé, and their father also brought them nice material so that they could dress up for the dance floor.

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.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov wrapped into a piece of red calico (“kumach”), the material for the banners on the wall. Photo: Viktor Labutov, 1986, “Petrodvorets Canteen Combine”, Petrodvorets (Peterhof), Leningrad. inv. no. E-E-pho-DG12

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov wrapped into a piece of red calico (“kumach”), the material for the banners on the wall.

The material had to be fixed to stretchers so that it would make a neat,
rectangular surface for the letters which were painted with white water emulsion paint.
Most probably, when old slogans were changed for new ones, the material was simply ripped off the stretchers and destroyed,
so that the stretchers could be re-used. At that time, nobody understood the value of these perfect examples of pop art.

Photo: Viktor Labutov, 1986,
“Petrodvorets Canteen Combine”, Petrodvorets (Peterhof), Leningrad.
inv. no. E-E-pho-DG12

Evgenij Kozlov took the red calico from the “Petrodvorets Canteen Combine”, 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) more>>. 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 more>>. 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.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Портрет Елены Грицовой / Portrait of Elena Gritsova Gouache, tempera, and watercolour on calico, 81 x 60.5 cm, 1984 Inv. no. E-E-184023
 (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Портрет Елены Грицовой / Portrait of Elena Gritsova Gouache, tempera, and watercolour on calico, 81 x 60.5 cm, 1984 Inv. no. E-E-184023 View of the reverse side

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Портрет Елены Грицовой / Portrait of Elena Gritsova
Gouache, tempera, and watercolour on calico, 81 x 60.5 cm, 1984
Inv. no. E-E-184023



(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Портрет Елены Грицовой / Portrait of Elena Gritsova
Gouache, tempera, and watercolour on calico, 81 x 60.5 cm, 1984
Inv. no. E-E-184023
View of the reverse side

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Портрет Тимура Новикова с костяными руками / Portrait of Timur Novikov with Arms consisting of Bones Mixed media on calico, 94 x 103 cm, 1988 View of the reverse side. The original title of the painting was "Портрет Тимура Новикова / Portrait of Timur Novikov" as seen on the reverse, but Kozlov later extended the title, at a time when the painting was already in the collection of the Stae Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg. Inv. no. E-E-188002 (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Портрет Тимура Новикова с костяными руками / Portrait of Timur Novikov with Arms consisting of Bones Mixed media on calico, 94 x 103 cm, 1988 Inv. no. E-E-188002

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Портрет Тимура Новикова с костяными руками / Portrait of Timur Novikov with Arms consisting of Bones
Mixed media on calico, 94 x 103 cm, 1988
View of the reverse side. The original title of the painting was "Портрет Тимура Новикова / Portrait of Timur Novikov" as seen on the reverse, but Kozlov later extended the title, at a time when the painting was already in the collection of the State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg.
Inv. no. E-E-188002


(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Портрет Тимура Новикова с костяными руками / Portrait of Timur Novikov with Arms consisting of Bones
Mixed media on calico, 94 x 103 cm, 1988
Inv. no. E-E-188002

more>>

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.

 El Lissitzky Клином красным бей белых Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge Lithgraphic print on paper 53 x 70 cm, 1919/1920 Wikimedia public domain  (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Звезда. 6 Фигур / Star. 6 Figures White paint on red calico, 211 x 230 cm, 1987 Photo: gewis Inv. no. E-E-187116
El Lissitzky
Клином красным бей белых
Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge

Lithgraphic print on paper 53 x 70 cm, 1919/1920
Wikimedia public domain
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Звезда. 6 Фигур / Star. 6 Figures
White paint on red calico, 211 x 230 cm, 1987
Photo: gewis
Inv. no. E-E-187116

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)

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Star 1987 (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Star. 6 Figures 1987
1. Star
3. Star. 6 Figures


(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov CCCP 1987
3. CCCP

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov The Human Being Comes First 1987 (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Smiling Sickle 1987
4.The Human Being Comes First (right) 4. Smiling Sickle

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.

Uploaded 4 May 2020
Last updated 4 October 2020