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(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov • White on Red

Five paintings from 1987





(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov'Звезда / Star, white paint on red calico, 207 x 225 cm, 1987 The picture, taken at Timur Novikov‘s studio and gallery ASSA, Leningrad, shows the documentation of this painting for the exhibition De Nya fran Leningrad / The New from Leningrad Kulturhuset, Stockholm, 1988. more >> The picture has been rotated 90 degrees to the left to display the painting in the correct position.  Left (bottom): Timur Novikov. Standing on the ladder: Magnus Dahnberg, Swedish Consulate, Leningrad. Unknown photographer, 1988


(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov'Звезда / Star, white paint on red calico, 207 x 225 cm, 1987, inv. no. E-E-187115
The picture, taken at Timur Novikov‘s studio and gallery ASSA, Leningrad, shows the documentation of this painting for the exhibition De Nya fran Leningrad / The New from Leningrad Kulturhuset, Stockholm, 1988. more >>
The picture has been rotated 90 degrees to the left to display the painting in the correct position.

Left (bottom): Timur Novikov. Standing on the ladder: Magnus Dahnberg, Swedish Consulate, Leningrad.
Unknown photographer, 1988




Star

Man inscribed in a pentagram, from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy. The signs on the perimeter represent the 5 visible planets in astrology.

Man inscribed in a pentagram, from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Symbols of the sun and moon are in center, while the other five classical "planets" are around the edge.
Wikipedia Public domain more >>

The red star was one of the omnipresent symbols of the USSR – the symbol of the Red Army and the symbol of communism in general. But the five-pointed star has a much wider connotation as a symbol relating the human being to cosmic forces, as visualised by Agrippa von Nettelsheim’s scheme of a human body inscribed in a pentagram. 

In the Soviet Union, there was a strong interest in cosmic forces coming both from scientists and, in its popular form, from science fiction authors and their audience; “Galaxy Gallery”, the name Evgenij Kozlov chose for his apartment-studio, also reflects such an interest in outer space phenomena. Few people know that Andrey Tarkovsky’s movie Stalker (1979) is based on the science fiction novel Roadside Picnic (Пикник на обочине, Piknik na obochine) by the brothers Strugatzki, and even fewer aware of the fact that Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857 – 1935), the founder of Russian and Soviet rocketry, along with many other scientists, was deeply involved in occultism. In my article “Empire and Magic. Sergey Kuryokhin's ‘Pop-Mekhanika No. 418’“ (2018), I explained how this interest was related to the Russian penchant for the occult and the mystical. more>>

The Order of the Red Star (obverse), awarded by the Soviet Union between 1930 and 1991. Wikimedia Public Domain In this respect, the star was never fully “captured” by Soviet militarism or ideology, although it was no less important as a Soviet symbol than the hammer and the sickle – which is demonstrated not only by The Order of the Red Star, an important Soviet military decoration, or those five ruby red stars installed on top of the Kremlin towers, but also by countless forms of red stars as badges and pins, or as part of badges and pins (sometimes as pentagon), especially for young pioneers.

The Order of the Red Star (obverse), awarded by the Soviet Union between 1930 and 1991. Wikimedia Public Domain more >>


E-E Kozlov‘s two sketches for Star show how the artist developed his original idea in the process or realising the painting.


(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Unitlted
Red crayon on paper, 13.1 x 9 cm, 1987
Inv. no. E-E-187079


(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Unitlted
Red crayon on paper, 13.1 x 9 cm, 1987
Inv. no. E-E-187080

These sketches from 1987, carried out with red crayon on paper, see the letters CCCP (USSR) placed inside the motif.

Kozlov, however, renounced the letters in the painting, following a ballpoint sketch, where he divided each of the star’s five points into a (left) dark half and a (right) white half; in this way, each point now forms a triangular pyramid.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Untitled Ballpoint pen and pencil on paper, 28.7 x 20.4 cm, 1987 The paper was originally folded in the lower half; this is why the two stars at the bottom and the figures calculated for upscaling the motif are displayed upside down. Inv. no. E-E-187098

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Untitled
Ball-point pen and pencil on paper, 28.7 x 20.4 cm, 1987
The paper was originally folded in the lower half; this is why the two stars at the bottom and the figures calculated for upscaling the motif are displayed upside down.
Inv. no. E-E-187098

Consequently, the flat object has been given a three-dimensional volume, like that of those from the Kremlin towers.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Star White paint on red calico 207 x 225 cm, 1987 Photo: gewis, 2018 Inv. no. E-E-187115 Soviet New Year‘s stamp from 1984 with Kremlin star. Wikimedia Public Domain

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Star
W
hite paint on red calico, 207 x 225 cm, 1987
Photo: gewis, 2018
Inv. no. E-E-187115

Soviet New Year‘s stamp from 1984 with Kremlin star. Wikimedia Public Domain more >>


Likewise, Kozlov changed the “grid” of motion lines. In the sketches, they are all horizontal. In the painting, the direction of the motion lines changes in the lower part, close to the bottom, from horizontal to vertical. We also notice a white square in the lower left corner.  Here, the vertical motion lines have disappeared, with the exception of a tiny rest “stuck” to the bottom line. This white square mirrors the painting‘s square shape. Like a fractal, it constitutes a self-similar subset of the total composition, although, unlike with a fractal, this subset is void.

The sketches manifest the star concept also with regard to the borders of the composition: with its zigzagging contours, the entire composition is a star. In order to convey the idea of an irregular border in the painting, Kozlov defined the contours of the painting with a piping made of synthetic leather strips he sewed to the canvas in soft zigzags. Five cusps appeared on each of the painting’s four sides, not counting the corners – twenty-four cusps or peaks altogether.

Detail of "Star", upper right border with piping and cusps naild to the wall. Installation at Kozlov‘s solo show USA-CCCP-CHINA, 2018  Photo: gewis Inv. no. E-E-187115

Detail of "Star", upper right border with piping and cusps naild to the wall.
Installation at Kozlov‘s solo show USA-CCCP-CHINA, 2018 more >>
Photo: gewis
Inv. no. E-E-187115

To keep the cusps in place, the artist nailed the canvas to the wall. He started with the corners and continued pulling it taut on opposite sides before attaching the corresponding cusps; the nails were to “sit” in the cusps. Because of the textile’s softness, this process took some time and required numerous adjustments until Kozlov was satisfied with the result: a flat canvas without folds. Only then did he start painting the motif.

In this work, the motif or image does not touch contours, but leaves an unpainted (red) frame on all sides. With this approach, the artist invented a new type of frame that needed no additional stretchers – an in-built frame, in a manner of speaking, becoming part of the composition.  

Resting inside its two-dimensional frame, the three-dimensional star looks as it could set itself in motion at any time. It is the complex organisation of space, generated by the frame, the motion lines, and the fractal subset, that transfers stability into motion and vice versa, that is, produces a specific harmony.

Kozlov created the illusion of the star being like a living being that possesses the potential to start moving at will: it is indetermined – which is different from being undetermined. In terms of Aristotelian philosophy, it is not impossible that the star should start moving, and it is not necessary that it should start moving, either – it is contingent. This is what I call bringing Life into Art.

Instead of being placeholder for the signified (= the Soviet star), this star is now referring to itself. It is still a sign, of course, but it is no longer a sign in the first place. We might say that it has emancipated itself from its former sign function to become an image again – an image-sign, an icon.

It is not coincidence that “Star” became the logotype of at least two, and most likely three New Artists exhibitions in 1988/1989 – the group‘s first large-scale exhibition tour in the West more >>. The restriction “most likey” relates to the fact that in my archive, only two of these exhibitions are documented: De Nye fra Leningrad. The New from Leningrad (Aarhus, Denmark 29 Oct – 13 Nov 1988), and Perestroika in the Avant-Garde (Liverpool, England 21January-4 February).

Like these two, the Copenhagen exhibition (16 December 1988 to 8 January 1989) was also curated by Fredrik Vogel, and we may assume that “Star” featured the Copenhagen exhibition, too.


Leningrad artists and musicians examining the festival poster of "Perestroika in the Avant-Garde" while flying to Liverpool to perfom at the festival. The poster displays Kozlov‘s painting "Star" more >> Video frame from a BBC documentary. more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUHaFY0kZP0

Leningrad artists and musicians examining the festival poster of "Perestroika in the Avant-Garde" while flying to Liverpool to perfom at the festival. The poster displays Kozlov‘s painting "Star" more >>
Video frame from a BBC documentary. more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUHaFY0kZP0

Uploaded 4 May 2020
Last updated 20 May 2020