(E-E) Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.     Berlin                                                  

      (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov: Leningrad 80s • No.111 >>

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov • Diaries 1979–1983

Chapter 1. Reflections on art and creation

Historically seen, the period form 1979 to 1983 corresponds to the last years of Leonid Brezhnev’s rule and Yuri Andropov’s short interim rule – in retrospect, to the Soviet pre-perestroika period, sometimes called the period of stagnation. But regarding Kozlov’s art, these years demonstrate a fast evolution in terms of style, technique and subject matter the artist discussed in his search for “new ways of expression” (p. 4-03) and “the language of the future” (p. 4-40).

To Kozlov, it was an existential question, since, as he wrote, “I am certain that my peace of mind is dependent on how satisfied I am with my creative activity” (p.1-15). Accordingly, lack of productivity, even when due to force majeure, caused feelings of worry and even guilt:

    A month has passed since getting a job in Nizino…Art has slowed down its pace, the number of drawings and paintings has decreased so much that I almost always feel worried about the future and guilty about myself or people.
    23 January 1983 (p. 3-75-76)

Numerous entries relate to the works he was creating or planned to create, some just consisting of a title, while others were provided with a detailed description, for example “A brain, created by human hands. Polished surfaces consisting of folds of the brain that are perfectly round across their diameter. The diameter of the tubes is somewhat thicker than in a brain of the type created by nature.…” (p.1-03).

Because Kozlov’s early body of work is rather well documented more>>, many of the titles and some of the descriptions can be related to a specific painting, drawing, or monotype. Reproductions of these works are part of the notes to the diaries, including works with a more hypothetical relation to a text, as is the case with an entry from around September 1979, “The bus stop near the “L-d” [“Leningrad”] cinema. A view directly from the street to its end, all the way to the fence and the building behind it. A chimney. Autumn.” (p. 1-07). The “building behind” refers to the Tauride Garden Greenhouse, and there is actually a painting from 1981, displaying this very subject.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Untitled (Tauride Garden, Greenhause) Oil on canvas, approx. 60 x 80 cm, 1981, E-E archive number E-E-181073 The Kozlov & Fobo Collection, Berlin

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Untitled (Tauride Garden, Greenhause)
Oil on canvas, approx. 60 x 80 cm, 1981
E-E archive number E-E-181073
The Kozlov & Fobo Collection, Berlin

The Tauride Garden Greenhouse is one of a small number of landscape paintings. Kozlov’s art has always mostly been figurative, although frequently combined with abstract elements. The documentation of his works shows how each year brings forth a new figurative style: colourful and sculptural in 1980, sublime and meditative in 1981, vibrant and narrative in 1982 and semi-realistic in 1982/1983. Generally speaking, features of Russian art, especially of Russian folklore, give way to a more international style, especially after 1983, when Kozlov started integrating his own photography into his compositions, combining it with graffiti art. The tradition of the Soviet avant-garde nevertheless had an impact on his constructivist works from 1987 to 1990, a style he took up again in Berlin in 1995 with his large cycle “Miniatures in Paradise” more>>.

When assessing his own works, E-E judged them by the fact whether or not they speak the “language of the future”. His critical approach can be clearly seen when comparing two paintings from 1982, “House” and “Tuaregs” (later called “Noli Me Tangere”).

    “House” taught me a lesson. Although it is a professional work, the subject Is too much directed towards / used by artists of the (60s) - 75s
    This is not the language of the future or even of the present.

    “Tuaregs” is a masterpiece. It's brilliant. I like everything about the canvas. More than a month after completing it I‘m checking the relationships between the spots, their places, the overall impression, the pleasure of looking at the surface in any light, the audacity in painting, new relationships and forms – I'm satisfied with everything…
    (p. 3-78)

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Дом (прихожане в церкви) / House (Parishioners in Church). Oil on canvas, 89.5 x 102.5 cm, 1982, Original version, E-E archive number E-E-187007 (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Туареги / Tuaregs (Noli Me Tangere) Tempera, gouache, watercolour and collage on canvas, 93 x 106 cm, 1982 Final version, E-E archival number E-E-182002 The Kozlov & Fobo Collection, Berlin

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Дом (прихожане в церкви) / House (Parishioners in Church).
Oil on canvas, 89.5 x 102.5 cm, 1982
Original version
E-E archival number E-E-187007
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Туареги / Tuaregs (Noli Me Tangere)
Tempera, gouache, watercolour and collage on canvas,
93 x 106 cm, 1982
Final version
E-E archival number E-E-182002
The Kozlov & Fobo Collection, Berlin

Last but not least, he also considered the role of the viewer. Selecting his works for a TEII group exhibition in 1983 (see chapter 3), he synthesised the positions of viewer and artist: 

    Explore a subject through several paintings, not just a single one. Reinforce your findings.
    Make it a rule that a painting should sufficiently communicate with viewers. (since a painting, ultimately, is created in order for people to look at it.) …
    Do not lull the viewer's attention with excessive beauty, give each of the works an impulsive point.
    (p. 4-41-42)
    The subject of a painting must be clearly expressed and would constitute the extreme point of my desire in relation to myself as an artist.
    (p. 4-43)

In his diaries, the artist defines his art only once – as “dukhovnyi realism” or spiritual realism, in an entry from January 1981 (p. 2-44). But this definition might just as well relate to how he has always perceived the spiritual world – as real. Put differently, the diaries are not giving an account of any particular stylistic evolution in the way I have described them above. But they do make us understand how Kozlov’s search for “new solutions in art” went along with a permanent inner discourse, as he was striving to gain awareness on an otherwise intuitive process following its own rules of creating images:

    The creative process can be compared to meditation. It is not reflection or searching for the most successful combination of colours and shapes.  / it all has to happen before artist connects with the canvas - in the head and at the same time the space around it…

It certainly didn’t mean that he was painting without understanding the effect of colours and lines. He reflects on the interaction of white and black (black absorbs white and lies deeper in the plane than the white surface), or on space bounded by horizontal lines (it widens) or vertical lines (it lengthens) (p. 4-08-09). But it is not surprising that his interest extends to Freud’s psychology and the role of subconsciousness  – feeling and intuition – which he applies to the creative process (p. 3-13-16). He comes to the conclusion that

    The unconscious process of creativity should not be confined to the limits of the logic of consciousness, but all the laws of art should be re-created by oneself and new ones should be put in their place as often as possible. This must become the energy, the key to the movement.
    (p. 3-15-16)

This passage precedes the sentence quoted in the previous chapter, “I have achieved a state of performance where I'm completely free and absolutely audacious.” (p. 3-16). It also explains why Kozlov thinks that art cannot be taught.

The same interest in higher forms of consciousness led him to George Gurdjieff, a Russian mystic (1866 or 1877 – 1949). Unfortunately, a summary of his writings (p. 2-46) is no longer complete, since one of the pages has been torn off, but Gurdjieff’s name appears again in a list of writers on page 4-04-05.

Likewise, he is interested in classical philosophy. An entry in late 1982 displays Plato’s pyramidal representation of “being” on four levels, based on a writing by Moscow philosopher Valentin Ferdinandovich Asmus (1894–1975) (p. 3-48).

 (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, Diary III, pp 48-49 Page 48: Plato’s pyramidal representation of “being” on four levels, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Special Collection, Harvard University

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, Diary III, pp 48-49
Page 48: Plato’s pyramidal representation of “being” on four levels,
Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Special Collection, Harvard University

Ontological topics first appear in Diary I, where Kozlov discusses them without reference to any particular author. The discussion is rather comprehensive, starting on page seventeen and continuing up to page thirty-four. Kozlov argues in a dialectical way of thesis and antithesis:

    Seeking to prove that God does or does not exist that God created man or that it is the other way around is utterly meaningless. If he exists, he exists. If not, he does not exist. Everything is divided into Yes and No.
    (p. 1-20).

Particular attention is given to two questions. The first is the relation between nothing and everything (pp.1-17-34):

    At no time was there “Nothing”, as even “Nothing” forms part of the concept of “Everything”.
    (p. 1-22)

The second question concerns matter and non-matter (p. 1-27-34):

    All that is non-material is a product of that which is material. In the same way that thought is the product of brain matter.
    (p. 1-23)

It is interesting that Kozlov argues from a materialistic point of view which considers non-matter (“thought”) as nothing more than a product of matter (“brain”). It is a concept he completely revised later, as he is now regarding thought as being superordinate to matter. In 2020, he created a crayon drawing on cardboard carrying the following text “Everything in this world but thought is material (Even the soul possesses weight and volume)”.

But in 1980, he nevertheless didn’t question the existence of non-matter as such. Rather, he insisted on the fact that the properties of non-matter need to be measured properly:

    In order to speak about that which is not material, you need to take as your benchmark units of measurement that differ from those customarily used for measuring that which is material. […] The phenomenon of that which is not material being generated by that which is material / thought – brain / has not yet been studied by man.

    It is an indisputable fact that the settling of this question will also settle questions concerning the existence of eternity, Nothingness, and Everything, i.e., concerning everything that is not material – which is the subject of such intense disputes between the m.[aterial] perspective and the non-m.[material] perspective.
    (p. 1-26-27)

Concerning eternity and infinity:

    Just as a circle consists of an infinite number of squares / polygons, eternity likewise consists of an infinite amount of time, whereas infinity consists of an infinite amount of space or distance in every dimension.
    (p. 1-28-29)

The discussion leads him back to art, more exactly, to the nature of a work of art:

    The main thing is: that which is not material and that which is material are inseparable
    What is a picture? A material product containing both material and non-material aspects.
    (p. 1-31)

The entry is dated 18 March 1980. On the next day, 19 March, he gives himself an account of his situation as an artist:

    More and more often, after falling asleep at night, after an hour or an hour and a half, I unexpectedly wake up and am unable to get back to sleep.
    When it comes to my normal working regime of working at night, which has been going on for quite some time / almost from the very beginning / an instinct seems to have been at work in me, compelling me to draw during this exact point in the day. Every time I have woken up unexpectedly, it has led to me getting to work – and these instances have only come about on days when I have either not done any work, or I have done very little.
    I lie down thinking about what I haven’t done and wake up thinking about how it ought to be done.
    I carry this through in the periods between when I am asleep.

His inner discourse about art was indeed a permanent one, no matter what other activities he was pursuing.


Published 19 June 2022
Last updated 4 March 2023