Hannelore Fobo

Evgenij Kozlov: B(L)ACK ART 1985 - 1987 page 4

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Evgenij Kozlov: YA-YA


One of the first paintings from the B(L)ACK ART period is YA-YA, approximately 90 x 80 cm in size, one of the two works of the same name.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Я-Я / YA-YA. Mixed media, canvas, approx. 90 x 80 cm, 1985 oder 1986.
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Я-Я / YA-YA. Mixed media, canvas, approx. 90 x 80 cm, 1985.

It contains some elements that can also be found in other works, e.g. the grim moon, the scull-headed figure in a hat, the figure in a peaked cap, the explosion, the rocket, and the woman in a bikini. An inscription in English stretching across the upper half of the picture reads: “There are no nearby hills or promontories from which the art gang could admire their WORK, ЖЕНЯ.” The last word, pronounced Zhenya, is a short form of Evgenij, a form of address common in Russia (the artist, however, abandoned it long ago and insists on being called Evgenij).


Unfortunately, the source of the quote can no longer be identified, but it might allude to Evgenij Kozlov’s own activity and possibly to the entire group of the Leningrad New Artists as well. It can also be assumed that the presumably American “art gang” refers to graffiti artists and that the graffiti style of the picture is a paraphrase of their style. The title Ya-Ya, Я - Я in Russian, is located in the bottom right area of the picture. The two letters are separately inscribed into the base of both the left and right columns of an archway, under which an explosion is happening. Both Я’s produce an interesting graphic effect: with their skinny legs and round bellies, they look like two little men carefully showing themselves to advantage. Я-Я translates as nothing other than “I-I”, so this double word can be coupled with the author's name “ZHENYA” written in the picture. However, it is rather a matter of sound and rhythm. E-E (pronounced Yeh-Yeh, which stands for the Yeah-Yeah of pop music) is a symbol used by Evgenij Kozlov as early as 1983 and also employed by other New Artists, for example by Oleg Kotelnikov. (Since 2005, Evgenij Kozlov has used “E-E” as his only signature.) Ya-Ya automatically suggests itself as an alternative to YEH-YEH, because the vowels i, o, u of the Russian alphabet are not iotated (not preceded with the i sound) and, therefore do not produce the same “elastic” effect when repeated. This is the phonetic aspect of the picture title.


In addition to the graphic and phonetic aspects, there is also a semantic aspect.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov untitled (Токио и Талия / Tokio i Talia) recto of page. text marker, paper, 13 x 9 cm, 1985.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
untitled (Токио и Талия / Tokio i Talia)
recto of page.
text marker, paper, 13 x 9 cm, 1985.

There is a small 1985 sketch on which the artist wrote country names in a column, breaking them into components – not according to their semantic features, but by systematically separating the ending i-ya: Росс-и-я (Ross-i-ya), Герман-и-я (German-i-ya), Англ-и-я (Angl-i-ya), Франц-и-я (Franc-i-ya), etc. In Russian, и-я (I-ya) means just “and me”, and if you look at the remaining front part, sometimes there will be an individual meaningful word (later, in 1990, Kozlov named a female portrait “German-i-ya”, “Hermann and me”). This linguistic play reached its peak with the Russian word for Japan (Япония – Yaponiya), which we find in the following variants: Я-пони-Я (Ya-Poni-ya), Я-пония (Ya-poniya), Я•п•-он-и-я (Ya•p•-on-i-ya). The last one means “Me•p•-he-and-me”. The double “me”, however, is already present in the first of the three variants.


This excursion into the realm of semantics demonstrates that symbols used by Evgenij Kozlov may have a graphic, a phonetic (musical), and a semantic dimension, and that the spontaneity of the composition is preceded by a careful elaboration and development of individual elements..


In this respect, the Ya-Ya in the 90 x 80 cm size may be regarded as a study for the YA-YA created at the end of 1985 which was much larger in size (145 x approx. 400 cm). To be more precise, the picture now has the dimensions of 145 x 400 cm, since the right margin has been lost, and one metre (or less) of the painting is missing. Actually, the artist does not remember which of the two pictures was created first. It is obvious, however, that they belong together. There is a small sketch showing images of both works.


As far as can be reconstructed today, the larger picture was painted specially for the exhibition Happy New Year that opened in the Leningrad Rock Club on 27 December, 1985 .[1] In Evgenij Kozlov’s archive, there are several black-and-white films of the exhibition and the concert of Pop Mekhanika, held on its opening day. more >>

Valery Alakhov and Evgenij Kozlov with E. Kozlov's painting at the Leningrad Rock Club, 1985 Я-Я / YA-YA. Spray, paper, approx 145 x 500 cm, 1985 photo: Igor Verichev, archive E. Kozlov, inv.no. BI26

Valery Alakhov and Evgenij Kozlov with E. Kozlov's painting
at the Leningrad Rock Club, 1985
Я-Я /
YA-YA. Spray, paper, approx 145 x 450 cm, 1985
photo: Igor Verichev, archive E. Kozlov, inv.no. BI26

A number of photographs shows YA-YA spread out over the large marble stairs of the building, while the New Composers Valery Alakhov and Igor Verichev or, in some cases, Valery Alakhov and Evgenij Kozlov, are kneeling on it or striking other poses. This certainly did not benefit the painting, which is very delicate due to its structure. Its surface is made up of numerous glued-together light-proof paper bags, on which the paint is sprayed. Such black bags, each originally containing a large amount of unexposed photographic paper, were in a sense “waste products” that accumulated in Evgenij Kozlov's photo lab. In 1989, he used the same technique of gluing black bags together for two portraits of Igor Verichev and Valery Alakhov. more >>. Judging by the total area of the bags, the number of photographic prints produced by Evgenij Kozlov must have been immense. Today, however, this can no longer be ascertained, since the artist generously gave many of the prints to the people he photographed. These photographs are now in the private archives of artists and musicians, particularly in Timur Novikov’s archive, and are regularly published in catalogues and magazines.


Given the size of Ya-Ya , it would have been difficult for Kozlov to apply the spray paint in his own flat, which also served as his studio (the Galaxy Gallery). The size as such was not the only problem (in fact, he had created a work that was four and a half metres long in his studio). Above all, the artist needed more distance to apply spray paint to such a large surface. Valery Alakhov remembers that this task was performed in Timur Novikov's studio on Voinov Street, the ASSA Gallery. Timur had fairly large premises; besides, there was no need to make sure that paint did not end up on the walls or on the floor.


In Timur Novikov's notes on the opening of the exhibition, we read regarding YA-YA : “Evgenij Kozlov looked quite extraordinary upon a giant black paper” (“Неожиданно выглядел Евгений Козлов на гигантской черной бумаге” [2]] If we take into account that approximately one metre of the right margin is missing, we will arrive at a total length of five meters. This makes Ya-Ya Kozlov’s largest work (on paper) of the eighties.


This picture is also unique in another respect.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Я-Я / Ya-Ya. Spray (nitrocellulose lacquer), paper, 145 x 404 cm, 1985.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Я-Я / Ya-Ya. Spray (nitrocellulose lacquer), paper, 145 x approx. 400 cm, 1985.

It is exclusively sprayed, and as such, is closest to the typical graffiti technique. The colour palette is dominated by a light blue, which is also used in smaller works, such as a 1986 portrait of Timur Novikov, two 1984 collages that the artist partially painted over or, rather, sprayed over in 1986, and the picture When You Start to Feel Muscles! (1986) . more >> Silver paint serves as a contrast to the light blue and the black of the paper; it is used mainly for shading the outlines. Another special feature is the large dimensions of the figures marked only with outlines. On the one hand, they are quite voluminous; on the other, they do not overlap, as is usually the case.


(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Я-Я / YA-YA Recto. ball pen, paper, 12.8 x 19 cm, 1985.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Recto. ball pen, paper, 12.8 x 19 cm, 1985.

In the sketch for the larger picture, the triad that makes the shift from the vertical to the horizontal is already present. The upper body of the skull-headed manikin is vertical. With the body presented diagonally, an acute angle forms the body of a puppet. This puppet is the childlike soul of the skull-headed manikin, the Ya-Ya, the “I-I”. It flies out of his head and leads over to the rocket flying horizontally. The Я-Я, which fulfils a secondary function both in the sketch and in the smaller picture, dominates the centre of the larger picture. These and other elements adjoin, yet are not too closely packed, forming a loose structure penetrated by air. The air in this case is the black background, shining from inside the elements and the spaces between them.


If we look at the picture for a while without allowing our mind to wander, we suddenly get the impression that we are gazing into the black night sky with its numerous stars joined together to form constellations. This impression is strengthened by the blurred edges of the figures that correspond to the optical effect of refraction, which accompanies our perception of the stars, and by many tiny dots that are scattered across the picture like dim stars. The constellations in Evgenij Kozlov's picture are the letters Я-Я, the skull-headed manikin, the puppet, a female figure with raised arms, a palm tree, a skyscraper, a figure in a crown at the right edge (missing), various arrows and dots, a + - + - chain, and a spiral. The flying rocket at the top of the picture would then be our own movement through the firmament.



We can give free rein to fantasy and identify the circular formations lining the left and the upper edge of the picture as globular clusters. There is also the Milky Way, even two Milky Ways, namely the two galactic ribbons. One Milky Way is located in the centre: it is the hyphen between the two Я's. The other is a distant galaxy in the top left corner.


Of course, it should not be assumed that such an interpretation corresponds to the artist’s own thoughts. Indeed, it is my own interpretation. However, if we remember the significant place of the cosmos or cosmic elements in Evgenij Kozlov's work – I have touched upon this issue in connection with The Flight of the Americans in Space and CCCP – USA – and if we take into consideration that he called his place of work Galaxy Gallery, then this interpretation seems not so far-fetched. It is also known that the cosmos and space travel had no small influence on the music of the New Composers, Evgenij Kozlov’s friends, including Valery Alakhov who was present at the making of Ya-Ya. In any case, it is obvious that this picture occupies a special place within B(L)ACK ART, as here we are gazing directly into a parallel universe. How far our gaze penetrates into the creative powers of this cosmos depends on our ability to deduce the meaning of its images. And the key to understanding lies in the meaning of the double I connected by a galaxy.



(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Хочу Е Я (и ЯЯ) / I want her (and I I) Oil, canvas, approx. 200 x 100 cm, 1988.

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Хочу Е Я
(и ЯЯ) / I want her (and I I)
Oil, canvas, approx. 200 x 100 cm, 1988.

In 1988, the artist used the letters YA-YA for another picture and in a new combination, adding YE to the YA: Хочу Е Я (и ЯЯ) / I want her (and I I). Two figures shout this formula to each other. Here, the picture is not just about the I; it is about what the I wants, namely her. The painting belongs not to B(L)ACK ART, but to the next stylistic period that has a clearer and a more graphic composition. In 1988, the picture was shown in Stockholm's Kulturhuset, at the first large-scale international exhibition of the New Artists, and has been missing ever since..

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[1] Timur Novikov's list of Evgenij Kozlov’s exhibited works includes three pictures: Я-Я / YA-YA , Мультфильмы / Cartoons, and Шик - Шок - Шоу / Chic-Shock-show . It is not clear whether YA-YA refers to the smaller of the two pictures, the larger having been exhibited in addition, or whether only the larger one was shown. The picture Cartoons cannot be identified with the help of Evgenij Kozlov's inventory of all his works. Possibly, what is meant here is Центральное телевидение / Central Television.

[2] Quoted in E. Andreeva, catalogue Brushstroke, St. Petersburg, 2010. Originally published in the catalogue Novye Khudozhniki 1982–1987, P. 91.

Last updated 9 June 2021

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