(Е-Е) Evgenij Kozlov - Евгений Козлов

"Igor, peace between us? – Peace? No Way." Oil, collage, paper, 226 x 97 cm, 1989 - Collection Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova, Turku, Finland
"Valera. The Soul present Within Things." Oil, collage, paper, 226 x 85 cm, 1989 - Private collection, Finland

"Игорь, мир? Mир? – О, нет." Бумага, масло, 226 x 97 см, 1989
"Валера. Душа Вещей." Бумага, масло, 226 x 85 см, 1989

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Text by Hannelore Fobo, 2008 - 2010

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The underlying assumption of such an examination really goes beyond a comparison of similarities in composition alone. In comparing works of art, one might start with formal criteria but then invariably ends up with value judgements. In that respect, there are two works by Andrey Rublev, an undisputed master and the central figure of early Russian painting on the one hand, and on the other hand, two works by the “New Artist” Evgenij Kozlov, who, in 1989, was just about to emerge from the so-called “unofficial” Leningrad art scene and sold these works at one of his first shows abroad.

The question therefore is this: in judging the value of Evgenij Kozlov’s art – as he consciously or unconsciously invites us to do so –, do we feel that his artistic power and potency stand up to what was achieved in the past? With regard to Rublev and Dionysus, another artist of the same period, these achievements are described by V. Lenyashin in his preface to the 1987 edition of The State Russian Museum’s catalogue, in which both of these works are reproduced:

“Their creations are marked by special finesse and musical harmony; their palettes are ripe with colours of earth and heaven; and their majestic images embody sublime philosophical ideas such as the triumph of Life over Death, of Harmony over Chaos”.

Do we have reason to argue that “Igor., peace between us? – Peace? No way.” and “Valera. The Soul present within Things.” are images (“icons” in the proper sense of the word) of the “triumph of Life over Death, of Harmony over Chaos”, expressing the artistic potential of our times?

In Rublev's times, icons were spiritually transparent for the observer. In his fundamental work "Iconostasis" of the early 20th century, Pavel Florensky considers that the measure of the artist's mastery is the easiness with which the observer is able to penetrate directly into the spiritual world with the help of holy images, through the material medium of wood and paint. In our times, however, this potential transparency of the image’s substrate is no longer self-evident; the substrate has become solid. Today, the impact of the icon is more dependent on its beauty, which is an indirect vision of the spiritual. Therefore, the view on art represented by Pavel Florensky fails. This view consists in a belief that the spiritual world is reached – or even can only be reached – if the artist uses canonical form and content. Thus, we ask ourselves a question whether a contemporary work of art can bring us in contact with the spiritual world if the artist, for whom this world exists, chooses new ways of handling painting materials.

"Igor, peace between us? – Peace? No Way." detail
Computer generated colour reversal

As we look at Evgenij Kozlov's diptych – as well as at any other artist's painting – we should, first of all, arrive at an answer to the question whether we perceive the spiritual element that transcends the material and technical aspects of the picture due to its aesthetic quality. Aesthetic quality is not a question of style, but the result of every constituent element falling into place and comprising the composition as a single whole. Aesthetic quality is a matter of the spiritual meaningfulness of the task that the artist sets before himself. This spiritual meaningfulness is the source of the harmony between line and colour, that is to say, the picture’s expressiveness.

Only if the answer to this question is positive, it makes sense to suggest specific and deliberate arguments and examine the formal criteria of the artistic approach in order to determine the depth of the spiritual meaningfulness, in other words, to search for the picture’s meaning.

This essay is an attempt to ground the spiritual and aesthetic quality of the diptych through its composition. The distinctive feature of the picture is the blackness, out of which the image is formed: here, light is born out of darkness, not as colour, but as white light. The darkness itself is brought in motion and becomes illuminated, and the white light manifests itself upon the emerging form. In the icon, the form dissolves for the observer, and he comes through it to the light. Here, however, the form emerges out of the very origin through the medium of light.

The function of the frame in E. Kozlov’s diptych is also different from that in the icon. In the icon, the frame is formed, like a window into the spiritual world, by the regular lines and follows the rectangular shape of the works. Kozlov, on the other hand, employs the line of the frame only on vertical borders. Furthermore, the borders are created with carefully planned irregularities and varying depth of colour. This leads to the visual effect that the figures of Igor and Valera are not perceived as static, despite their seemingly fixed position. They vibrate within space. The simultaneity of being here and being there, in light and in darkness, corresponds to modern dialectics, expressed not in philosophical thought but in philosophical imagery.

If icons are an image of spiritual truth, i.e. the ‘triumph of Life over Death’ which is something that cannot be found in the physical world, then, correspondingly, within the portraits of the ‘New Composers’ the physical world is endowed with a soul. Things, objects that are within the physical world, can be given a soul; the title of Valery’s portrait is therefore ‘The Soul present within Things’. The title appears in the form of a text-based badge with the image of a smiling young woman with clown-like spots of colour on her face – and it is pinned to Valera’s jacket, above his heart.

This soul has a reddish-brown colour, the same as the colour of the borders, which is the colour of earth, or ‘that which is earthly’. It is the primary emergence of colour within the composition. It is the soul by which the earthly man shapes every Thing, every Action, and every Relation. This idea unites the themes of the composition. People transcend the earthly by means of their creative power – they give it a soul. As epitomised by the New Composers.

"Valera. The Soul present Within Things.", detail

If Valera reveals the ‘Soul present within Things’, Igor is the one who says “No Way” to the claims of the evil side of the world. His concern is the fiery moment of inspiration. He ignores death.

The year 1989, when these works were created, saw some crucial changes in world history – in abstract terms, the return to individual responsibility with regard to the Soul of Things. 20 years later, in 2009, Evgenij Kozlov defined his position concerning the existence of not only the soul, but spirituality in the world: the spiritual layer is located between the paper and the paint applied by the artist.

It is the spirit that is not unknowable and exists not behind things, but can indeed be found in and among things, to the extent that it is put there by the artist. It is not the eternal spirit that appears in the Icon, while the artist, according to Pavel Florensky, only removes the obstacles concealing It. Rather, it is the artist's spirit and soul that individualise the eternal spirit when he creates or transforms the Images. The artist's spirit and soul affect the observer via matter, through paper and paint, in a very particular way. In the icon, we see a saint who has been genuinely transformed through the spirit and has become detached from all earthly things, which is symbolised by the halo. In a modern picture, we see how the artist's perception and imagination can transform an Image when he brings it to life. When the image lives in the observer, it is the triumph of life over death in art, and the living image is an image that animates things.

It would be worthwhile to continue examining the metaphysics of these two works by applying the method of contrasting features, as suggested here, taking into consideration some tendencies in contemporary art, especially with regard to elements of style and technique. These include the technique of melting two perspectives into one, such as in cubism, or the use of captions, as in pop art, to mention only two compository elements. Reviewing other works by Evgenij Kozlov from the second half of the 1980s would also be required to gain a more systematic understanding of his artistic approach and style. Against the background of Rublev’s works on the iconostasis in the Cathedral of the Assumption in Vladimir, the spiritual quest of an artist of our times will take shape .

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