(E-E) Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.v Berlin
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov: Leningrad 80s >>
The New Artists.
Timur Novikov: Roots – E-E Kozlov: Cosmos
Chapter 4 ROSTA Windows Stencil techniques – updated
To consider the question of native roots or influences is a tricky business, especially when we are talking about a group of artists, and even more so in the case of the New Artists, who carried the predicate New in their name – New meaning unrelated to the past, discontinuity. Thus, if we detect such native roots in a particular work, we will have to decide whether those features turn the work into a copy of some prototype or, rather, into something new. In other words, we will judge the work by what copyright refers to as the “threshold of originality”.
When a body of work is stylistically and thematically as varied as that of E-E Kozlov, the question of the significance of native roots gets even more complex, because one and the same feature can be used in completely different contexts.
We will look at this question with respect to a technique popular among the New Artists and often associated with the Russian avant-garde – the use of stencils, a well-known printing technique for drafts, but also for prints produced in smaller editions, among them the now famous ROSTA Windows (Окна РОСТА). ROSTA Windows, also known as “ROSTA Satire Windows”, were propaganda posters of the Russian Telegraph Agency produced between August / September 1919 and January 1921, and then for another year by Glavpolitprosvet.
ROSTA Windows are associated with Mayakovsky‘s name in the first place, because Mayakovksy created texts and concepts not only for his own illustrations, but also for other important artists who contributed to the popularity of ROSTA Windows. According to V. D. Duvakin, the author of an article about “V.V. Mayakovsky’s Rosta Windows” from 1949, the total number of designs was between 1550 and 1600, each hand-printed in an average edition of 150. The estimated number of copies thus amounts to 240.000. Duvakin assigns about 1300 of these designs to the “nucleus” of ROSTA artists – Mayakovsky, Cheremnykh and Maliutin – and of those, approximately 450-500 to Mayakovsky.
Kozlov started using stencils and templates no later than in 1983, and it we will see that ROSTA Windows had an impact on how he employed them, although not only ROSTA Windows.
The painting Commissars (1983) sees the stencil technique in combination with a brushstroke painting technique the artist developed in 1982 for figurative painting, where figures acquire an almost geometrical volume through a chiaroscuro effect of coloured shades, as in Noli Me Tangere.
The subject of Commissars, originally called В ударных бригадах были свои музыканты / The Strike Brigades Had Their Own Musicians, refers to the early Soviet period: a group of commissars has gathered for a group portrait. We see them in different posing levels, standing, sitting and lying on their sides. In the background, stencilled faces, hands, and ornamental elements contrast the group’s compactness with a lightness and playfulness similar to Matisse’s “Jazz” cut-outs (see next chapter). Kozlov added those features at the end of the painting process, overpainting some of the commissars. In his diary entry from 2 February 1983, he commented on his work: “Last night I finished the painting ‘The Strike Brigades Had Their Own Musicians’. I found those new ways of expression I had been searching for. I’m satisfied with the result – both with the painting as a whole and with the details.”
An important detail reveals the fact that Kozlov was actually satisfied with the result; I described it in my comment to the diary entry:
While it is obvious that the use of stencils in a chiaroscuro painting is a novelty, another one of Kozlov’s “stencil” works from the same period is closer to the ROSTA Windows: a poster announcing an exhibition of Leningrad artists, the TEII spring exhibition in April 1983.
It is not only the use of stencils and script that brings to mind ROSTA Windows, but also the light brown colour of the paper and the velvet feel of black, red, green and blue gouache employed for figures and ornamental details. Stylistically, the poster is reminiscent of both Vladimir Lebedev’s constructivist illustrations with their diagonally arranged compositions and Mikhail Cheremnykh’s more individualised, often dynamically tilted single-colour block figures.
Yet it would be wrong to assume that Kozlov created the stencils having in mind a ROSTA Window. He actually created them for the painting SIT VENIA VERBO. Traditions of the Twentieth Century, where these stencilled figures visualise the busy coming and going in an airport. Here, the figures – businessmen dressed in black suits – fuse with the impressionistic brushwork of the background, like in a carefully arranged film scene. The setting is actually closer to that of a Western banking hall than to a Soviet airport, or perhaps E-E Kozlov foresaw the changes coming in the 1990s .
In the poster, the same figures dominate the composition as signs pointing to something else. Speaking in the language of semiotics, these figures have become signifiers – their meaning (the “signified” according to Ferdinand de Saussure) is no longer that of their own “existence”, as in the painting SIT VENIA VERBO, but to fulfil a function: to invite visitors to the exhibition.
Employing stencils in a poster might raise some doubts about the originality of this particular work, especially when compared to SIT VENIA VERBO. Yet, the figures’ sign function neither makes them elements of visual propaganda – in contrast to the figures in the ROSTA windows – nor does it turn them into abstract pictograms, since in terms of facial expressions, gestures, and postures these stencilled images possess a higher degree of individuality and autonomy than those Cheremnykh or Mayakovsky, because they are neither typified nor caricatures. I would therefore speak a novel approach to a traditional technique.
When discussing whether a work crosses the “threshold of originality” with respect to avant-garde art, it might help to have a look at Sergei Bugaev’s Anti-Lissitsky series from 1989-1991. Paraphrasing El Lissitsky’s lithographic poster from 1920 Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (Клином красным бей белых! / Klinom krasnym bey belykh!), Bugaev copied the motif, but changed the colours and the text, one of the variations being Beat the Old Ones with the New Wedge (Клином новым бей старых! / Klinom novym bey starykh!). Since the method of ironical quotation only works as long as the original work is (still) known, the Anti-Lissitsky series may be new (original) with regard to Lissitsky, but not new in the sense of autonomous. We might therefore introduce another threshold that comes next to the threshold of originality – the threshold of autonomy, which the Anti-Lissitsky series doesn’t cross. Besides, as this wasn’t Bugaev’s intention, there is nothing wrong to his approach to art.
Returning to Kozlov‘s poster and ROSTA Windows, the parallels between both them do not end with what appear to be, at first sight, conformities in style. We also observe thematic similarities with references to the topic USSR-USA, for instance in Kozlov’s textile work from 1987 USA-CCCP , which is close to Mayakovsky’s caricatures.
The main difference is again that Mayakovsky and his generation of artists used this subject for propaganda against the USA, while Kozlov was looking for points of contact, to quote the title of his constructivist work from 1989 discussed in the previous chapter. The relation between the two superpowers was a recurring theme in Kozlov’s work throughout the 1980s, but to express and develop this subject matter, Kozlov was not at all dependent on “patriotic” styles; rather, he used them according to his own needs. I analysed his stylistic range in the catalogue for Kozlov‘s one-man show “USA-CCCP-CHINA”, 2018:
Resuming this short description, we can say that the abstract silhouette styles of Malevich, Lebedev and Cheremnykh are present in some of Kozlov’s early works technically, but were left behind stylistically and thematically. Stylistically, because Kozlov individualised his figures, and thematically, because due to their political engagement, the early avant-gardists got stuck in a dichotomy of good and bad – us and them – while Kozlov pursued a dialectical approach of thesis – antithesis – synthesis, of Points of Contact.
previous page: Chapter 3. E-E Kozlov: Two Cosmic Systems
next page: Chapter 5. The inclusion or exclusion of stylistic influences
Duvakin, V. D. “Okna Rosta V.V. Maiakovskogo” [«Окна Роста» В. В. Маяковского], Moscow, Khudozhestvnnaia literatura, 1949. Web 15 August 2020
 Kozlov (E-E) Evgenij. Diary IV, p. 4-03, 2 February 1983
Ночью окончена работа над картиной «В ударных бригадах были свои музыканты». Искал и нашел новые способы выражения. В целом и по деталям вся картина меня удовлетворяет. Web 20 August 2020
 Fobo, Hannelore. Note to Evgenij Kozlov’s Diary IV, p. 4-03, 2 February 1983. Ibid.
Web 20 August 2020
 See Chapter 2, footnote 1
 The same year, Timur Novikov also dedicated a work to the subject of an airport, but presented it as an exterior view, while Kozlov created an interior view of the airport. Novikov’s Airport, carried out in a collage technique on textile in a 237 x 234 cm format, was displayed at the New Artists exhibition Happy New Year 1985/1986. Web 20 August 2020
A reproduction of Novikov’s work is in the catalogue “Echo of Expressionism, 2019, p. 87. An interesting detail is that both Novikov’s and Kozlov’s works are today in the collection of the State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg.
 The correct size of the largest work, “CCCP” from 1987, is 193 x 583 cm.
Research / text / layout: Hannelore Fobo, May / September 2020.
Uploaded 24 September 2020