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

      (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov: Leningrad 80s >>

No 175, pp. 22-37, August 2018

Born to be an Artist

An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov #New Artists #New Classicals

This page displays the original English text of the interview, translated into Chinese by the editors of VISION magazine.

An Article about The New Artists, Leningrad. Text & editor Chen Lu. VISION, China, NO 175, pp. 10-21 >>

You can increase the number of your products, say, produce ten paintings instead of five, but you cannot increase your talent.
It's a gift of God some people recieve to inspire the development of human beings.
– (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

Vision magazine no 175, pp. 22-23
Born to be an Artist  An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov  Left: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov at studio Galaxy Gallery, Petergof, 1988. Photo courtesy of Vadim Sadovnikov. Right: Graphic work with text. Caption: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov created this manuscript for VISION, which means "It was interesting to narrate this, but also terrifying”.

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018, pp. 22-23
Born to be an Artist
An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov at studio Galaxy Gallery, Petergof, 1988.
Photo courtesy of Vadim Sadovnikov.
Graphic work with text. Caption:
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov created this manuscript for VISION, which means
"It was interesting to narrate this, but also terrifying”.

Vision magazine no 175, pp. 24-25

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018, pp. 24-25 Born to be an Artist An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlo

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018, pp. 24-25
Born to be an Artist
An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

Could you please talk about your recent exhibition “USA-CCCP-CHINA”?

It is obvious that we are living in times of populism and increasing conflicts, and Hannelore Fobo, the curator of my work and my companion since many years, developed the concept of the exhibition earlier this year for the Egbert Baqué Contemporary, Berlin more>>. It presented works from the decade of the 1980s, when the antagonism between the world powers constituted a significant facet of my art. Hannelore wanted to show how I treated this antagonism, during the transition from cold war to détente, by joining together two diametrically-opposed powers, America and Russia, or ‘CCCP’, with CCCP being the Russian equivalent of USSR, the Soviet Union. “Points of Contact”, a major work from 1989 displaying abstract figures of a man and a woman, portrays this bipolarity being overcome more>>. Hence, my perception of “world powers” is not that of political powers in the first place; rather, I depict them as allegories, like divine forces that are typified in mythologies.

The position of China is out of the blue, China is seen joining the concert of the world powers –as portrayed in the painting CHINA-CCCP, from 1987, which depicts both of these protagonists as guitarists more>>. The way China burst onto the stage constituted a one-off event; my artistic intuition addressed in advance something which only today, thirty years on, has fully unfolded – namely the struggle for a tri-polar distribution of forces.

As a matter of fact, I introduced a small, but important change to Hannelore’s  concept. The original title was “CCCP-USA-CHINA”, but I told her that “CCCP” must stand in the middle because Russia cannot exist on the margin. She needs to have a companion on either side.

The stylistic range I developed between 1980 and 1989, between the age of 25 and 34, is very large. The painting from 1980 This Century’s Dead Caresses, Up Until… presents America and CCCP keeping the balance with the help of a third figure they do not even notice: an angel standing behind them, saving us from destruction more>>. It is a composition reminiscent both of Kasimir Malevitch’s interpretation of Russian folk art and of Vladimir Lebedev’s poster art. “Points of Contact”, on the other hand, is inspired by Constructivism.

However, I not only drew on the tradition of the Russian avant-garde, but also employed classical drawing, comics, and graffiti. Photography played an important role. I developed and enlarged the photographs myself and subsequently collaged and overpainted them. As media I used canvas, cloth, board, and paper, plus clothing, handbags, plates, and other objects. In other words, although “USA-CCCP-CHINA” followed a single theme, the stylistic variety of the exhibited works was quite impressive. This is why several art-curators visiting it called it a museum-type exhibition in a gallery setting.

One of the main tasks I set myself at that time was to rework Soviet symbols. They had an awfully bad image – at least for those of us living in a communist system –, and I rebranded the logotypes, so as to make them positive, for instance the “Smiling Sickle” more>>. Many visitors found the handbags, T-shirts and other fashion items from 1987/1988 especially attractive. They belong to the series “ART from the USSR – Art for the USA” and could be edited in a small number in collaboration with a fashion designer.

In the 1980s, when you lived in the Soviet Union, the American pop-culture had an immense significance on the life of young people, at least in the big cities, where such information could be obtained. As a result, young artists or musicians were likely to suffer from a complex of inferiority, simply because they were not able to produce the same powerful and innovative creations, although they felt the potential to achieve a similar cultural impact. Through “ART from the USSR – Art for the USA” I was able to express an absolute equality between the creative forces of America and Russia. They are antagonistic only because they must complete each other. For instance, a series of painted photographs from 1987 shows two pregnant women in profile, standing back to back to each other. Using two signs that cover their faces, the two women introduce themselves as CCCP and USA. I painted a net over their bodies formed from longitude and latitude, and now their profiles accurately illustrate the curvature of the Earth’s surface. Together, CCCP and USA form the globe: They are life-bearing more>>.

The position of China is expressed in a single piece, “CHINA-CCCP”, but it is a very significant painting, partly realistic and partly graffiti-art. The two guitar players symbolising China and the USSR are set apart, each concentrating on his own playing. They are sitting in an open landscape, since nature is important for such an ancient, highly developed culture as China. A long bridge marks the horizon. Heavy drops of blue rain are falling and from a light red, almost pink sky. I used a blue spray for the rain, and the same colour for the foreground. Along the left margin a long dragon or dragon tail straightens up. A lightning emerges from it and crosses the image horizontally, hitting a blue star. There are many more interesting details, but I will stop here, just to say that is one of my favourite paintings from that period more>>.

It goes without saying that the political changes during the 1980s determined the conditions of my being an “unofficial” Leningrad artist. I could finally exhibit my works on a larger scale – in Leningrad, but also in the West. A number of exhibits from “USA-CCCP-CHINA” were actually shown previously: at the Kulturhuset, Stockholm (1988) more>>, at the Kunsternes Hus, Aarhus (1988), and at the Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool (1989). The painting “Star” more>> was employed as the logo of both the Aarhus and the Bluecoat exhibitions, and “Star. 6 Figures” more>> featured in exhibition guides and in the press. In 1989, the Tate Gallery, Liverpool, exhibited a large flag entitled “CCCP” more>>, but its size of 150 x 400 cm really makes it a museum piece, and we decided not to include it because it would have dominated the entire exhibition.

Other works belonging to the same subject matter are in public or private collections in the USA, France, Finland and Germany, as well as in my own collection. In my opinion, the concept of the “USA-CCCP-CHINA” exhibition has a potential that could really turn it into a museum exhibition. I would then extend it with a recent work about China, a text graphic where I recorded a vision concerning China’s future role in the world I had in 2016.

What made you found “New Artists” group?

The “New Artists” group was founded by Timur Novikov together with Ivan Sotnikov in 1982, but Novikov asked me immediately to join the group, and it is therefore not wrong to consider me as a founding member.

Novikov and me had both been members of a different group, “Letopis” or “Chronicle”, which he had inherited, in a manner of speaking, from Bob Koshelokhov, an artist of the older generation more>>. Novikov therefore knew my art quite well, and he spoke of it in high tones. At one point, the “Letopis” group dissolved, and Novikov set his mind on creating his own group. Thus, the New Artists founding legend centres around the so-called “Zero Object”, a square hole in an exhibition stand Novikov and Sotnikov declared to be an art-object more>>. Of course, this wouldn’t have created a scandal in the West, but in 1982 it did so successfully in a totalitarian regime like the Soviet Union. Just as important as the scandal was its documentation and the ensuing correspondence between the “progressive” and the “oppressive” sides, the latter represented by Sergey Kovalsky as the head of the self-organisation of unofficial artists, and by the City Council of Culture. And although for me the Zero Object was a joke by two talented artists rather than a serious work of art – I have a very serious approach towards art –, and the correspondence was a joke about a joke, it helped establish the New Artists as the most daring, innovative and influential Leningrad avant-garde group of the 1980s.

The activities of the “New Artists” – exhibitions, performances, and art-projects – constituted an important platform for my own art and were vital to keep me connected to the art community see next page >> and more>>. Yet my position within this group or movement always remained quite specific.

First, I lived outside Leningrad, in the suburb of Petergof [Peterhof], and wasn’t around the others all the time. This helped me concentrating on my art – all the more because Petergof’s beautiful palaces and gardens and the surrounding nature allowed me to detach myself from the rhythm of the city. It also allowed me to forget about the omnipresent political propaganda, at least to a degree.

Second, I have always felt – with regard to art – very independent, as someone who has a been given a profound and rich inner world, and I am aware of my talent – and of the secret of art. Art is a creative process of giving birth to something new, not work, as it is called nowadays. I don’t say that I was more talented than the other New Artists, but perhaps I felt a higher degree of responsibility towards the process of creating a work of art. Creating a work of art means to bring it to the point where it can rightfully be considered as achieved. This is what I call “I have a serious approach towards art”. It went against the overall attitude of recklessness, which was, of course, in itself a highly valuable position in a society suffocating spontaneity.

Vision magazine no 175, pp. 26-27

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018, pp. 26-27
Born to be an Artist
An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018, pp. 26-27
Born to be an Artist
An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
1988, mixed media on canvas, 221 x 169 cm

Therefore my art escapes the definition of “wildness”, often used to define the New Artists’ style. Although, if you look at my graffiti art, especially from 1985/1986, it is wild enough more>>. But it always had this touch of “achievement” – one might call it elegance – which distinguished it from the frenetic wildness of Oleg Kotelnikov’s works. He’s a great artist!

On the other side, the result of my approach was felt and recognized. The review of a large Leningrad exhibition in the spring of 1984, comprising works by 158 independent artists, stated “If you want to know what a contemporary perception of the world means and how it is expressed in painting, you should look at Evgenij Kozlov’s works […] They are to the point, convincing and fresh.” more>>

Why did you keep away from Neo-Academism? In what ways did you see New Classicals\Classicism differently from Timur Novikov?

It looks like a paradoxical situation. Apparently my works had a long-lasting effect on Timur Novikov and the emergence of Neo-Academism in 1989. At least this is what art historian Ekaterina Andreeva wrote in “The New Artists” exhibition catalogue (2102) – that Timur Novikov “departed from ‘wildness’ under the influence of Kozlov’s strict style.”

Timur wanted to revive “old” mastery as a canon of beauty to save beauty from “secret enemies – renegades“ destroying culture. Technically speaking, I was probably the one New Artist most at ease with classical drawing – with proportion, volume, posture, and the like. Take, for instance, my lithographic crayon drawings from 1983, groups of people relaxing on the beach at the Gulf of Finland. more>> Or the profiles of a man and a woman from 1989, carried out with red chalk on paper more>>. But even such seemingly “chaotic” compositions as “My Love My Sun” (1989), are structured to a high degree more>>.

After the end of perestroika, the New Artists as a label became derelict: Novikov had turned it into something like a mass movement, wishing to enhance its impact. Now he again created an elitist structure, setting up a mock structure of an Academy of Fine Arts with “professors” and “pupils” gathering around plaster busts. Of course, his new enterprise corresponded to his inner nature – he was a born leader and organiser sensing the new trends ahead of others. In short, he was a pop artist creating a pop art centre, which he called “The New Academy of Fine Arts”.

A typical example of New Academy pop art are Olga Tobreluts’ paintings of Apollo wearing Gucci or Venus wearing Versace. Pop art is based on effectiveness, that is, on the show effect. There is nothing wrong with pop art, only that I am definitely not a pop artist, because I don’t consider the show effect to be the main task in art. Strangely enough, the British Magazine Dazed, in an article about my work (“From Russia with Love”, 2014), called me “Russia’s Andy Warhol”.

I am coming to your question regarding the difference between “Classical” and “Classicism”. In 1989/1990, at the time when Timur Novikov founded the New Academy of Fine Art, I created the cycle “New Classicals” (or “Novaya Klassika”, in Russian). The title seems to fit Novikov’s concept, but the eight paintings in a 2 x 3 m format have no reference to classicism, neither in style nor in content. Stylistically they are slightly reminiscent of Matisse’s cut-outs, and their subject matter is love in all of its facets. Each is dedicated to a different aspect of love with a different main colour : “Love for Man” (red), “Love for Work” (orange) more>>, “Love for Woman” (yellow), “Love for the Earth” (green, two versions), “Love for the Wonderful” (light blue; two versions), “Love for the Cosmos” (dark blue). The seventh motif, “Love for God” (violet) has not yet been realised.

I called this cycle “New Classicals” by intuition, but on reflection – that is, in an interview I gave Hannelore Fobo in 1991 – the main reason was that I distinguish “art within” from the work of art, that is, the process from the result more>>. In my understanding, “art” is a complex process going on inside an artist – or any human being – and the condition for it to start is ”this specific inner richness laden with desires and an inner desire characterised by ‘riches’.” With the help of this process, an artist creates a work of art that takes on a material form perceptible to the senses. This definition of “material form perceptible to the senses” includes musical performances or any other performances. Therefore, as long as human beings “carry” their material body, they will produce works of art that are by necessity perceptible to the senses, and this I call “classical”. “Classical” forms will disappear only when the human being will be able to communicate “art within” directly, without a material transmitter. But when this happens we do not know.

This explains why questions of style are not of primary importance to me, while for Novikov, “classicism” or “neo-classicism” became a means of propaganda – pop art. The positive thing I see in his activity is the fact that he gathered around him a number of talented artists and that he, as a gifted provocateur, thus managed to keep the Saint Petersburg art-scene in the public eye.

Most of the contemporary artworks address the politics but a few artists overtly address the politics through art like you did. Could you talk about your choice?

It all depends on how you define politics. If “politics” means formulating claims towards a political body, government, or any other entity or institution, and then illustrating or emphasising your claim with the help of a painting or a novel or a performance, this is not what I’m doing.

If I was a philosopher, I would write treatises on the future of mankind, but I am an artist, and I find it difficult to render my visual “thoughts” into text. I have always had a sense of what we might call spiritual drifts or movements on a larger scale, of which “politics” represents only one of its manifestations. “Spiritual” sounds somewhat eccentric in English, although there is no better translation for the Russian term “dukhovny”, a widely employed term. In the twentieth century there were many cataclysms, and there will be just as many in the twenty-first century, or perhaps even more. We can already observe them. I am not talking about the Third World War, although it is quite obvious that we are moving closer to it. So what I try to do is to transplant this idea of counterforces into the field of art – rather, I’m not trying, I am actually doing it. And I transplant them not in a simplistic way, such as, for instance, most conceptualists, but in a more profound and hopefully interesting way, and also with a positive approach – because I am an optimist and see no sense in illustrating the hardships of life, as Ilya Kabakov does. I mean, I see them anyway, so why mirror them in a work of art.

Vision magazine no 175, pp. 28-29

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018, pp. 28-29
Born to be an Artist
An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018, pp. 28-29
Born to be an Artist
An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

To give an example of my approach, I return to my painting “Points of Contact” from the USA-CCCP-CHINA exhibition. The two figures of a man and a woman represent an opposition, just as the two words standing at the top of the painting, USA and CCCP. Each figure has a black dot and a red dot on their head and stomach, though in reverse – the man having a black one on his head and a red one of his stomach, the woman having a red dot on her head and a black one on her stomach. So what are these points of contact defining? The brain and the genitals, that is, thought and reproduction. These are the essential “spots” in a human being, but the contact goes from the head of one figure to stomach of the other, if the viewer draws such lines. Two such imaginary lines then overlap in the form of a cross of St Andrew more>>. I find this very interesting: fecundation arises not from a contact between the genitals of opposite sexes, but from a double contact between the brain of one figure and the genitals of the other. Does this image have any direct implication on the relation between two political powers? The answer is no, but if you meditate about the image, you might come to a result.

Besides, I didn’t even define who is who in this painting, who represents the masculine forces and who represents the feminine forces. It is important not to be excessively precise with a work of art, otherwise its symbolic charge will destroy it. I would even prefer not to talk about my works at all, as all I wanted to say has materialised in the work itself.

Some of your artworks are portraits of the members of the New Artist Group, which are all your friends and acquaintances. What different meaning did they have to you in the process of your creation?

My father was a gifted amateur photographer, and I inherited his camera, a Soviet 35 mm FED 2 from the 1960s, as well as his small photo laboratory, set up in the lumber-room of our apartment. Black and white negative films and photo paper were easy to get, and I made it a habit to take my camera with me whenever I left home. Among the artists I befriended, I was not the only one with a camera – Ivan Sotnikov had one, Evgeny Yufit even possessed a medium format camera –, but I was the only one with a systematic approach to documenting our common activities. Although “documenting” is not quite what I was doing. Artists and musicians actually performed for me, as in the “Fashion Show” from 1984 with Oleg Kotelnikov, Yury “Tsirkul”, Natalya “Dlinnaya”, Timur Novikov, Katya Selitskaya and others more>>, or in the now famous photo shoot for the cover of the LP “Nachalnik Kamchatki by KINO with Yury Kasparyan, Alexander Titov, Viktor Tsoy, and Georgy Guryanov more>>.

Acting had to look playful and natural to me, so I asked them to experiment with postures – to lift up one leg, turn the head a little more to the left or right, move together; whatever helped them relax and reveal their personality. Everybody felt the magic of the moment, created by this unique connection between “artist and model”, and they were all very happy to participate in this game, all the more because I generously gave away the pictures I printed in my laboratory.

Yet these pictures only stood at the beginning of a long an intricate process of transforming the original image into an image of what I considered to be the essence of an individual. In other words, my aim was to unfold their inner self or spiritual potential by means of my artistic intuition. The process normally started with scratching hatches or other patterns into the wet emulsion of those negatives that seemed particularly interesting, which I then printed and coloured with chemical or other paints, sometimes in different versions. As the photo paper was black and white, this allowed me to “see” the colours I subsequently applied. I also added new features or removed random elements by painting over them. I often used these painted photos for large collages or even books. One such book, “It’s the fashion!” was exhibited at “Notes from the Underground”, at the Muzuem Sztuki, Lodz, in 2016 more>> and at the Berlin Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste) in 2018. more>>

From these painted prints, I would select a small number to continue with a work on paper or canvas, introducing further changes. The results were most striking, especially with the multi-figural compositions from 1988 – “Anna Karenina 1” (Timur Novikov, Sergei Bugaev) (see below), “Anna Karenina 2” (Vladislav Gutsevich, Sergei Bugaev, Rodion Zavernyaev) more>>, and “Shark” (Georgy Guryanov, Igor Verichev, Timur Novikov, Agnes Horvath, (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, the Shark, and others) (see below). “Shark” was also displayed in Lodz in 2016. Although one recognises the portrayed, the metamorphosis they achieved is quite impressive.  

However, the one painting I consider to be the absolute highlight among these works is my “Portrait of Timur Novikov with Arms Consisting of Bones” (1988), now in the collection of the Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg, (see below). It has often been reproduced in the press and has become emblematic, representing Russian art of the second half of the 20th century.  I am convinced that it will become as iconic as Malevich’s Black Square.

It is not by accident that I use the term “iconic”. In 2014, Hannelore Fobo, for a lecture at the The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, established fascinating parallels between this portrait and the icon of Christ Pantocrator at Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai. According to her, we can see these parallels in the following ways: in Timur Novikov’s eyes (one looking up, the other down), in his posture, in the gesture of the third (red) hand, in which a book is being held, in the vaulted opening of the gazebo and its intersecting bars – corresponding to the halo of the icon and the cross on the Bible – and last, but not least, in the background, with its architecture and landscape. Likewise, the main feature is the intensity of the gaze. more>>

I’m not saying that I painted Timur Novikov as Christ – I depicted him as shrewd jester. I wasn’t even aware of these parallels when I created the composition, starting with a photo taken at one of the New Artists performances in 1984 or 1985. In 2010, I commented on this portrait in the following way: “To be more precise, it is not Timur that is portrayed in this painting from 1988, but the state of being which he eventually attained.” Timur left this world in 2002, at the age of 43. The composition, especially the arms consisting of bones, leave a large field for interpretation.

You also made a lot of public artworks such as the chocolate wall, in which the response of the public to your art is crucial, how could you see whether a public artwork is successful or not?

In 1999, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, the Italian Chocolate Association decided to produce their annual chocolate festival “Eurochocolate” in Berlin and to erect the "sweetest wall in the world", made up of over 400 blocks of chocolate weighing 21 kg each, more than 8 tons altogether, 2 meters high and attaining a total length of 12 meters. The idea was that Italian pastry cooks should build it not far from the original location of the Berlin wall, and that the same day the “stones” would be sold for the benefit of UNICEF. They asked Hannelore Fobo to organise the event and me to take part of the art concept. more>>

Hannelore and I both thought that it would be nice to turn the event into a big party for children and have them paint the “wall” with eatable food colouring, a sort of graffiti painting. And I would guide the children and help them paint.

In 1997 I had created this nice little figure of a piggy called “Khrooni” – we translated it as “Piggles” into English. Piggles is an artist rejected by art-critics, and so he decides to write a long poem about his bravery and how he would fight the enemy – in his dreams. The poem is called “Oracles on Orange Peel” because I actually wrote it on orange peels, one verse on each segment of an orange peel, 119 all in all. The poem finishes with a long list of artists that are now all in heaven. It turns out that God decided to change their favourite style and image, because how long can you remain the same person with the same likings? So here is what happened to them:

Picasso is stroked in his nappy,

he’s a just child: a happy chappie.

Leonardo is so young it’s weird.

Andy Warhol sits there with his beard.

Malevich: no one is interested.

Dali with no fame is invested.

Chagall and Kandinsky: black and white.

Lautrec, Man Ray: afraid of the night.

And so on and so forth.

I also created two large works showing Piggles sitting in his den, 7 x 2 m and 2 x 10 m large more>>, as well many other smaller paintings, including some silk-screen prints. In short, I became affectionate towards this little creature and dedicated some of my artistic thought to it.

Therefore Piggles seemed to be just the right character to decorate the chocolate wall, and we invited children from the Kurt-Schwitters secondary school to my studio to introduce them to Piggles. What could be more natural than to ask children from a school named after this renowned Dadaist?

So this problem was easily solved, but the rest of the organisation turned out to be incredibly complicate, especially because of the requirements imposed by the local authorities. Since the chocolate was to be eaten after the end of the performance, we had to respect every single law and regulation regarding the consumption of food products, such as wearing protective coats and the like. Most importantly, the Italian pastry cooks weren’t allowed to tear down the wall so as to make sure no piece of chocolate would touch the floor. Of course they promised faithfully, and of course they didn’t keep their promise. So it all ended in a big happy chaos, almost as happy as the fall of the concrete Berlin wall on 9 November, 1989. The children took home big blocks of chocolate decorated with their drawings of Piggles on it – so big that even their parents could hardly carry them away –, and we continued the party in the evening, in my studio, with amazing loads of chocolate.

The media coverage was incredible. Every large German newspaper and many local ones published reports with headlines such as “Berlin Wall Rebuilt with Chocolate” more>>. Everybody considered it being a success, even those few who had argued that building a wall of chocolate was disrespecting the victims of the real Berlin wall. 

In fact, success manifests itself in a number of ways. “Miniatures in Paradise”, my large 1995 exhibition of sixteen original paintings (each 5x2 m), hoisted as flags around Victory Column in the centre of Berlin’s Tiergarten park, ended ahead of schedule when four paintings were stolen by unknown fans. This is also a sign of a successful public art project. more>>

You make a lot of artworks about a historical period which communicates the people at that time. How do you think those artworks will influence the society right now?

If I understand your question correctly, you refer to the “Leningrad Album”, my early erotic drawings from 1967-1973 that were shown at the New Museum, New York (Ostalgia, 2011) and at the Venice Biennale (“The Encyclopaedic Palace”, 2013) more>>. The period of the 60s and 70s has now become historical, but at the time I created the drawings, it was contemporary: I made the drawings at the age from twelve to eighteen.

I was a typical boy raised up a in a typical Soviet family – my parents both working in factories, and the three of us living in a 13 sqm room of a communal apartment in the centre of Leningrad, before we were allotted a small apartment in Petergof or Petrodvorets, as it was called at that time. So there was nothing unusual about my growing up, expect that I was born an artist and started to draw at a very early age. And what could be more natural than to draw women in all their beauty? I remember one room in The Hermitage which had these beautifully framed red chalk drawings. To protect them from light, they were all covered with pieces of black velvet, a little curtain you had to lift in order to see what was beneath. And beneath there were delicate nude drawings, so precious that they took my breath. I could have stood there for hours, but it was considered indecent to lift the curtain for more than a couple of seconds, half a minute at the most, although this secrecy only added to their seductive charm. Fortunately there were also – in the museum’s vestibule and other rooms – these wonderful Roman marble sculptures of Aphrodite and her companions, and to watch these was considered suitable for a young boy, with no time limit.

I swiftly transferred these impressions to my own world. My drawings therefore display not only tender love courting, but also all the attributes belonging to the Soviet period of my youth: besides fashion, there are views of the interior of an apartment: kitchen stoves, armchairs, chairs, tables, beds, curtains, cupboards, record players, etc. Massimiliano Gioni, the curator of both exhibitions mentioned above, commented on the drawings “I also love some details which indirectly speak about life, revealing everyday life in the former Soviet block. There are a lot of details in the girls' dresses, there is a picture in which a young man is dressed as a pioneer, there is the obsession with the ice-skates, the obsession with the heaters. I find that very fascinating because immediately it makes me think of Leningrad. It must be a cold place.” His conclusion is that “it is one of these pieces where you really feel that you are entering into the head of an individual and that is a beautiful place to be.” more>>

For people from the so-called Eastern Block of Europe, especially those of my age, the “Leningrad Album” also conveys distinctly romantic memories of their adolescence which stand in contrast to the non-romantic political situation of that time. I recently met a Serbian film director from Belgrade, and he suggested me to make a film with the drawings of the Leningrad Album as script. He said that when he saw them at the Venice Biennale, he had this precise vision of actors re-enacting all the scenes, drawing by drawing, with a film set copying all details of the interiors. We will see whether this project will take shape. At any rate, the narrative quality of the drawings is evident; they constitute a diary of sorts, or, as the review in the Financial Times put it “a young boy’s sexual awakening in a 1970s communal apartment.”

Although these drawings are not the work of an achieved master, I do think or at least I hope that they can have a long lasting effect on society – because of their innocence and charm. They are erotic, but not pornographic. Alas, there is so much aggressiveness and violence in this world and so little seduction and courting. And, by the way, in the Leningrad Album, it’s the girls who are the leaders.

Vision magazine no 175, pp. 30-31

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018, pp. 28-29
Born to be an Artist
An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Anna Karenina I
1987/1988, mixed media on canvas, 216 x 149 cm

The letter E not only appears on your name but also on a lot of your artworks. Could you talk about the meaning of the E to you?

In fact, the letter E appears twice in my first name Evgenij (alternative transcriptions of the Russian Евгений are Evgeny and Yevgueni), and I use the combination of both “E”s as my signature, with a hyphen in between: E-E. As signature, it has replaced my birth name in 2005, more precisely, since 1 May 2005, as Hannelore noted on a piece of paper “1.5.2005: Evgenij cancelled his name in art”.

There are three main points why I did this. First, it is important to know that the letter E is pronounced “ye” in Russian. Accordingly, the double E leads to “ye-ye” or “yeah-yeah”. This is the sound of pop-music, of the Beatles, and was already used by the New Artists as a graphic sign back in the 1980, in paintings and graphic works – not only by myself, but also by Oleg Kotelnikov, for instance. “E-E” expressed our optimistic, positive, audacious mood. So there is this tradition more>>. I later enlarged it to the formula “E-E = mc3” – an obvious reference to Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence “E=mc2”. In “E-E = mc3”, the "m" stands for microphone – the voice, or logos –, "c" for creativity, "c cubed" represents yesterday, today, tomorrow, that is timelessness. This is my conceptual approach. more>>

The second point is the graphic form. The letter E is in and of itself a very appealing geometrical image, forming axes within a two-dimensional space. In my cycle of graphic works “E-E Fairy Tale” it appears in manifold forms, often as a dominating element more>>. The combination of one vertical and three horizontal bars, when shifted to a 90° angle, can also become a bridge or be piled into masonry.

Last but not least, I would like “E-E” to replace my birth name altogether, not only in signatures, but when indicating my name in an exhibition or as the author of a work. “E-E” corresponds to the individuality I identify with much better than the name denominating my physical existence. For the time being I put “E-E” to the front of my birth name, in brackets: (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov. Interestingly, it now reads “Ye-Ye Yevgeni Kozlov”, repeating the “Ye” sound three times, as in “yeah-yeah-yeah”. The triple affirmation (= three times “yes”) is, as we know, a magic spell.

Last year there has been another change: I completed my signature with “people”, so it is now “E-E PeOPLe” or sometimes “PeOPLe E-E”. Everything I do in art is to help people.

While using art to record the history, could you talk about how history influences you in your artistic practice?

I would prefer to say that it is art that uses me to give meaning to what I create. Art, as I defined it earlier, is “the process going on within”. I experience this process “outside time”  – in other words, as ahistorical. Naturally, the work of art following from this process integrates fragments of what surrounds me physically, and such artefacts are historical by definition.

The most important historical impact of recent times on my country, Russia, was, of course, the establishment of a communist dictatorship. It was a catastrophe for Russia, because it destroyed freedom, the basis for spiritual development. Needless to say that Russia is not the only nation suffering from such cataclysms, but I was born and raised in the Russia, more exactly in the CCCP, therefore the cataclysms of Russia have left their traces on my life. However, I have tried to overcome them through my art. My position in art is universal.

Perhaps the most direct connection with history – apart from the “USA-CCCP-CHINA” works –  is a short artistic period lasting for a year only. In 1990, I created “Lenin with red eyes”, where I turned the white of the eye red, an adequate allegory of Lenin’s bloodthirstiness . I could finally allow myself to destroy the myth of the “Good Lenin” without risking to get imprisoned. The portrait “The Great Le-ye-nin” in a 3 x 2m format was exhibited twice in 1990, at the Mayak Club more>> and the Leningrad Union of Artists Exhibition Hall more>>. In 1991 it was part of large Saint-Petersburg Festival “Les Allumées” in Nantes, France. Also quite successful was my series “Leninskaya Erotika” with Lenin as the object of desire of beautiful women, which led to my first solo show abroad, 1991 in Berlin more>>. From this short, but inevitable period of liberation, the two paintings “Lenin in Leningrad” more>> and “Lenin in New York” more>> would look interesting next to Andy Warhol’s red and black silk-screen Lenins. They are similar in size, but Warhol’s Lenins represent the Bolshevik leader before he came to power, looking rather young, his face almost nondescript. I depicted Lenin at the height of power, with a stern gaze, intimidating.

Apart from such striking examples and in a more general way, “history” can be found in many of my works, because my art is predominantly figurative, not abstract. There is even a whole cycle dedicated to the twentieth century, “Century XX”, part one and part two (1989-2015). Part one in particular – about one hundred foldable collages, integrating a vast number of text passages, newspaper cuttings and handwritten text – offers rich material for sociologists researching the late Soviet period. What is more, I included reproductions of my own works that have become, in this way, part of historiography more>>.

None of this simply “reflects” history. An artist’s desire will always be to create something new – in my case, to create harmony that is denied existence in the “real” world.

You may call this my “artistic practice”.  However, “art” is very different from any other human activity in that is impossible to use it as a strategy or tool, because not a single creative person has ever received his or her talent by their own desire, be it Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso, Basquiat or myself, including all artists still to come. You can increase the number of your products, say, produce ten paintings instead of five, but you cannot increase your talent. It is a gift of God some people receive to inspire the development of human beings.


Рассказывать было интересно — однако страшно.

It was interesting to narrate this – but also terrifying.


Vision magazine no 175, pp. 32-33

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018, pp. 32-33
Born to be an Artist
An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov The Berlin Chocowall
1999, photo courtesy of Gewis
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Portrait of Timur Novikov with Arms Consisting of Bones more>>
1988, mixed media on canvas, 103 x 94 cm

Vision magazine no 175, pp. 34-35

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018, pp. 32-33
Born to be an Artist
An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

Four paintings by (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Top left:
The Energy and Strength of Men
1991, oil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm, photo courtesy of Gewis
Bottom left:
The Energy and Strength of Women
1990, oil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm, photo courtesy of Gewis
Top right
Masculine Dream
From the series Virtuoso Reality

1996, mixed media on canvas, 210 x 147 cm, photo courtesy of Gewis
Bottom right:
To Hold a Crystal in Your Hand You are Hiding
From the series Virtuoso Reality

1996, mixed media on canvas, 199 x 146.5 cm, photo courtesy of Gewis

Vision magazine no 175, pp. 36-37

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018, pp. 36-37
Born to be an Artist
An interview with (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov

Two portraits by (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Portrait of Timur Novikov
1986, mixed media on paper, 63 x 49 cm, photo courtesy Muzeum Sztuki
And Igor
1987, mixed media on paper, 63 x 49 cm, photo courtesy Muzeum Sztuki

VISION magazine, China, no 175, August 2018
VISION website:



Uploaded 11 March 2019

Last Updated 12 March 2019