THE MOSCOW TIMES

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In the early 1980s, in the era of the triumph of neo-expressionism and super-popularity of art associations — the German «New Wilds» and the French Figuration libre, whose influence was very strong on Soviet art scene, a replenishment took place in the ranks of Leningrad underground. Georgy Guryanov, at that time the painter of the «New Artists» association, and in the future the drummer of the «Kino» group, brought Viktor Tsoi, an artist and a beginner musician, to Timur Novikov, the unofficial leader of the «New». Since then, Tsoi's name is inseparably linked with the Leningrad avant-garde of the 1980s, despite the fact that music gradually took up more and more place in his life and work. In the «New Artists» catalogue, published in 1996, Tsoi is mentioned as the author who participated in all their exhibitions without exception.
The peculiarity of Leningrad «velvet underground» of the 1980s was that fine art and rock music existed very closely. Viktor Tsoi received a certain artistic education, worked as a restorer and continued to be engaged in visual arts during all his life. In the interview, he said that he can draw professionally, but he «prefers free style». His «free style» is the manner of expressive and very conditional figurative drawing resembling graffiti. «Square-headed little people» are found in the works of many friends of that circle: Inal Savchenkov, Andrei Krisanov, Oleg Kotelnikov, Timur Novikov himself. But only in Tsoi’s works they get such an integral, tough and dramatic interpretation. Novikov, who appreciated Tsoi's work very much, wrote about him: «Victor's works are characterized by primitivistic and expressive forms with elements of ornamental decorativism».

This visual language arose under the influence of several sources. So, among the «New Artists» were popular Hungarian comics, which were brought to them by the Slavic Agnesh Horvath from Budapest. They also received American art magazines, from which they learned about Jean-Michel Basquiat’s and Keith Haring’s work. Another important source was the stencil language, invented in due time by Vladimir Mayakovsky in the «ROSTA windows». Perhaps the square heads as a motif were born also thanks to the popular geometric punk haircut, which in the mid-1980s many New-wave artists from Leningrad, artists and musicians wore.

Victor Tsoi’s straight-line, expressive pictorial subjects are consonant with his lyrics, deliberately simplified, without any refinement. The leader, whose great figure leads the people, is depicted first as a shield in the painting, and then as a defeated, falling, wounded with an arrow. The painting could be named as the songs of the «Kino» group — «The Last Hero" or «Ataman»: the image of the leader, according to Mayakovsky, an «agitator, a throat-leader», occupied an important place in Tsoi's poetics. As frontman of the group and superstar of the late 1980s, Tsoi could feel a kinship with a giant leading a crowd, responsible for these people, and that's why the deaths is so dramatic. According to Georgy Guryanov’s, Tsoi's companion both in art and in music, recognition, the cult of the hero — first Mayakovsky, then Gagarin — was important for them, and both these cult figures ended tragically. Probably, it was the tension, passion and fatality of the plot that caused the fact that Tsoi, who usually worked on paper, this time preferred a rare for him technique of oil on canvas.

Shortly after its creation, Victor Tsoi presented the work to a well-known figure in the northern capital, youth — to the artist, and then to the employee of the Museum of Urban Sculpture, curator Enver Bakeyev. Tsoi gave him the canvas, and Enver himself then pulled it on the stretcher, made a special frame. And since then the painting has been in his studio for many years. V

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