MacDougall Auctions 12-18 June 2008

12 June 2008

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Two People

* § 380. TSELKOV, OLEG B. 1934

Two People signed, also dated 1983, and titled on reverse.

Oil on canvas, 194.5 by 130 cm.

Provenance: Purchased directly from the artist.
Private collection, Canada.

Related Literature: A. Glezer. Oleg Tselkov, Monograph. Moscow 1992.
Oleg Tselkov, Le Grandi monographie, Milan, Fabbri Editori, 1988.

The work offered here for auction relates to the period when Tselkov’s creative talent was at its height and includes his famous work Faces from the late 1970–1980s. Painted in his familiar blueviolet and red palette, they all bear the hallmark of his trademark compositions, forming a portrait gallery of endless characters in the theatre of the absurd of human existence.

Oleg Nikolaevich Tselkov was fascinated by pictorial and textural quests in the spirit of the Knave of Diamonds from his days as a student of the legendary stage designer Nikolai Akimov. He gained true fame however through his so-called Faces. These were bright, almost surrealist canvases depicting round-headed human-like creatures with bloated bodies, slit eyes and faces that appear as like fused-on glazed masks.

Painted in bright, shimmering colours, usually on a black background, these garish poster-like images had by the 1970s become a popular symbol in the West of the Soviet artistic underground, a kind of caricature of Homo Soveticus. Tselkov himself acknowledged that he “painted a kind of portrait, but not a portrait of an individual subject, rather a general portrait all in one – and horribly recognisable... It is the face of modern humanity as a whole. I did not set myself the task of “tearing off masks”. I did not see “good” and “bad”, but something more real, below the surface. It is what we all are under the skin that brings us together. I cannot have specific grievances against a particular person, but I have more than specific grievances about people en masse, humiliating and tormenting each other, sending each other to kingdom come. I have the right to these grievances for the past, present and future…”

Oleg Tselkov studied stage design under Nikolay Akimov at the Leningrad Theatre Institute. Akimov, a well-known designer and graphic artist, began his career in the 1920s. He was known for his sophistication, artistic vision and inimitable wit. He gave his students individual freedom, taught them the principles of avant-garde art and guided them in their creative thinking. Unlike their counterparts in other media, students of theatre design were permitted to employ elements of Surrealism, Cubist forms and unconventional relations between the objects. At that time, the Leningrad Theatre Institute was the only official place where one could experiment with forms and objects. Theatre has a strong influence not only on Tselkov’s artistic aesthetics, but also on his unique understanding of the human condition.

In his artistic vision, Tselkov took a major step forward, rising above the classic theatrical narrative. His characters do not resemble the traditional tragic or comedic masks that decorated the facade of every theatre in the Soviet Union. Their inner conflict is not instantly apparent. The tranquility and uniformity of their images is soothing and frightening at the same time.

Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.