Day after day, for forty years, I glance at the faces of the characters drawn by my own hand, asking each "Who are you?"...Their answers are always devoid of clarity, and float away like smoke...It is clear to me that they have a thousand years behind them and an eternity ahead.
O. Tselkov, 'Ogonek', no. 39, 23 October 2000
In 1977, Oleg Tselkov, like so many other artists of the Russian Avant-garde, immigrated to France from the Soviet Union. Since then, he has remained a legendary figure in Moscow's world of unofficial art. Josef Brodsky called him the 'most prominent Russian artist of the post-war period', while Sergei Dovlatov made Tselkov one of the characters in his well-known tale Solo in the Underwood.
Perhaps the only representative of the surrealist movement in Russian unofficial art of the post-war period, Tselkov has only painted one portrait during his extensive creative career spanning over 50 years. In 1960 he created a collective figure with a bald head and mask-like face. He called his characters Alien tribe; faces that appear to surface from a nightmare, coming out from pages of an anti-utopian or fantastical novel about the victims of a catastrophe and the degradation of society.
I then painted a sort of portrait, not a taking the subject as an individual, but as a portrait that is universal, collective, united in one character. Not a face, but a mask, a countenance with a horrible familiarity.
Executed in a particularly intense palette of colours, these face portraits emerge before the viewer from a poisonous pink, green or purple painted mass, as seen in the variants of the composition Collector and collection. In the ghostly gallery of the hunter of heads or the collector of masks, each face is as similar to that of its owner as two drops of water. This series of faces, pinned on the wall glance threateningly at the viewer from time to time with accusing eyes which stare out from glossy hardened faces.
The point is that I was the first of all artists to create a face, which is not at all idealised. A face in which there is nothing from the face of God. Since then, I have spent my whole life thinking about the mystery of this face, and I haven't found the answer.