Oleg Tselkov (b. 1934)
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Oleg Tselkov (b. 1934)

Four-headed woman and two men

Details
Oleg Tselkov (b. 1934)
Four-headed woman and two men
signed in Cyrillic 'Oleg Tselkov' (lower right); additionally signed in Latin, dated ‘1986’ and inscribed with title (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
75 3/8 x 93½ in. (191.4 x 242.6 cm.)
Provenance
with Sloane Gallery, Denver.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1987.
Literature
Y. Aleshkovsky et al., Tselkov, Milan, 1988, illustrated p. 259, listed pp. 258 & 299, no. 125.
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Lot Essay

One of the leading exponents of Soviet unofficial art, Oleg Tselkov devised a distinguished and immediately recognisable artistic language, conceived despite the constraints of the oppressive autocratic regime and matured in the Soviet Union and during his semi-forced immigration to France in 1977. As the artist recollects: ‘I proved to myself and to others that even under totalitarian communist pressure one can preserve one’s courage, individuality and do one’s work in keeping with one’s own preferences and taste. Although a whole system was created to prevent the appearance of individuals like me, not only I existed, but I had held out. And I was not the only one’ (quoted in Y. Aleshkovsky et al., Tselkov, Milan, 1988, p. 293). Tselkov was actively engaged in the underground artistic life of the Soviet Union and shared similar views with his fellow artists like Oskar Rabin and Vladimir Nemukhin; however, he rarely participated in the shows of the nonconformists which took place in private flats and Soviet ‘dvortsy kul’tury [palaces of culture]’, thus avoiding the fate of the Bulldozer Exhibition Belyayevo or the subsequent Izmailovo exhibition in September 1974.
In the About myself chapter in the artist’s first monograph published in 1988, Tselkov describes his artistic path: ‘When I had just turned fifteen I met my first real artist. Influenced by his colourful stories, during one sleepless night, I suddenly realized that I too was an artist. That moment was something like awakening’ (Ibid, 1988, p. 291). Tselkov immediately enrolled at the Moscow Secondary School of Art, run by the Academy of Arts. Following graduation, he failed to pass the exams for the Surikov Art Institute and moved to Minsk to study at the Art Institute. The story continues: ‘at the end of the first year our works were examined by some local party supervisor. Mine were not to his liking and they kicked me out. The next fall, 1954, finds me in Leningrad, in the Repin Academy of Arts. And I’m thrown out again’ (Ibid, pp. 291-292). With the arrival of Khrushchev’s ‘thaw’, Tselkov managed to secure a place and successfully graduate from the Leningrad State Institute of Performing Arts, where he studied under an experimental theatre director Nikolay Akimov.
The artist considered the year 1960 to be a turning point of his career; that is when he devised his first series of ‘portrait’ paintings, with deformed human faces, resembling masks appropriated from Commedia dell'arte and rendered in vivid fluorescent colours, primarily on large-scale canvasses. As Tselkov explains: ‘I called my painting ‘A Portrait’. Usually the word ‘portrait’ is followed by somebody’s name or at least – enigmatically – by ‘portrait of an unknown person’ (i.e. one who used to be known and had a name but lost it in the hustle and bustle of life). But still we have to be absolutely sure that all portraits bear a resemblance to a portrait. And I believe that, for my part, I succeeded in catching this sort of resemblance, with the only difference that I was not interested in eye coloration or the shape of the nose, the number of wrinkles, the fluffiness of the hair, the brightness of the cheeks, and everything else that distinguishes people. We have lost our faces. Or perhaps we never had them’. (Ibid, p. 295). Painted in 1966, Portrait (lot 94) belongs to this important early period of Tselkov’s artistic formation and displays the best qualities of Tselkov’s newly established style.
The 1986 work Four-headed woman and two men (lot 95) strikes the viewer with its overwhelming and imposing size, which displays in full the artist’s ability and courage to work on a large scale. Rendered in deep purple with pink highlights, the mysterious glow of the painting transfixes the spectator and contributes to the somnambular atmosphere of the painting. Portrait and Four-headed woman and two men were acquired by the present owners shortly after their creation in Moscow and Denver respectively and their appearance at auction presents collectors with an opportunity to acquire truly important works by the artist.
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