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Oleg Tselkov

Famous artistFamous artist
Born in 1934


Born in Moscow in 1934, Oleg Tselkov is one of the leading Russian non-conformist painters of the 1960s, along with Erik Boulatov, Oscar Rabin and Oleg Koulik.

His works were first exhibited in Europe in the 1970s. In 1977, under pressure from the Soviet authorities, Tselkov was forced to leave the USSR and settle in France. He never saw his departure from the USSR as a tragedy or failure, but rather as an opportunity to open up to international art.

His style, shaped by the influence of Russian avant-gardists such as Malevich, Kandinsky and Konchalovsky, was already quite mature by the 1970s. Without wishing to use his art as a means of fighting the USSR, he quickly turned to international artists such as Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti, who greatly influenced him. At the heart of Oleg Tselkov's art is a recurring character, represented in the form of a mask. He worked on this character with his mask-faces for the rest of his life. He also liked to call them "mouths". The folkloric and traditional, yet striking colors of his paintings: "Colors should kill, hit hard between the eyes", said Tselkov, make his pictures easily recognizable.

The artist liked to tell how, when he was very young, he had a kind of epiphany that became his guiding principle: neither mask nor face, but something difficult to describe, a kind of essence of the human race, a composite portrait both intimidating and anonymous. Since then, his faces have multiplied, often blurred and flattened, as if under the impact of high atmospheric pressure. Grimacing, mutant, their nightmarish character was reinforced by their vivid coloring: breathtaking shades of green, blue and violet.

Like characters in horror films, Tselkov's monsters had a distinctive appearance and could be equipped with sharp tools or bladed weapons: scissors, pitchforks, axes and shovels. It goes without saying that his unique aesthetic was totally out of step with the tastes of the time.

Oleg Tselkov's Moscow studio quickly became very popular with opponents of the Soviet regime: poets Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Anna Akhmatova and Joseph Brodsky. International fame soon followed for the painter: one day, Yevtushenko invited Arthur Miller, who bought a painting from Tselkov, soon followed by diplomats and visitors from all over the world.

After more than 40 years on French soil, divided between the capital and a country house in Osne-le-Val, a small village in the Champagne region, the painter maintained his integrity as an artist indifferent to honors and money.

Oleg Tselkov, who died in Paris on July 11, 2021 at the age of 86, is a rarity on today's art market. Collectors are looking for him, and they're not mistaken: they're buying the creations of a non-conformist artist who was even ahead of his time.

Art Shortlist is proud to present a selection of works by this great artist.


Famous artistOleg Tselkov

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