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Oleg Tselkov | Alter Ego

17 October - 28 November 2014

Alon Zakaim Fine Art is proud to present Alter Ego, a major UK exhibition of the work of Russian artist Oleg Tselkov. One of the most influential and highly regarded artists of his generation, Tselkov's work has challenged audiences for five decades; expelled from the USSR in 1977 due to his provocative paintings, his works are now included in many of the world's most important private and state collections. Coinciding with the year of the artist's 80th birthday, the exhibition will be a tribute to the enduring influence and importance of Tselkov's work over his prodigious career.

One of the most influential and highly regarded artists of his generation, Oleg Tselkov's work has challenged audiences for five decades. His compelling, provocative works have defined him as an experimental and subversive artist, often causing controversy due to the difficult questions he poses to his audience. The pervasive influence of the political and cultural landscape of his native Russia imbues each of his meticulously executed paintings with a robust power, yet his career has been defined by his search for a universality in his works, which reach beyond the parameters of individual thought and emotions. Delving into the collective unconscious, Tselkov looks beyond the individual to explore the essential and universal.

Born in Moscow in 1934, Tselkov studied art in Moscow and Leningrad between 1949-1955, also studying Theatrical Design in Minsk during this period before being expelled on ideological grounds. In 1960, he settled in Moscow; the same year he had a revelation regarding his work, producing his first 'Portrait'. The recognisably figurative work had a universality he had been searching for - the painting represented everyone and no one, an inscrutable mask concealing the ambiguous and archetypal being beneath. This ambivalent sense of persona came to become a central theme in the artist's oeuvre; expressionless figures, often physically imposing and wielding the symbols of productivity or oppression (the spade, knife, crucifix), dominate his striking canvases. Yet despite the uniformity the figures present, each of his works is radically individual. Whether executed in vivid contrasting colours or adopting an atmospheric monochrome palette, the works exude a raw immediacy and unique persona. In paintings such as Portrait with mask (2002), the imposing physicality of the figure contrasts with the subtle palette of pale pinks and light green. In Mirror (2009), the monochrome blue palette creates a much more internal and self-reflective work, producing a harrowing insight into the solitude of being.The breadth and depth of Tselkov's prodigious career justifies the assertion of Simon Hewitt that 'Tselkov is destined to be acknowledged as the greatest Russian artist of his era.' Further accolades have come from Arthur Miller, the influential playwright who applauds the 'tragic power' of Tselkov's canvases; and the Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky, who describes him as 'the most remarkable Russian artist of the post-war period.' In his sparsity of style and instinctive approach, the influence of his compatriot Kazemir Malevich on his work is evident. One can see in Malevich's masterpiece The scyther (mower) (1912) a comparable use of bold primary colours, a minimal use of line, and application of areas of flat colour in which the expressionless reaper stands. Tselkov himself adopts a similar approach, often to startling effect; the light and playful tones of With pistol (2002) jars with the disturbing psychological issues raised by the work's violent content. In pieces such as Work (2006) and With shovel (2000) he creates a contemporary vision of Malevich's reaper, the hardened labourers dominating the canvases with their raw physicality.

Controversy has become synonymous with the artist's work due to the challenging motifs and content Tselkov includes in his canvases. In 1977 Tselkov was expelled from Russia, emigrating to Paris in order to continue his artistic career in France. The ending of the Cold War and thawing of Russia's attitude towards avant-garde contemporary art has led to a complete reappraisal of his work in the artist's homeland, and recognition of his importance in the development of contemporary painting. In 1997 he was awarded the Tsarskoe Selo Prize; in 2005 he received the Triumph Prize, Moscow; in 2012 the Pushkin Museum Award, and the following year he won the Hermitage Museum Foundation Award. His works are now held in many important collections, including those of the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam; the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; The State Fine Arts Pushkin Museum, Moscow; the Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow; and the Yokohama Museum of Art, Tokyo, as well as in numerous private collections around the world. His paintings have been exhibited widely including at the Saatchi Gallery, London and Lazarev Gallery, St. Petersburg, as well as in important exhibitions in Japan, America, France and Britain.

Oleg Tselkov: Alter Ego will explore the key themes of the artist's practice in works executed from 1990 to the present. In the words of gallery director Alon Zakaim, 'Oleg is a key Russian artist who has an important global and art historical standing; his paintings are both technically immaculate and conceptually complex. We are keen to raise his profile further in the Western art market and feel his work will have great appeal to collectors of contemporary art.' The exhibited works explore the varied tonal palette and disparate physical scales employed by the artist; brooding and monumental works such as Meal (1992) reveal the artist's sensitive appreciation of chromatic harmony, whereas later works such as the still life Bottles (2000) reveal a more intimate approach to the artist's subject matter. This extensive exhibition exposes the artist's enduring legacy and important role in the development of contemporary painting.

Oleg Tselkov: Alter Ego will be on show at Alon Zakaim Fine Art, 5-7 Dover St. London W1S 4LD from 17 October-28 November 2014. Opening hours are 9am-6pm, Monday-Friday; weekends by appointment only.

Oleg Tselkov | Alter Ego