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A world-class artist Oleg Tselkov passed away in France. In four days would have turned 87.

The great Russian and Soviet painter passed away today, July 11, in France, where he lived since the late 1970s.


Oleg Tselkov was born 15 July 1934 in the outer reaches of Moscow to a working class family. From 1949-53, Tselkov attended the Moscow Middle Art School for gifted children, where his journey in art would begin.

Tselkov attended, and was expelled from, both the Minsk Art Institute and the Repin Academy of Arts. Both times his expulsion was said to be for “ideological” reasons, claiming that his art was too formalist (based solely on the analysis of form). In 1958, he finished a diploma in stage artistry from the Leningrad Theatre Institute, where his mentor had been experimental theatre director, Nikolay Akimov. Tselkov returned to Moscow in 1961 after gaining a reputation as the most flamboyant and radical innovator in new Russian art, becoming fashionable and fast- selling in the contemporary style of the USSR. Despite this, he continued to live modestly.

Since 1960, Oleg Tselkov has been experimenting with a singular theme in his work featuring deformed, flat, humanoid faces in brutal aniline colors. One can see the inspiration of Malevich’s “peasant cycle” (1928-1932) and fauvism, as well as an obvious underlying darkness in his works. His paintings are immediately recognizable and this theme of the faceless, blind man is an observation of humankind and a criticism of psychological violence around the world. These are paintings in the non-conformist Severe Style, with his work also being compared to iconography and the frescoes of ancient Egypt by critics.

Tselkov has been quoted saying that his paintings pertained to humankind regardless of country, regime, or origin, revealing the dark and sinister things that lurk at the bottom of any man’s soul, hidden in the conscious or subconscious.

His first exhibition was held in the private Moscow apartment of abstract painter Vladimir Slepyan. Tselkov’s first solo show was in 1966 at the Kurchatov Institute, but was shut down by the KGB two days after it opened and deemed ideologically unacceptable. Although his paintings were not demonstrated at official exhibits in the USSR, either foreign buyers or international friends worked to smuggle his art and exhibit it abroad. That changed in 1975, when he was a part of the first legal show of non-conformist art in the USSR.

In 1977, Tselkov and his wife left the USSR for Paris, where they have since lived and worked. In the early 1970s, his characters lost their singular meaning and gained more depth, and recognizable faces began to appear in his paintings. From 1980-1990, Tselkov began to enhance the hues in his paintings and expanded the size of his works to take up wall-sized canvases. The same figures and concepts of his former work were explored in a hazy glow and contrasting bright color combinations.

In 2004, a solo exhibition of Tselkov’s work took place at the Russian Museum (St. Petersburg) and the Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow). 

Tselkov's works are in leading museums and private collections. He is considered one of the most expensive modern nonconformist artists.

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