Although their co-authorship of artworks ceased in 2003–4, Komar and Melamid are two of the best known artists to emerge from the USSR in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as the founders in 1972 of the controversial SotsArt, a type of work which fused Russian Socialist Realism with elements of conceptual art, Western Pop Art and Dada. ‘We are not just an artist. We are a movement’ they famously declared, never precisely defining the role each played within the creation of any individual artwork.
They both studied at the Moscow Art School from 1958–60 and the Stroganov Institute of Art and Design, graduating in 1967, the year in which they held their first joint exhibition. They subsequently joined the Moscow Union of Artists and took up teaching posts. However, the controversial nature of their works resulted in arrest in 1974 and both immigrated first to Israel in 1977, and then to New York, in 1978.
During the 1980s and 90s Komar and Melamid’s repertoire expanded to include conceptual projects involving music, monumental sculpture, performance and even teaching elephants in Thailand to paint, often accompanied by publications to disseminate their ideas. Symbols of the Big Bang, referencing the very moment of the creation of the universe, was the duo’s last major collaborative project in 2001–3, exhibited first in New York and then in Moscow. Here, the artists used a range of abstract, ancient and geometric symbols in a series of drawings and paintings, including the swastika, square and Star of David, to explore links between mysticism and science, creating ‘The visual image of the beginning of our universe and our world’. Some of the works were intended to form the basis for designs for stained-glass, which the Russian authorities refused to allow.
This drawing, as with the whole series, is executed like a mathematical problem on graph paper, It overlays a sun-like element radiating outwards in concentric circles, with a sinister, brooding block-like form. On closer inspection, the surface is dappled with Hebrew letters, creating a dynamic surface suggesting the explosive moment of creation. Big Bang was the winning entry in the Painting and Drawing Section of Ben Uri’s International Jewish Artist of the Year Award in 2004.