Alexander Rodchenko

Summary

Alexander Mikhailovich Rodchenko (* November 23jul.

Rodchenko was born in Saint Petersburg in 1891 to Mikhail Mikhailovich (1852-1907), a landless peasant, and Olga Yevdokimovna (1856-1933) Rodchenko, a laundress. His father worked as a property man at the “Russian Club” on Nevsky Prospekt, while the family lived in an apartment above it. In 1901 the family moved to Kazan, where Alexander Rodchenko attended school until 1905 and trained as a dental technician in 1908-09.

Kazan Art School

Rodchenko then studied with Nikolai Ivanovich Feschin and Georgi Medvedev at the Kazan School of Art, devoting himself to painting between 1910 and 1912. His paintings from this period are rich in warm tones, red, yellow and ocher, he also experimented with the contrasting colors of blue-red and green-red. After 1912, his interest in black grew. Rodchenko”s art during this period was strongly influenced by Art Nouveau and by drawings by Aubrey Beardsley (Lady Figure, 1913). In addition to his studies, he gave drawing lessons and painted decorations for clubs. At the Kazan Art School he met his future wife Varvara Stepanova. In 1914 Rodchenko attended the public readings of the Futurist poets Vladimir Mayakovsky, David Burlyuk and Vasily Kamensky.

Move to Moscow – Early career

In 1914 Rodchenko graduated from the Kazan School of Art and moved to Moscow, where he studied sculpture and architecture at the Stroganov School for three years and turned increasingly to abstract painting. In 1915 he made a series of drawings called the Compass Ruler series. Unlike the abstract painting of Wassily Kandinsky, these paintings do not require additional theories and associations. After participating in the exhibition “Magazine” organized by Vladimir Tatlin, Rodchenko began to show his works at Moscow exhibitions in 1916 and was thus able to establish himself as an artist of the Russian avant-garde. The following year he redesigned the interior of the “Cafe Pittoresque” together with Tatlin, Georgi Yakulov and other artists. From 1918 to 1922 he worked in the Department of Fine Arts (ISO, Russian Изобразительный Отдел) of the Commissariat of People”s Education (Narkompros, Russian Народный Коммиссариат Просвещения) as the head of the museum office and as a member of the College of Arts. At the same time he was chairman of the Acquisitions Committee for the Museum of Artistic Culture and together with Olga Rosanova was responsible for the subdivision of industrial art. In 1918-26 he worked as a teacher of the theory of painting at the Moscow “Proletkult School”.

Constructivism

The experimental sculptures of Tatlin and Rodchenko from the early 1920s, with their emphasis on material, the technical, the functional, and standardized forms, have much in common with the later goals and ideas of Minimalism, as formulated by Donald Judd, for example. Rodchenko, for example, used simple unfinished square timbers of equal length, which he assembled in various formations without a base.

Another step in Rodchenko”s artistic development was the series of objects from 1920-21. These are movable constructions hanging freely from the ceiling. These are made of thin plywood, which the artist cut into various geometric shapes: squares, hexagons, ellipses, etc. From these figures Rodchenko in turn separated concentric elements of equal width, which “fold out” in space, so that the surface becomes a three-dimensional sculpture. Due to the movable suspension, the view side and the incidence of light are constantly changing.

Together with his wife Stepanova, Rodchenko devoted himself intensively to art as experiment; here the artist is both researcher and scientist; the construction, the system, the purposeful use of materials are in the foreground of the artistic analyses and experiments. Both are central figures of the second phase of the Russian avant-garde, Constructivism. For all its practical application, however, Rodchenko”s theory of constructivism resonates with a strong utopian streak, a belief in a world organized according to clear principles, in an immovable order in which everything living has its fixed place. “Life, this simple thing, has not been seen until now, not known to be so simple and so clear, that one has only to organize it and free it from all that is superfluous. Work for life and not for palaces and temples, not for cemeteries and museums! Work among all, for all and with all. There is nothing eternal, everything is transient. Consciousness, experience, aim, mathematics, technology, industry and construction – that stands high above all. Long live the constructive technique. Long live the constructive attitude in every activity. Long live constructivism” (Rodchenko 1921).

Alexander Rodchenko exhibited a triptych consisting of three monochrome canvases (each 62 × 52.5 cm) in the colors red, yellow and blue at the exhibition “5 × 5 = 25” in Moscow in 1921. The artist said about it: “I took painting to its logical end and exhibited three paintings: one red, one blue and one yellow, and this with the statement: everything is finished. They are the primary colors. Every surface is a surface, and there shall be no more representation.”

The End of Pure Art – Productivism

From 1920 to 1923, Rodchenko and Stepanova were members of the Institute of Artistic Culture (INChUK). From 1920 to 1921, Rodchenko was also a member of the Group for Objective Analysis.

In the 1920s he worked as a painter and graphic artist, creating mainly commissioned works. After that, he abandoned attempts and experiments in the field of pure art and turned to Productivist art. The ideology of Productivism rejected the traditional function of art exhibited in museums or serving as decoration. Rodchenko was engaged in works in the field of graphics, design and handicrafts. According to Rodchenko, art should leave the museum and become an element of social being in the form of objects. From this moment Rodchenko”s art took on a social character. From 1920 to 1930 Rodchenko was a professor at the art academies in Moscow (Vchutemas) and Leningrad (Vchutein), and from 1922 he was dean at the Faculty of Metalworking.

In the years 1921

Book design and collage

His new circle of interests led to a close creative collaboration with the famous and influential poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. He created illustrations for his poem “Pro eto,” in which the poet sings of his love for Lily Brik and in which Rodchenko mounts their portraits at different ages in all possible variations. The result is a unique combination of photomontage and constructivist design, visually recreating Mayakovsky”s verses.

Rodchenko and Mayakovsky together made about 50 posters, nearly 100 company signs, wrapping and candy wrappers, neon signs, and pictorial advertisements for newspapers and magazines in just under two years. They worked for the GUM department store, Mosselprom, Gosisdat, Resinotorg and for the trade unions. The content of Mayakovsky”s and Rodchenko”s advertising activity went far beyond advertising products of state enterprises. The poet and the artist agitated for the development of technology, the improvement of working conditions, and other social concerns. Rodchenko”s style of advertising graphics was simple and clear, harmonizing with Mayakovsky”s laconic, punning double lines. The advertising texts and images were functional, free of any superfluous information. Rodchenko worked with large, simply shaped, easy-to-read letters and often used large exclamation and question marks. The use of the arrow in the composition, symmetrically arranged letters and other graphic elements made it easier for the viewer to decipher the poster.

Rodchenko was the first artist in the USSR to work with the technique of collage. He preferred abstract collages, in which he formed abstract combinations from non-figurative elements or by combining fragments of newspapers or photographs with non-figurative elements. From collage Rodchenko moved on to photomontage.

Photography

Influenced by Dadaism, Rodchenko arrived at photography via photomontage, soon becoming an important representative of the Russian Constructivists. He became known especially for his unusual perspectives, but also for the strong abstract-graphic effect of his photographs. Under the influence of changing political guidelines in the 1930s, he turned to reportage and sports photography before giving up photography altogether in 1942 and returning to work as a painter.

Famous shots include The Stairs, Girl with Leica or Portrait of Mother. His standard cameras were the Leica and the FED of the Soviet manufacturer FED (today Ukraine).

Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova have a daughter, Varvara Rodchenko (* 1925), who also became an artist. Their son Alexander Lavrentyev (* 1954) is a professor at the State Artistic-Technical Academy S.G. Stroganov in Moscow.

The First Russian Art Exhibition Berlin 1922 showed Rodchenko”s paintings NonObjective, Construction, Black Composition, Red Color, Composition, Suprematism, as well as some drawings of architectural projects.

see: List of Alexander Rodchenko”s works

Sources

  1. Alexander Michailowitsch Rodtschenko
  2. Alexander Rodchenko
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