Rodchenko

By Bruce Pears

 

Aleksander Mikhailovich Rodchenko was born in Russia on December 5, 1891. He is widely known as one of the founding fathers of Constructivism and vouched to help move Russia towards more prosperity through art. At a young age, Rodchenko started his studies at the Kazan School of Art in Kazan after his family moved and he graduated in 1914.[1]  While growing as an artist, he was vastly influenced by the Suprematism movement and the works of Kazimir Malevich. Also inspired by Vladimir Tatlin, Rodchenko gained the ability that used mathematical tools to reduce self-expression. “Between Tatlin’s material constructions on the one hand, and Malevich’s dynamic geometric paintings on the other, Rodchenko has established his own position using precise instruments to create intricate pictorial compositions that eliminated light and shade, colour, and texture.”[2] He lived through the changes that the art world brought him and saw the different movement that occurred while he was a increasing his skills. He dealt with the Russian Futurism, Suprematism, and the movements that were happening in the Western part of the world. From this, he began to develop his own, original works of art, and he increasingly innovated and created his own style of artwork. Thus, arose the beginnings of Constructivism.

Constructivism was an artistic movement that strived to rid of autonomous art and be inclined to defined artwork as a social movement. Artworks were also looked to as a leisurely activity, rather than a job. Rodchenko vouched for art to me universal and multifunctional because those adjectives came to mind with describing art.[3] Universal is something that all can do and Rodchenko believed that he was no different from any other talent in Russia. Multifunctional meant that Rodchenko wanted his art to be expressed as more than just art and function as more than just a painting, but possibly a vision. Constructivist wanted to be known as regular humans beings with talents, rather than just be known as an artist. Constructivist broadened their horizons with their artworks and incorporated various aspects of reality to bring their artwork beyond the canvas. Throughout the years, Rodchenko grew as an artist and his life endured many changes as a person and an artist. While focusing mainly on the aspect of Constructivism, Rodchenko’s life and artwork was influenced and affected by society, specifically the government. Over the years Constructivism grew as a movement and Rodchenko played a big part to the reasons surrounding why it grew. From the beginnings of Constructivism to the emergence of artistic photography, Rodchenko, his intellectual, and his innovation spawned a revolution for Russia.

Constructivism was not an official artistic movement until around 1919-1920 and before created, Rodchenko was learning more and more about the world of art. While living in Kazan, a young Rodchenko saw the lights of many bizarre innovations in 1914 as a part of looking at the arts in the Futuristic Tour.[4]  These innovations opened up a new world in the mind of Rodchenko and the thought of art was now limitless. After the tour had passed, Rodchenko found himself working alongside Futurists and using their ideas.[5] Futurism was the catalyst that Rodchenko needed to think openly and strive toward his true potential as an artist/designer. While continuously opening his mind to the venue of artistic developments, Rodchenko began conducting some experiments of his own. He was looking to conform his own style of art that was like no other and that would also help the Russian prosperity through art. Great innovations in art could help bring a society together and dilute chaos with a harmonious balance. “He used color and form, as well as texture, in an architectonic way, combining them according to his perception of their material properties.”[6] Rodchenko’s perception of reality and his abilities intertwined to create vivid masterpieces. From these perceptions he began to bridge himself away from the different movements and thought that art should relate more to the three-dimensional world that consumed all humans.

Thus, as Rodchenko began to go deeper and deeper into his work and continuously creating images that could relate to life, the universe of Constructivism is constructed. Constructivism represents its artists as more than artists, but as human beings with different talents. During this time in Russia, Constructivism was also a way to bring a broken society together. Russia was into war within itself and the current political status was extremely questionable. The people need to ban together through something and Constructivism was the stronghold. Constructivism strived to bring out the inner architect, designer, or mathematician from each of the Constructivist. From this, Constructivist works were made to conform more to reality and many of the works were made to have imagery beyond the canvas. Within the realm of Constructivism, art was boundless. Art was to be created from multiple everyday objects, if possible, and add more realistic features. For Rodchenko, “His range spanned from furniture to fabrics, stage and film design to ceramics, poster, book, architectural projects, propaganda, exhibition display, and radical innovation in photography.”[7]  Rodchenko was talented in various ways other than just being an “artist” or a “painter.” His works expanded greatly beyond the canvas, and he could actually use some of his creations for real life situations.

The idea of bringing the two-dimensional painting into the three-dimensional was a feat that Constructivist and Rodchenko moved toward. “Discounting inspiration and emotion as driving forces in artistic creation, Rodchenko redefined artistic practice as the rational combination of specific elements (i.e., color, texture, and line) and materials (i.e., wood and metal).”[8] Rodchenko was beyond the limitation of the typical artist and his mind expanded far past the canvas of creation.  In the mind of Rodchenko, technology and engineering were the foundation of construction and organization was a major key to its completion.[9]  Thus, Constructivism was also a movement towards prosperity and innovation in the mind of Rodchenko. Constructivism was the outlet to futuristic ways of life, thinking, and observation. “Rodchenko’s aim was twofold: to change the methods of metalwork and to devise design projects for new objects.”[10] He was always thinking ahead and vouching for the betterment of himself, others, and the environment.

Rodchenko began to shares his though processes and artistic strategies when he started teaching at Metfak. His ideas varied of those from the normal teachers and he believed, “the combination of purpose, technique, and material formed the political process of object production…for him, the construction of objects was not an expressive process but one based on a universal method or system.”[11] Rodchenko states himself, “the goal of design-is to discipline the student to develop his artistic-technical understanding of contemporary requirements, conveniences of living, and technical possibilities through concrete work on an object.”[12] To begin great things, great things must be understood. Rodchenko explains his thoughts toward being successfully original and innovative and one has to completely grasp the concept of what he/she is attempting to accomplish. A certain creation is not going to be developing through emotions, but through understanding how to channel those emotions. Expressing chaotic emotions can lead to chaos on the canvas, while calmed and condensed emotions lead to masterpieces. He also states, “the goal of design is for the student who graduates to be not a passive implementer of his specialty but a contemporary engineer of the object…”[13] Rodchenko wants his students to believe in themselves and their works and be confident in their creations.

From Constructivism to teaching, Rodchenko has experienced lots in the world of art. The next step for him would be stepping away from sculpting and painting towards creations through photography. “His designs for utilitarian objects, furniture, and architecture all expressed his vision of the modern society.”[14] Rodchenko revolutionized the life of photography from how he captured his photos. He wanted to express the society and environment surrounding him in methods that had never been expressed before. His photos were distinctive because of the viewpoint from which the actual photo was taken. He captured photos from amazing angles and viewpoints that gave another dimension to the focus of the photo. On August 18, 1928 he states, “and the most interesting points of today are the viewpoints ‘from the top down’, the ‘bottom up’, and their diagonals.”[15] He was not settling for the original head on shots, but he wanted to include his innovation. He added dynamics and flare to photography by taking a photo at someone’s toes rather than standing tall. Also, with photography he placed himself against his own ideas to merge with the new culture, society, and politics of the new Russia.[16]

Throughout the years, Rodchenko faithfully placed an impact on the society of Russia through his knowledge and love for art. He was the founding father of an artistic movement that helped keep a disintegrating and adhesive society cohesive in their beliefs. He changed the way art was perceived and focused on the addition of realistic features to his artwork. His talents made him more than an artist and he was known as more than an artist. He was known around Russia as teacher and/or constructor. From his works of paintings or photography, Aleksandr Rodchenko produced a sense of new life into the fragmented society during this time in Russia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Bowlt, John. Aleksandr Rodchenko: experiments for the future: diaries, essays, letters, and other writings. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2005.

Dabrowski, Magdalena. Aleksandr Rodchenko. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1998.

Margolin, Victor. The Struggle for Utopia: Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy, 1917-1946. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Milner, John. Rodchenko: Design. England: Antique Collectors’ Club Ltd., 2009.

Rodchenko, Aleksandr. Aleksandr Rodchenko: experiments for the future: diaries, essays, letters, and other writings. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2005.

 

 


[1] Magadalena Dabrowski, Aleksandr Rodchenko (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1998), 20.

[2] John Milner, Rodchenko: Design (England: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2009), 9.

[3] John Bowlt, Aleksandr Rodchenko: experiments for the future: diaries, essays, letters, and other writings (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2005), 11.

[4] Milner, Rodchenko: Design, 8.

[5] Milner, Rodchenko: Design, 8.

[6] Victor Margolin, The Struggle for Utopia: Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy, 1917-1946 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 13.

[7] Milner, Rodchenko: Design, 5.

[8] Margolin, The Struggle for Utopia, 14.

[9] Margolin, The Struggle for Utopia,

[10] Margolin, The Struggle for Utopia, 87.

[11] Margolin, The Struggle for Utopia, 89.

[12] Aleksandr Rodchenko, Aleksandr Rodchenko: experiments for the future: diaries, essays, letters, and other writings (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2005), 189.

[13] Rodchenko, Aleksandr Rodchenko, 189.

[14] Dabrowski, Aleksandr Rodchenko, 19.

[15] Rodchenko, Aleksandr Rodchenko, 212.

[16] Dabrowski, Aleksandr Rodchenko

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