rodchenko, black on black, 1918


Aleksandr Rodchenko created the “Non-Objective Painting No. 80 (black on black)” in 1918. This picture is in the early making of Rodchenko’s artistic career, which is around the years leading up to the Russian Revolution. Rodchenko’s career was also during the era of Constructivism and this painting was a beginning to this futuristic era of art. Rodchenko and the other Constructivist thought of themselves as more than artist and wanted their works to implement more than just a picture. They wanted their work to extend beyond the boundaries of the canvas or template of design. While examining the painting there are some symbols that Rodchenko tried to exploit. These symbols include how Rodchenko tried to relate this painting to some creations of Malevich, the relations to infinite space and continuity, and the symbolism of the spiral within the picture.

Rodchenko’s and Malevich’s works are very comparable in style and similar to the various works of art that was produced during this time period in Russia. Both were trying to make art anew in Russia and move towards a bright future for art. This concept was the birth of Constructivism. Artists began to think of themselves as more than artists alone, but as normal people with talents. With these thoughts artist also wanted to make their works more realistic or at least some type of real-life relation. Rodchenko’s “Non-Objective Painting No. 80 (black on black)” mostly conveys the works of Malevich and the black square or Malevich’s white on white painting.  Malevich uses white as the backgrounds of these paintings while Rodchenko uses a black backdrop. Both are to represent the sense of space or an extension beyond the painting itself. However, using black as a backdrop, there is more utilization of other colors for symbolization and different shades of black or brushstrokes of black could be noticed with the naked eye. With the black background there is the availability to express any colors such as using a “real white” versus and “off-white” that is commonly used on a white backdrop. The expression of other colors can be similarly vibrant on a black or white backdrop. Hence, white on white is very difficult to see and Malevich uses ”off-white” to display the square from the actual background in his painting. In my opinion, the Rodchenko version of depicting infinite space by using black is the better of the two to use. The usage of black in art as a backdrop was a more concrete idea and relation to real life. Adding black as a background can add to the effect of making a portrait pop out of the canvas. Constructivist wanted to transition art to a futuristic movement and modernizing art meant realistic values.

Space is something that, most say, cannot be defined. However, space can be bounded within buildings, classrooms, etc. However, within all things space is infinite, even if it is limited. The black background firstly depicts the symbolism of infinite space. When thinking on the astronomical side of things, the space outside of this atmosphere is black which the stars in the sky only lighten up. This astronomical space is non-measurable and infinite, similar to the space Rodchenko suggests in this painting. Infinity can also be shown in the form of shapes. Here, Rodchenko uses a circle to insinuate the perfect infinity. I used perfect infinity because of the perfect circle that is drawn within the picture. Even though the picture is black on black, the circle outlining of the circle is defined and can be seen and followed with the naked eye. Through examination one can outline the distinction of the circle and follow it as it begins to spiral. A spiral is known as an optical illusion, but also signifies infinite movement. The spiral has the illusion of being three-dimensional in this picture from the usage of shadowing by Rodchenko. The white shadow insinuates a sense of layering between the colors of black and gold. Three-dimensions, itself implies space beyond the picture.

The spiral in this picture depicts infinity and the idea of continuous movement. There is no pinpoint location for the beginning of the spiral; thus, the end also has no set location. Knowing that we live in a three-dimensional world, spirals are the illusion and aspects of everyday life that intertwines the three dimensional ideas into our world. The spiral is shown as three-dimensional from the usage of the white shadowing around spot of the spiral to create the sense of layering of the spiral. From this the spiral seems to be coming at you from the picture. Also, the black on top of the gold seems as if to be covering up some sort of light. I say this because the color gets darker as the spiral seems to come closer towards you. There are many small blemishes of the gold, which implies a sense of distance. Conversely, there are big segments of black, which implies the black is getting closer and closer as the picture pops out at you.


Through this painting of Non-Objective Painting No. 80, Rodchenko expresses the characteristics of Constructivism with the thought of bringing something two-dimensional to three-dimensions. Forward movement for Russian art starts here and Rodchenko along with the other Constructivist are looking forward to a prosperous future.

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