Russian artist Aleksandr Rodchenko (also spelled as Alexander Rodchenko) was a leader in many avant-garde movements during a time of great change for his motherland. Known especially for the Constructivism and Productivism movements, he has made contributions to painting, photography and, most notably, what became known as modern graphic design. His works were as radical as his causes, but his dedication has also helped art flourish across Russia. To know more about this prolific designer, here are the following facts.
1. His entire career and body of work is marked by revolution.
- Rodchenko became one of the most recognized figures during the Bolshevik Revolution, combining art with politics to contribute to communist propaganda.
- His poster “Books” became an icon of the Soviet Union and its art scene. It includes his photograph of Lilya Brik which has inspired many subsequent works.
2. Rodchenko challenged traditional art, as well as older avant-garde artists.
- In response to his rival Kazimir Malevich’s “White on White” painting, Rodchenko created a series of “Black on Black” abstract paintings.
- He spearheaded the rise of “industrial art” over traditional painting, influencing the practice and instruction of art, as well as its theories.
3. Rodchenko was excellent in fine arts, but abandoned painting.
- As a Constructivist, he worked with a compass and ruler to avoid creating brushstrokes. He saw painting as outdated and associated it with capitalist agenda.
- As a farewell, Rodchenko created “The End of Painting”, three canvases painted in solid colors to represent the art form’s logical conclusion: a dead end.
4. Rodchenko valued the functionality of design over the aesthetic of art.
- Eschewing the visual purpose of traditional art, he wanted to create unique commodities to serve Soviet society. He proposed that artists can be engineers.
- As a Productivist, he worked to include artistic forms in daily life. He designed utilitarian furniture such as a flippable chessboard and a row of reading chairs.
5. Rodchenko fell out of favor under Stalin’s government.
- The avant-garde movement was suppressed and official art was replaced by Social Realism. Authorities condemned Rodchenko’s art as “formalist”.
- He and his wife were fortunate to escape Stalin’s Great Purges, wherein many prominent individuals from the Bolshevik Revolution were executed.
6. He spent his last years dedicated to photography.
- By documenting Stalin’s regime, Rodchenko explored a medium which was highly valued in a country where 70% of the population couldn’t read or write.
- He was praised by critics for taking photographs from oblique and extreme angles. He took pictures of structures diagonally and people “from the bottom up”.
With conviction and innovation, Aleksandr Rodchenko produced some of the most striking and memorable images which continue to inspire contemporary graphic designers. His creations are true examples of how art can thrive in and shape a fast-changing world.