Saturday, October 6, 2012

Alexander Rodchenko (Алекса́ндр Миха́йлович Ро́дченко) (1891-1956)

Not knowing it at the time, my first encounter with Alexander Rodchenko's work (or variation of it) was Franz Ferdinand's album cover for You Could Have It So Much Better. I've always been intrigued with the design of the cover - the contrast of the bright color blocking with the grainy, black and white photograph of a woman.

Seven years later, as I browsed through Lilly library for my Drawing 199 assignment, I came across the same design - except this time it was the real thing.

Rodchenko's work definitely caught my eye. His use of color blocking in his graphic designs reminded me of the revival of loud pairing of different colors in the fashion industry today. His style is extremely intriguing, and way different than the realistic and detailed art that I am used to. 

Alexander Rodchenko, Dance, an Objectless Composition, 1915

Alexander Rodchenko was a Russian artist, sculptor and photographer. He is regarded as one of the founders of constructivism and Russian design. Even though Rodchenko is best known for his graphic design and photography, he also worked with paint and ink. 
In 1891, Rodchenko was born in St. Petersburg. He moved to Kazan after the death of his father in 1909. A year later, he decided to become an artist. With no previous experience of the art world, Rodchenko found early inspiration through browsing art magazines. In 1910, he began to delve into the world of art under Nikolai Feshin and Georgii Medvedev at the Kazan School of Art (this is also where he met his wife, Varvara Stepnova, another influential Russian artist). After graduating from the Kazan School of Art, Rodchenko attended the Stroganov Institute in Moscow to study graphic design. 

In 1916, Rodchenko began apprenticeship under Vladimir Tatlin, another influential figure in his art career. 

Alexander Rodchenko, Non-Objective Composition, 1917-18    
  Alexander Rodchenko, Architectural Construction, 1919-20
Rodchenko's early work was heavily influenced by the Suprematism (the focus on basic geometric forms and painted with a limited range of colors; based on "the supremacy of pure artistic feeling" rather than visual depiction of objects) of Kazimir Malevich, cubism, and futurism. He made great use of a compass and ruler in the creation of his paintings, with the goal of eliminating "unnecessary" expressive brushwork. 

Alexander Rodchenko, Grand Linear Composition in Black and White
Rodchenko emphasized the objectivity of art. He made his art impersonal and basic. He regarded color, tone, texture, and surface were merely decorations. Flipping through his paintings, I observed that his artwork is extremely influenced by spatial constructions with simple geometric shapes and the use of monochrome, a key characteristic found in Suprematism. 

Rodchenko's work defines the avant-garde movement at the time. His career bordered between modern art and radical politics. As time went on and as revolution took of the stage of Russian politics, Rodchenko abandoned art to be more involved in the political realm. He began to work with graphic design and photography for advertisements in the late 1920s and 1930s.

Alexander Rodchenko, Portrait of Artist's Mother, 1924
Towards the end of his painting career in the 1920s, Rodchenko demonstrated his revolutionary views through his entries in the Moscow exhibition titled 5x5=25. He contributed five works - two titled Line and Cell, plus three monochrome canvases dated 1921: Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, and Pure Blue Color. He later commented on his pieces:

"I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue and yellow. I affirmed: it's all over. Basic colors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no representation."

  Alexander Rodchenko, Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color, 1921   

Rodchenko's comments portray his belief that the goal in his art career was to investigate the logical end to the art of painting. His views towards painting parallel the political views of Russia at the time. In order to embark on new forms, one must put to death the old ones. 


"ART TERMS." N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2012. <>.

Dabrowski, Magdalena, Leah Dickerman, Peter Galassi, A. N. Lavrentʹev, and V. A. Rodchenko. Aleksandr Rodchenko. New York, N. Y.: Museum of Modern Art, 1998. Print.

Karginov, German, and Aleksandr Mikhaĭlovich Rodchenko. Rodchenko. London: Thames and Hudson, 1979. Print.

" | Interactives | Exhibitions | 1998 | Aleksandr Rodchenko." | Interactives | Exhibitions | 1998 | Aleksandr Rodchenko. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2012. <>.

"The Art - Your Guide to Modern Art." Alexander Rodchenko Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2012. <>.

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