Bio: Aleksandr Rodchenko, a.k.a “Anti”

“We were for the new world, the world of industry, technology and science. We were for the new man, we sensed him but could not quite imagine him…We were inventors and re-fashioned the world in our own way…we created a new understanding of beauty and we extended the boundaries of art. We made posters, wrote slogans, decorated city buildings and squares. We even create a simple and precise lettering for demonstrations, a typeface which is still used…We made new and necessary objects,w which are now accepted. But at that time…they cursed us, cursed us because we were newspapermen, typographers, photographers, textile workers and designers.”

Rodchenko was a pioneer in the arts and design realm during a period of time where Russia experienced turmoil politically and socially. He knew that he needed to be on the forefront of reinventing how Russia defined art at the time. He didn’t want to just reinvent it however. He wanted to craft it entirely new. It needed to be from the ground up. Art had to have a purpose. It needed to reach the masses. Art could not be for art’s sake any longer. It had to carry weight and it had to carry a message. He constantly challenged how people perceived art whether it was in regards to the subject in general or in response to his personal work.

His wife referred to him as “Anti” instead of his real name in diary entries.

This is the man who created the painting, “Black on Black”, in response to the famous Malevich’s piece, “White on White”. He did a whole series of paintings where he would layer black paint again and again to study the differences in tone, texture, shadow, etc. He explored the arts from vastly contrasting angles as his views shifted throughout his lifetime. Although he started out fascinated by the beliefs and motives of Futurism, he went on to be a founder of the Constructivist movement.

Rodchenko is remembered for having boldly declared the “End of Painting” in 1921 by painting three canvases separate blocks of color — red, blue and yellow.

“I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue, and yellow. I affirmed: it’s all over.”[5]

He wanted to see the end of easel painting. He wanted art to detach from this idea that only the bourgeois class could appreciate it. Rodchenko strived to integrate art into every day life for the general population. He found that design was the answer to several of the problems that frustrated him. He turned to graphic design, making posters and such, which he believed was the most effective medium in delivering messages about the government or current conditions around the cities surrounding politics.

However, he never had the full freedom to explore as he liked due to the state of Russia at the time.

During the 19th century, there was intense turmoil going on throughout Western Europe which created an atmosphere for social and political tension. An intelligentsia of dissidents banded together to fight for Western beliefs, freedom and social justice. At the turn of the century, with much pressure coming from social tensions, industrialization brought about the opportunity for people to come together and form a political underground. Russian artists were exchanging information and ideas going into the 20th century with contacts in Europe. Kandinsky for example, greatly impacted how culture and art developed externally. Russian artists were very interested in the inventions coming out of the West. Rodchenko had just moved to Moscow at the right time as people were beginning to feel strong passions for the arts.

He attended the Kazan Art School in 1910 where he met his wife, Stepanova and had the chance to study under the teachings of Nicolai Fechin and Georgii Medvedev. He continued his studies then at the Stroganov Institute, making abstract artwork in response to the Suprematism of Kazimir Malevich. In 1921, Rodchenko joined the Productivist group fighting for the main goal which was to integrate art into every day life, for everyone to enjoy. Additionally, he was appointed Director of the Museum Bureau and Purchasing Fund by the Bolshevik Government just a year earlier. Later on, he was named as the secretary of the Moscow Artists’ Union and ended up as the founder of the Institute of Artistic Culture.

At this point, he put his talents in painting on hold and started to become more serious about designing posters and shooting photography. In terms of photography, around the 1930s he was focusing on capturing the essence of mostly sports or any activity that involved choreography. Rodchenko had a particular style this photography — always making sure that it was socially engaging and most importantly “opposed to a painterly aesthetic”. He would purposely compose images to make the viewer think twice about what they were seeing exactly.

Being a member of the October circle was short-lived as he was only part of the group for three years. He was eventually asked to leave after complaints that his artwork was giving into formalism. After this, his art process somewhat starts working backwards. He spends most of the 1930s painting, stops photography completely in 1942, and then worked on abstract drawings and such into the 1940s. By 1921, he had decided that he wanted to really explore more deeply into their ideas and vision. They wanted him to give up all of his time during the week to help design and prototype objects. Throughout the mid-1920s into the early 1930s, Rodchenko produced work as the house artist for Lef and Novyi Lef. Lef was a group konwn as the Left Front of the Arts, started by Mayakovsky. They worked to help turn Marx’s social ideas into a reality. In the mid-1930s, he began to pick up painting again even though he was the one who famously said in 1921 that painting was over.

By the time the Civil War ended in 1921, people were feeling miserable as the economy had crashed terribly. The following year was when Lenin became gravely ill, opening up the chance to protest and change allowing for more artistic freedom.

“His diaries suggest that he never understood the forces that drove him from the prominence he had enjoyed in the decade after 1917, and eventually rendered him, as he put it, “an invisible man”.

Rodchenko was heavily influenced by Cubism and Futurism and Malevich’s Suprematist compositions. He collaborated with and admired Dziga Vertov for his work in film. He had a similar relationship with Tatlin who he was an apprentice under for a period of time. In terms of client work, Rodchenko made a line of various products for Dobrolet, the state airline company. He made everything from advertisements to posters. For other clients he crafted bookmarks, made photo-montages and more.

Rodchenko eventually turned to painting again towards the end of his career as mentioned above. He and his wife used painting as a medium to express their feelings of abandonment. The Cultural Revolution had discredited them and other leftists for their work, causing them to feel immensely isolated and outcasted.

Rodchenko has made such a lasting impact in the realm of graphic design. Any time you come across a piece of clothing from Obey or Supreme know that this designer was the mastermind behind that. His style can be seen today within the works of Shepard Fairey and Barbara Kruger with the dedicated color palette use of red, black and cream. Those colors still stand strong today as the Constructivist palette Rodchenko shaped.