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Russian Constructivism

Before Constructivism there were many Russian artistic experimental groups including; Cubo-Futurism, Rayonnism, and Suprematism. It was in 1913 the artist Kasimir Malevich invented Suprematism. This was a nonobjective art characterized by symbolic positioning of squares and rectangles framed by negative space. Malevich rejected pictorial representation, instead looking to capture the "expression of feeling…"The artist also believed that to experience art you had to experience color. As Malevich felt with "Suprematist Composition," it was a, "symphonic arrangement of elemental shapes of luminous color on a white field which becomes an expression of pure color."


Russia at this time was in a state of turbulence, WWI and the Russian Revolution had ended by the 1920s. Czar Nicholas II was then assassinated,
with Russia going into a civil war. Amazingly, it was during this period that
Russian art grew and had an international effect on twentieth-century design and typography,

Created by Vladimir Tatlin, Constructivism became an early Soviet youth movement whose aim was to encompass the whole spirit, cognitive and material activiety of a man, In 1921 the Constructivists rejected "art" and
instead became devoted themselves to industrial design, Artists like Tatlin and Rodchenko turned away from sculpture and painting to stove design and graphic design.and photojournalism.


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The Constructivists declared themselves for the revolution. This constructivist ideal was best seen by the painter El Lissitzky, who has had a huge influence on graphic design, After being turned down by a Russian art academy because of his religious belief, Lissitzky instead went to an engineering and architecture school. His use of mathematical and structural properties had an effect on his art. In 1919, Marc Chagall asked Lissitzky to teach art at a school, 250 miles east of the Moscow. It was at this school that Lissitzky met Malevich another teacher, who had a large influence on Lissitzky. As seen in "Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge," Suprematist design elements were transformed into political symbolism ("red Bolshevik against the "white" forces of Kerenski). Lissitzky saw the October 1917 Russian Revolution as a new beginning for mankind.

Lissitzky felt that Communism and social engineering would create a new order and the new technology would provide for society's needs. Lissitzky called himself a constructor rather than an artist or designer, and he worked to bring a unity between art and technology, by constructing new objects for mankind. In his pieces called PROUNS (stood for "projects for the establishment – affirmation – of a new art"), Lissitzky wanted them to be "an interchange station between painting and architecture." And in his children's book "Of Two Squares" Lissitzky tells a fable about the cooperation of a black and red square in dispersing chaos and establishing a new order.

Lissitzky traveled to Berlin in 1921. Postwar Germany became a meeting
place for eastern and western artists and their ideas, here Lissitzky made
contact with de Stijl, the Bauhaus, dadaists, and other constructivists. Germany had excellent printing capabilities enabling Lissitzky to develop his typographic ideas even more quickly. For in Russia, after the First World War there were shortages throughout the nation putting paper, type and ink at a premium. With Lissitzky's energy and willingness to experiment with the mediums; photomontage, printmaking, graphic design, and painting; he became the voice of suprematism and constructivism ideas to Western Europe.


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Lissitzky's time in Berlin allowed him to spread the constructivist message through his frequent visits to the Bauhaus where he wrote articles and lectured. He also participated in some major collaborations. Lissitzky worked with Kurt Schwitters (dada/ merz) on a double issue of the magazine Merz in 1924. Lissitzky also worked with the editors of "Broom," a radical American magazine with topics covering new literature and art in 1922. Lissitzky also worked with the Pelikan Ink Company, doing ads and displays.

Constructivist typography developed its own distinctive look – letters and words were at right angles to each other, they were framed by bold rules and borders printed in one or two primary colors.

Lissitzky also experimented with montage and photomontage.

December 1941, six months after Germany invaded Russia (WWII),
Lissitzky died of tuberculosis. The Swiss typographer Jan Tschichold
wrote, "Lissitzky was one of the great pioneers…His indirect influence
was widespread and enduring…A generation that has never heard of him
…stand upon his shoulders."

The work of fellow Russian, Alexander Rodchenko (1889-1956) also stands out as dynamic, bold, and full of life. From 1910-1914, Rodchenko attended
art school (Kazan) where he became familiar with Russian Futurism. He then moved to Moscow, and in 1916 met the artists; Tatlin, Popova, and
Malevich. After the 1917 Russian Revolution Rodchenko and fellow artists became important leaders in the new experimental art that looked to industry and production as an inspiration.

In 1921, Rodchenko began teaching at the reformed art school in Moscow, where he taught the fundamental principles of design with an emphasis on materials. And by 1923 Rodchenko moved from fine art (painting) to graphic design. The same year Rodchenko began collaboration work with the poet Mayakovsky on posters. Mayakovsky would supply the slogans while Rodchenko developed the visuals. It was with this poster design that Rodchenko developed a style of strong contrasts, blocks of bold color, arrangements with a strong diagnol emphasis, often contrasted with photomontage. Rodchenko also used a heavy, hand-lettered sans serif type that was also bold and concise, and imitated throughout Russia.


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Rodchenko did poster work for the theatre and cinema. He did the design
for a magazine of the creative arts called LEF (1923-25) and later
NOVYI LEF (1927-28) which translates to “Left Front of the Arts”. Rodchenko made important contributions in photomontage and printing
with overprinting and kiss registration.

Rodchenko was also one of the first to work with series graphic design. In a series, common design elements (color, type, arrangement) are used to bring consistency to the whole series – books, posters.

During the 1930s Rodchenko worked on the journal “USSR in Construction,” but during the 1920s the Soviet government’s attitude toward the new/ experimental artists became more hostile, with many artists like Lissitzky defected to the west. Rodchenko remained in Russia but he returned to painting.

The Stenberg Brothers, Vladimir (1899-1982), Georgii (1900-1933)

Studued engineering, designed posters while at school. Became involved in the Constructivists movement as students. From 1922-31, the brothers designed sets and customes for the theater and contributed to the journal LEF (art journal of the left front.)

The Stenbergs practiced in a wide range of media; sculptor, theater design, architecture, clothing, and shoes. But they excelled in their theater costume
and graphic design. Especially in film posters because of the huge interest in movies in Russia and the government’s allowance for graphic design for the cinema.

The innovative aspects of the Stenberg posters include; distortion of perspective, elements of Dada’s photomontage, an exaggerated scale, a sense of movement, and a dynamic use of color and typography. This style and these characteristics were imitated by many.

Stenberg Brothers

These posters are considered radical even today. The body of the brother’s work was completed in a nine-year period, from 1924-1933. In 1933 Georgii was killed when his motorcycle hit a truck. His brother Vladimir continued to work on film posters till about

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