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(1891 – 1956), Russia

Alexander Rodchenko Biography

Russian Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko shaped the discourse of 20th-century political art, merging formal innovations in abstraction and photography with a revolutionary agenda.

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Early Years

Rodchenko was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. He studied drawing and painting at the Kazan School of Fine Arts from 1910 to 1914, before moving to Moscow to study architecture at the Stroganov School of Industrial Art. He met fellow artist Varvara Stepanova at Kazan—the two would marry, and collaborated on many projects throughout their lifetimes.

Alexander Rodchenko Artworks

A pioneering artist of the Russian avantgarde, Alexander Rodchenko revolutionised Russian art and design by founding the Constructivist movement with fellow artist Vladimir Tatlin.

The End of Painting

Before abandoning painting in favour of photography and photomontage, Rodchenko would produce works that had a lasting impact on art and design. Working in abstract painting and sculpture, Rodchenko and the Constructivists made works that reduced art to its most essential forms.

His 'Black on Black' series in 1918 responded to Kazimir Malevich's 'White on White' paintings from the same year, with arcing black forms in subtle tonal variations bringing attention to the painting's material surface. This grounding in material objecthood reflected Rodchenko's political beliefs, a systematic logic that was mirrored socially in the Communist agenda.

In 1921, Rodchenko made three coloured squares—Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, and Pure Blue Color. With these monochromatic paintings, Rodchenko declared the end of painting, claiming that he had 'reduced painting to its logical conclusion ... it's all over. Basic colors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no more representation.' After this denouncement, Rodchenko reasserted his ideological beliefs and began integrating art into everyday life through graphic design.

Political Posters

Works produced after 1921 embody Rodchenko's appeal to the masses, with poster and advertising design utilised in service of the Soviet propaganda machine. Rodchenko's designs were largely montages of works and images, composed in simple colours with clear visual messaging.

Books (Please)! In All Branches of Knowledge (1924) demonstrates Rodchenko's alignment with Productivism, an early 20th-century art movement that aimed to develop art accessible to the proletariat. The poster design features Lilya Brik, a fellow Constructivist associate, shouting the titular message in bold mechanical forms. She is addressing her comrades, calling for them to become educated by the state media agency that commissioned the advertisement, the Leningrad Department of Gosizdat (State Publishing House). Rodchenko would go on to design many advertising elements for post-war propaganda campaigns. These included a series of posters for Lenin's New Economic Policy in 1923, which extolled the benefits of labouring for the government.


Rodchenko would also experiment widely with photographic processes, especially photomontage. He designed the book and accompanying photomontages for poet Vladimir Mayakovsky's Pro eto (About This) (1923) and the duo would become prolific in the field of advertising. Rodchenko's photography practice aimed to record Soviet industrialisation, which saw the artist hired as a photojournalist for some of the Soviet Union's most famous publications, including Ogonyek, Tridsta' Dnei, and Ekran Rabochei Gazety.

In his photographic series 'The Building on Myasnitskaya Street' (1925), Rodchenko photographed his apartment building from various unexpected viewpoints. He believed that this method would reveal the underlying structures of the world and stimulate social awareness. His experimental photographic practice would continue in service of the Soviet Union, but in his later years Rodchenko fell out of favour with party officials and spent the last two decades of his life in the margins of Soviet culture.


Alexander Rodchenko's works are collected internationally, with works held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago, amongst others.

Peter Derksen | Ocula | 2022

Alexander Rodchenko
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Ohne Titel (Untitled) by Alexander Rodchenko contemporary artwork works on paper
Alexander Rodchenko Ohne Titel (Untitled), 1918 2 goauches on paper
30 x 20.7 cm
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