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Alexander Rodchenko Photo

Alexander Rodchenko

Russian Designer, Painter, Photographer, and Sculptor

Born: December 5, 1891 - St. Petersburg, Russia
Died: December 3, 1956 - Moscow, Russia
"We had visions of a new world, industry, technology and science. We simultaneously invented and changed the world around us. We authored new notions of beauty and redefined art itself."
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Alexander Rodchenko Signature
"In order to educate man to a new longing, everyday familiar objects must be shown to him with totally unexpected perspectives and in unexpected situations. New objects should be depicted from different sides in order to provide a complete impression of the object."
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Alexander Rodchenko Signature
"The art of the future will not be cozy decorations for domestic apartments"
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Alexander Rodchenko Signature
"I am convinced that representation would never be back the way it was and that non-representation will die out in its own turn, paving the way for something entirely new, the beginning of which I am feeling right now."
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Alexander Rodchenko Signature
"One has to take several different shots of a subject, from different points of view and in different situations, as if one examined it in the round rather than looked through the same keyhole again and again."
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Alexander Rodchenko Signature
"I want to take some quite incredible photographs that have never been taken before... pictures which are simple and complex at the same time, which will amaze and overwhelm people ... I must achieve this so that photography can begin to be considered a form of art."
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Alexander Rodchenko Signature

Summary of Alexander Rodchenko

Alexander Rodchenko is perhaps the most important avant-garde artist to have put his art in the service of political revolution. In this regard, his career is a model of the clash between modern art and radical politics. He emerged as a fairly conventional painter, but his encounters with Russian Futurists propelled him to become an influential founder of the Constructivist movement. And his commitment to the Russian Revolution subsequently encouraged him to abandon first painting and then fine art in its entirety, and to instead put his skills in the service of industry and the state, designing everything from advertisements to book covers. His life's work was a ceaseless experiment with an extraordinary array of media, from painting and sculpture to graphic design and photography. Later in his career, however, the increasingly repressive policies targeted against modern artists in Russia led him to return to painting.


  • Rodchenko's art and thought moved extremely rapidly in the 1910s. He began as an aesthete, inspired by Art Nouveau artists such as Aubrey Beardsley. He later became a Futurist. He digested the work of Vladimir Tatlin, and the Suprematism of Kazimir Malevich. By the decade's end he was pioneering Constructivism. This experimental inquiry into the elements of pictorial and sculptural art produced purely abstract artworks that separate out the components of each image - line, form, space, color, surface, texture, and the work's physical support. Constructivism encouraged a new focus on the tangible and material aspects of art, and its experimental spirit was encouraged by a belief that art had to match the revolutionary transformations then taking place in Russian politics and society.
  • Rodchenko's commitment to the values of the Revolution encouraged him to abandon painting in 1921. He embraced a more functional view of art and of the artist, and he began collaborating with the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky on a series of advertising campaigns. Their work not only introduced modern design into Russian advertising, but it attempted to sell the values of the Revolution along with the products being promoted. This particular union of modern design, politics, and commerce has occasionally inspired advertisers in the West since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Photography was important to Rodchenko in the 1920s in his attempt to find new media more appropriate to his goal of serving the revolution. He first viewed it as a source of preexisting imagery, using it in montages of pictures and text, but later he began to take pictures himself and evolved an aesthetic of unconventional angles, abruptly cropped compositions, and stark contrasts of light and shadow. His work in both photomontage and photography ultimately made an important contribution to European photography in the 1920s.

Biography of Alexander Rodchenko

Alexander Rodchenko Photo

Alexander Rodchenko was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to a working class family. His father, Mikhail Rodchenko, was a theater props manager and his mother, Olga, a washerwoman. The family's social status did not provide much opportunity for the artistic education of talented Alexander. It is still unclear what training (if any) Rodchenko might have acquired as a child. The family moved to the city of Kazan in 1905. Two years later, Mikhail passed away, but they were able to allocate some of the family's scarce funds for Alexander's education.

Important Art by Alexander Rodchenko

Progression of Art

Dance. An Objectless Composition

Rodchenko attended a lecture by Russian Futurists Wassily Kamensky, David Burliuk, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, in Kazan in 1912, and was immediately converted. He abandoned the Art Nouveau styling of some of his earlier work and began to fragment his forms to create dynamic compositions. Dance is perhaps his most Futurist painting, and it clearly resembles works by Italian Futurists such as Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini. However, Rodchenko soon grew disinterested in the style and, following this, he began to create even more abstract pictures, putting aside entirely the last suggestions of illusion that Dance creates.

Oil on canvas - The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow


Non-Objective Painting No 80 (Black on Black)

Rodchenko was powerfully influenced by Kazimir Malevich's Suprematism, and particularly by works such as Black Square (1915), which reduced the components of the painting to a single black square that echoed the shape of the canvas. However, Rodchenko rejected the older man's spiritualism and strove instead to emphasize the material qualities of painting, in particular surface and texture (or "faktura" as the Russians called it). Non-Objective Painting No 80 is typical of this phase in his career and is part of a series of similar "Black on Black" paintings, which were exhibited alongside five white paintings by Malevich in Moscow in 1919. The exhibition was important in catapulting Rodchenko into the forefront of Russia's avant-garde.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Construction No. 127 (Two Circles)

By 1920, Rodchenko no longer felt obliged to imbue his basic geometric figures with distinguishable layers of color. In this composition, two perfectly drawn circles intersect. The white circles on black canvas form a powerful juxtaposition liberating the line from any recognizable connotations. This balanced and precise geometric composition underlines Rodchenko's preoccupation with engineering and design that he maintained throughout his career. Rodchenko arrived at compositions such as these by progressively stripping away all that he considered unnecessary in the field of painting; after reducing color to black and emphasizing surface texture, he seized on line as the most important and elemental component of the medium. This development may have been influenced by Wassily Kandinsky's ideas, since the two artists were closely associated, though while Kandinsky stressed the expressive possibilities of line, Rodchenko emphasized its possibilities as a tool of construction.

Oil on canvas - The Pushkin Museum, Moscow


Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color

Here Rodchenko reinterprets the iconic art form of the Western tradition - the triptych - which was traditionally reserved for the representation of religious scenes. The piece reflects Rodchenko's interest in Malevich throughout these years, but instead of pursuing Malevich's spiritualism, he stressed the physical, material properties of painting - in this case, color. Rodchenko regarded these pictures as his final statement on painting, famously writing, "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." These monochrome experiments have been a crucial example for later generations of abstract artists, particularly Minimalists.

Oil on canvas - Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova Archive, Moscow


Maquette for the Advertisement of the Red October Bisquittes

When Rodchenko abandoned painting in 1921, he also abandoned many of the traditional attitudes of the artist as a commentator on society and began instead to put his talents in the service of the Russian industry and the nascent revolution. This is an early example of his work for Russian industry, advertising Red October confectionary. Rigid geometry defines the composition through the juxtaposition of horizontal and vertical lines. The letters themselves are stylized. Both whimsical and visually arresting, Rodchenko's designs were an important influence on such key artistic laboratories as the Bauhaus in the Weimar Republic.

Gouache on paper - The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Books (The Advertisement Poster for the Lengiz Publishing House)

This poster arguably brought Rodchenko the most fame and appreciation from his patrons in the Soviet government. The composition is typical of his use of photomontage in the period (the combination of photography and text). And it also reflects the ways in which he updated Russian advertising, using geometric compositions and strident colors to trumpet modernity. While his designs are directed at promoting individual companies or products, they also - often explicitly - endorse the goals of political revolution.

Photomontage and Gouache on Paper - Private Collection


The Staircase

This is one of Rodchenko's finest photographs. Often credited with devising the key principles of modern photography, Rodchenko is praised for his use of unusual angles and perspective. Here, he juxtaposes the motif of a woman with a child against the stern geometry of the man-made environment. The position of the camera at a peculiar angle provides for an innovative, yet carefully balanced and flowing composition. Compositions such as this were an important influence on New Vision, the modernist photography movement that gripped Europe in the 1920s and '30s.

Gelatin-silver print - Private Collection

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Alexander Rodchenko
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Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Alexander Rodchenko Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Aug 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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