MODERNISM AND POST MODERNISM: ALEXANDERD DEINEKA AND JACKSON POLLOCK (EAST MEETS WEST)

Russian Revolution in 1917 ended more than 300 years of tsarist rule. It not only changed life in Russia, but also effectively divided the world into two hostile camps, communist and capitalist, a schism that would dominate much of the history of the 20th century.

Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party, formed a new country, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), commonly called the Soviet Union. Under Soviet rule the government controlled everything. All agricultural land was organized into large collective farms, where everyone worked for the state. Employment, food, housing, and education were made available to everyone, but political and civil rights were severely curtailed.

During the first five years of Soviet rule, Russia was plagued by civil war, famine, invasion, and rebellions by nationalities fighting for independence. In 1924, Lenin died, and a struggle for power raged at the highest levels. Starting in 1927, Josef Stalin initiated the first of the Soviet Union’s five-year plans, which focused on harnessing all economic power to the state. Industrialization proceeded swiftly and peasants were brutally collectivized. Artists were next on his list.

The Soviet state proclaimed that all artists must embrace the Socialist Realist philosophy and style. Its principles included loyalty to the Communist Party and correct ideological stance and content. Those who did not conform could be interrogated, imprisoned, or even executed.

From the start, the new Soviet state enlisted art to serve an educational and instructional function to reinforce cultural values. Communist Party leaders firmly enforced the doctrine that the arts must serve society by educating and inspiring the masses, and artists were instructed to look to art of the past. Works of art had to reveal the spirit of socialism and reflect the Communist Party viewpoint. Its purpose was to further the goals of communism and to glorify the proletariat’s (the working classes) struggle toward socialist progress. This new Soviet art should be optimistic, heroic, and make visible the spirit of socialism for both national and international audiences. Its practice was marked by strict adherence to party doctrine and to conventional techniques of realism.

Under the Soviet regime the ancient religious ideals of Orthodox Russia were shunned and replaced by official atheism. The Communist Party and its leaders supplanted God as the focal point of Soviet life. Socialist Realism became synonymous with the state. Most importantly, it portrayed the Soviet Union’s future as being filled with an unequalled prosperity that would forever shame capitalism and its proponents. Socialist Realism portrayed life only as the Bolsheviks wanted it seen, and in many ways created an idealistic world of fantasy that overlooked massive failures, such as the death and suffering that continued in labour camps throughout the country. The rise of Socialist Realism was rapid and dramatic and would heavily influence artistic life in the Soviet Union through till the 1980s.

Alexander Aleksandrovich Deineka was born in Kursk on May, 8th, 1899, into a railway family. He educated the prime art formation in Kharkov Art College (1915-1917). His youth ( as his many contemporaries), was devoted to revolution events. In 1918 he worked as the photographer in Criminal Investigation Department, managed section of the Art of Regional Educational Department, designed campaign trains, and became involved in the defence of Kursk. In 1919-1920 Deineka was in the army where he managed an art studio in Kursk Political Department and “Windows of ROSTA” in the same town. From the army he was sent on official trips to study in Moscow, at VHUTEMAS, in the polygraphic department where his teachers were V.A. Favorsky and I.I. Nivinsky (1920-1925). His communication with V.A.Favorskiy and meetings with V.V. Maiyakovsky had great importance in his creative formation and forming of disposition during all his years of studies. His creative character was represented in his works on the first exhibition in 1924? Where he participated in the “Group of three” (together A.D. Goncharov and J.I. Pimenov), and on the First Discussion Exhibition of Union Active Revolutionary Art. In 1925 Deineka was one of the founders of Stander’s Society (OST). Then the first Sovetic original monumental historic-revolutionary picture «Defense of Petrograd» (1928) was made by him.

In 1928 Deineka became the member of art association “October”. Deineka was a lecture in the High Art Institute (VHUTEIN) in 1928-1930, in Poligrafic Institute(1928-1934), in the Arts Institute named in honour of V. I. Surikov (1934-1946, 1957-1963), in the Institute of Applied and Decorative Arts (1945-1953, he was a director before 1948), in the Architectural Institute (1953-1959). He was a member of presidium (since 1958), a vice-president (1962-1966), an academician-secretary (1966-1968) of the Decorative Arts Department of the Arts Academy of the USSR. He was awarded with Order of Lenin and Order of the Red Banner of Labour and many medals. He was Hero of Socialist Labour. A. Deineka died in Moscow in June 12, 1969 and was buried on the Novodevichie cemetery.

Deineka’s work, although figurative, is strikingly modernist in style with its large flattened areas of bright colours. Trained not as a painter but as a graphic artist, he also produced popular posters with collectivist themes, glorifying work and the future of the Soviet Union. Deineka’s paintings introduced convincing depictions of the Soviet “New Person” dreamed of by Russian revolutionaries. To meet state-imposed guidelines, the heroes and heroines of Socialist Realist painting were required to be recognizable and appealing to the public and the embodiment of a social thesis. The New Person in the paintings of the 1920s was inevitably healthy, typically smiling, and often engaged in vigorous activity.

Socialist Realism of the 1920s was a highly symbolic visual language filled with both romance and lyrical distortion of reality. Deineka and his colleagues strove to transmit the idea that a new and improved society would be achieved through the application of collectivism and technology. Since medieval times, colour had been used symbolically.

The bright garments of the peasant women and their elegant poses portray them as prosperous and emancipated citizens.

The colour red, inserted into paintings in the form of banners, flags, scarves, and garments, was a symbol of communism and an affiliation with communist ideals. Red also referred to the blood shed by the working class in its struggle against capitalism. White also had several symbolic meanings. Stalin was regularly dressed by painters in white, a symbol of moral purity. The colour also signified heaven.

Russian culture, strongly influenced by the Byzantine Empire, had traditionally curtailed the rights of women. The Bolsheviks viewed this bias against women, along with many other aspects of traditional Russia, as undesirable. Reforms in vocabulary went hand-in-hand with the introduction of new agricultural, industrial, and artistic measures designed to advance the society to a socialist utopia. In an effort to remove gender-biased language, everyone became not a man or a woman, but rather a “comrade.” This change can be seen in the depiction of women. Deineka’s full-blooded and full-bodied women were of crucial significance in establishing the sturdy, woman-type of Socialist Realism.

After the difficult years of World War II (1941–45), Americans settled into what they hoped would be a long lasting peace. Unfortunately, this was not to be.

In 1950, just five years after the war’s end, the United States found itself involved in another shooting war. This one was in Korea. The U.S. military forces were under the supervision of the United Nations and were pitted against the Communist North Koreans and Chinese. In 1953, an armistice (truce) was signed, with no side designated as victor.

The United States also became locked in a cold war (a war of opposing ideologies) with the Soviet Union during the decade.

While no guns were fired, the threat of a confrontation leading to all-out nuclear war remained ever present throughout the decade.

This fear was demonstrated in many ways. For one thing, a “Red Scare” swept the country, during which people suspected strangers and neighbours alike of being “subversives,” or supporters of communist principles and ideals.

At a very public level, this was seen in what became known as the age of McCarthyism. At the start of the decade, Joseph McCarthy, the junior senator from Wisconsin, earned headlines by accusing certain Americans of being communist sympathizers, or Communist Party members. Many of McCarthy’s targets were U.S. government employees. Entertainers and other public figures were also suspects. For a time, McCarthy was one of the most powerful and feared men in the country, as he played on the anxieties of Americans regarding the communist threat and inspired others to join him in his campaign to uncover communist sympathizers in every walk of American life. By mid-decade, however, he had been discredited.

Two significant espionage cases dominated the headlines, both of which involved the alleged passing of secrets to the Soviet Union. One focused on Alger Hiss, a former U.S. State Department official. Hiss was accused of stealing government documents, which ended up in the hands of the Soviets. He was convicted of perjury and did time in jail, but maintained his innocence for the rest of his life. The other notorious case centered on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a married couple charged with passing atomic secrets to the Soviets. Both were tried and found guilty of espionage. In 1953, they were executed.

In the 1950s, American artists became known for their new vision, called Abstract Expressionism.

Jackson Pollock

Abstract Expressionism was never an ideal label for the movement which grew up in New York in the 1950s. It was somehow meant to encompass not only the work of painters who filled their canvases with fields of colour and abstract forms, but also those who attacked their canvases with a vigorous gestural expressionism. Yet Abstract Expressionism has become the most accepted term for a group of artists who did hold much in common. All were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes, and most were shaped by the legacy of Surrealism, a movement that they translated into a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma. In their success, the New York painters robbed Paris of its mantle as leader of modern art, and set the stage for America’s post-war dominance of the international art world.

I believe most of the artists associated with Abstract Expressionism were influenced by the era’s leftist politics, and came to value an art grounded in personal experience. Few would maintain their earlier radical political views, but many continued to adopt the posture of outspoken avant-gardists protesting from the margins.

Having matured as artists at a time when America suffered economically and felt culturally isolated and provincial, the Abstract Expressionists were later welcomed as the first authentically American avant-garde. Their art was championed for being emphatically American in spirit – monumental in scale, romantic in mood, and expressive of a rugged individual freedom.

I believe Abstract Expressionists were profoundly influenced by the style and by its focus on the unconscious. It encouraged their interest in myth and archetypal symbols and it shaped their understanding of painting itself as a struggle between self-expression and the chaos of the unconscious.

Number One, 1950 (Lavender Mist) embodies the artistic breakthrough Pollock reached in 1950. It was painted in an old barn-turned-studio next to a small house on the East End of Long Island, where Pollock lived and worked from 1945 on. The property led directly to Accabonac Creek, where eelgrass marshes and gorgeous, watery light were a source of inspiration for him.

Pollock’s method was based on his earlier experiments with dripping and splattering paint on ceramic, glass, and canvas on an easel.  Now, he laid a large canvas on the floor of his studio barn, nearly covering the space. Using house paint, he dripped, poured, and flung pigment from loaded brushes and sticks while walking around it. He said that this was his way of being “in” his work, acting as a medium in the creative process. For Pollock, who admired the sand painting of the American Indians, summoning webs of colour to his canvases and making them balanced, complete, and lyrical, was almost an act of ritual. Like an ancient cave painter, he “signed” Lavender Mist in the upper left corner and at the top of the canvas with his handprints.

Though the work contains no lavender, the webs of black, white, russet, orange, silver, and stone blue industrial paints in Lavender Mist radiate a mauve glow that inspired Greenberg, Pollock’s stalwart champion, to suggest the descriptive title, which Pollock accepted. Pollock’s canvases from this decisive phase of his career are considered to have transformed the experience of looking “at” a work of art into one of being immersed, upright, in its fullness. His mastery of chance, intuition, and control brought abstract expressionism to a new level.

Jackson Pollock spent his formative years in Wyoming (he was born in Cody) and California. By the time he was 14 years old he had made an “art gallery” in a chicken coop on the family’s property. Eager to succeed in the art world, he moved to New York City when he was 18. There, he studied under the realist painter Thomas Hart Benton and visited museums—particularly the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. He worked in various directions, inspired by Pablo Picasso, the Mexican muralists, surrealists including Joan Miró, Native American pictographic art, and old masters Michelangelo, Peter Paul Rubens, and El Greco—while he mastered the powers of line, marking, and abstracted form. Bouts of depression and drinking, however, made New York City a dangerous and tempting environment for him.

In 1945 Pollock and his wife, artist Lee Krasner, moved to East Hampton on the far end of Long Island, whose light, air, and exquisite coastal geography had drawn a number of artists. There, Pollock had his breakthrough with the all-over abstract canvases that electrified the art world. Many of these works twist and sing with the rhythms of the grasses and light on the Far East End, freeing painting from its figurative tasks.

Perennially short on money, Pollock had come to rely on bartering art for groceries at the nearby general store (still operating to this day). In August 1956, on one of his drives along the slim, winding roads that lace the East End, a drunken Pollock smashed into a tree, killing him and a female passenger. By then he seemed to have lost the energy and focus he had brought to his signature works, but they left no question about his contribution to modernism by shifting artistic practice to focus on the relationships of painting to the body (the artist) and the world (the observer).

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