Friday, 26 November 2010

Illarion Pleshchinsky (1892 - 1963): linocuts

The old art college in Kazan (renamed ARKHUMAS, that is Architecture and Art Works, after the Revolution) had become a centre for the avant garde by the time this small book of linocuts was published in 1920. The sugar paper front cover was designed by Illarion Nikolaevich who was a member of the graphics collective Vsadnik. This was active only between 1920 and 1924. As you can see the paper is pretty crude and the image and lettering combines modernism and directness in the exhilirating way of Russian artists of the time. (The Russian means '1st Rider', which was also the name of the exhibition).

The following year his work was included, alongside Kandinsky and Rodchenko, in the 3rd touring exhibition organised by the museums service. In the same year he made these linocut illustrations for the children's story 'The ram and the goat'. Again, I don't think these were exactly printed on japan. Each cut is tipped onto the page and the pages themselves were stapled together. But the images are far from simplisitic. Bold, modern, with a feeling for texture and form, they would have been in marked contrast to the ornate folklore art deco of Ivan Bilibin who was publishing at the same time. What early Soviet children knew about revolutionary graphics is hard to know but this image is some way from easy-reading. The flowing landscape is distinctive. As in all good picture books, stuff happens: trees guard, ponds glow, rocks watch but it's done with vigour. It isn't at all sentimental.

You can see from the cover just how cheap the production was. I would also guess this copy was bought more for parents than children. Only 500 copies were printed and it is now very rare.

I like the defining, rather doom-laden yellow behind the trees and the eccentric horns. He has taken time to express the texture of the animals' coats. The two friends are defined as the fates stand over them. You can in fact read the basic story image by image. There isn't any need for text.

The greens change to this uncanny, oriental turquoise for the image below as the wolves brew up the archetypal pot of energy. Only one real colour here, with dramatic use of white space. Please note the lack of red for fire. Pleshchinsky also had a career as a teacher of art.

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