Olga Vladimirovna Rozanova (1886 - 1918)
Olga Vladimirovna Rozanova was born in 1886 in Melenki, a small town near Vladimir. Unlike Lyubov' Popova and many other avant-garde artists, she did not travel to Italy or France to get inspired by the most recent developments in Western painting. Therefore, her overall progress as an avant-garde artist is even more remarkable. She began her art education in 1904, attending art studios of K. Bolshakov and K. Yuon in Moscow and studying for a short time at the Stroganov School of Applied Art. After moving to St. Petersburg, she went to private school of E.N. Zvantseva and in 1911 became one of the most active members of the Union of Youth, an organization that organized and sponsored art exhibitions, public lectures and discussions.
From 1911 to 1915, Rozanova experimented with Neo-Primitivism, Cubo-Futurism. Her early works show greater influence of the Italian Futurism than the French Cubism. Rozanova's paintings of this period consist of strong straight lines, frequently combined with triangular and circular shapes. The straight lines and triangles are pointing in various directions; their angles are often turned towards the center of the picture. This combination makes the composition strong and dramatic. The triangles are made of slashing lines that invade the picture from the sides, trying to reach the center.
In 1912, Rozanova started a close friendship with the outstanding Russian Futurist poets Velimir Khlebnikov and Alexei Kruchenykh. They were writing "transrational" (zaumnaia) poetry to create a new universal poetic language based on the destruction of traditional grammar and the meanings of the words, the use of the neologisms, assonances, and illogical combinations of words and sounds. Rozanova became one of the first artists of the Russian avant-garde associated with the Futurist movement. In 1913, she started to design and illustrate books by her Futurist friends. This led to the creation of her own transrational poems, published in 1917 (in Kruchenykh's collection, Valos) and in 1919, posthumously, in the 4th issue of the journal Iskusstvo. Among many booklets Rozanova illustrated were A Forestly Rapid (Bukh lesinnyi), Explodity (Vzorval'), Let's Grumble (Vozropshchem), A Duck's Nest of Bad Words (Utinoe gnezdyshko durnykh slov) (all in 1913), Te li le (1914), Transrational Pook (Zaumnaia gniga), War (Voina), and Universal War (Vselenskaia voina) (all in 1916). Te li le "represents Rozanova's attempt to interlace verbal and pictorial elements. By using her own handwriting for the text, Rozanova not only fused the words with the design, but she also presented the text in a manner intended to convey mood and emotion" (The Avant-garde in Russia, 242). The Universal War is illustrated with twelve abstract collages. The collages consist of brightly colored polygonal shapes, arranged in geometric patterns. The irregular jagged shapes recall those in Rozanova's earlier abstract compositions. "The search for new connections between the word and the pictorial image became one of the most important impulses of her development" (Israel Museum).
In 1916 Rozanova married Kruchenykh and the same year she joined the "Supremus" group, headed by Malevich. Perhaps influenced by Malevich's suprematist experiments, Rozanova created some abstract compositions which further developed the dynamic element of her earlier works. They show flat, polygonal regions in bright colors. However, Rozanova's "suprematist" style differed from Malevich's -- it was not only more decorative, but it was not based on the philosophical, mystical ideas (after Sarabianov). In Varvara Stepanova's words, "Malevich constructed his works on the [basis of--A.B.] composition of the square while Rozanova constructed hers on the basis of color" (Yablonskaia, 83).
In 1917-18, Rozanova created a number of non-objective color compositions, which she called "colorpainting" (cvetopis'). These compositions were a completely new stage in the development of the Russian avant-garde art; unfortunately, after Rozanova's death, they did not find any continuators in Russia. Only after the WW II, similar color experiments appeared in the American color-field paintings of the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in the works of Barnett Newman. A good example of this type of painting is Rozanova's most famous oil, Untitled (Green Stripe), which features a rough cream-colored canvas surface cut by broad perpendicular green stripe.
After the revolution, Rozanova, thanks to her early ties to the Stroganov School, devoted her energies to the organization of industrial art in the country. She was involved with IZO Narkompros (Arts Department of the People's Commisariat of Education) and the Proletcult. Through personal persuasion and by travelling to various locations, she organized Free Art Studios (Svomas) in several provincial cities.
Before she died, Rozanova drew up a plan to reorganize the museum of industrial art in Moscow. Her efforts to combine art and industrial production were soon continued and expanded by the Constructivists. When she was diagnosed ill, she was actually engaged in putting up banners and slogans for the anniversary celebration of the October Revolution. Olga Rozanova died of diphtheria a week before this event. A few weeks later, she had a posthumous exhibition, which included 250 paintings, ranging in style from Impressionism through Neo-primitivism, Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism.
Although Rozanova died young, she was able to experiment widely and reach non-objectivity following her own, individual path. In the meantime, she created many remarkable paintings. Among the best known are Still Life with Scrolls (1911), The Harbor [Port] (1912), Still Life: Vase (1912), The Pub (1913), Portrait of a Woman in a Green Dress (1913), The City (1913), Writing Desk (1914), Geography (1914-15), Workbox (1915), The Metronome (1915), Non-Objective Composition (1916), Suprematism (1916), Color Composition (1917), and Untitled (Green Stripe) (1917-1918). Equally remarkable is a series of painting of playing cards, later used as one-tone illustrations for Transrational Pook: the boldly-colored Simultaneous Representation of a King of Hearts and a King of Diamonds, The Queen of Spades, The King of Clubs, and The Jack of Hearts(all 191