Aleksandr Deyneka (Alexander Deineka), most famous for his work as a Soviet realist painter, aids us in viewing Soviet culture as it changes dramatically from the October Revolution to the onset of World War II. Deyneka is a prominent figure head in the “art to the masses” movement in the 1920s, he creates mosaics for the new Moscow Metro in 1938, and paints realism that is meant to reflect a socialist utopia. Deyneka is the intersection of art and ideology, and how these two concepts change and evolve over time.
Before his acclaimed realist paintings, Deyneka devoted his talents to the Red Army, at the age of 20 he traveled the country creating propaganda posters.(Prominent Russians: Aleksander Deyneka 1) Years following the revolution in 1925, Deyneka continued to pursue his artistic passion by co-founding OST, a Soviet art organization that wanted to define the purpose of art in Soviet society, and answer the long running debate, should the proletariat be elevated to bourgeois culture or rather should everyone be “reduced” to the masses? The artist organization released this statement. “At the age of building of Socialism, active artistic forces must be a part of this building and one of the factors of cultural revolution in the areas of reformation and design of the new life, and the creation of new, socialist culture.” (Russian Avant-Garde Gallery 1) Deyneka believed that not only was this realist art still withholding to revolutionary principles, but also that it was integral in shaping a socialist society, a utopia, that he would create in his art work.
This painting, released in 1935 titled “Collective Farmer on a Bicycle” is a projection of Soviet collectivism. It, quite literally, paints an idealist perspective of a collective farmer taking a leisurely ride through the recently expropriated farms. This shows Deyneka’s devotion to soviet principles as well as a focus on the new socialist utopia Deyneka and his comrades hoped to construct in art and reality.
This is a major shift for Deyneka, just two decades earlier his paintings were largely abstract scenes of forests or self portraits (seen below) I note this to express the point that many artists in all fields felt the cultural revolution that began to take root during the 1920s and 1930s to be a time to “make bourgeois aesthetics the basis of proletarian culture,” (Freeze 338)
Deyneka continued on this trajectory of Socialist realism in his artwork. Depicting men and women (often nude) performing various daily tasks, From outdoor activities, to a casual evening of lounging.
In 1935 Deyneska completed mosaics for the Moscow Metro (seen below) which in itself was a symbol of soviet future idealism. The Mosaics highlight utopian life as well as focus on other “pop culture” phenomenons including the cult of aviation.
This idea of a Soviet Socialist utopia was prominent throughout the 1920s and 30s as young Soviets sought to bring the proletariat crashing through to form a new, ideal country. “Bolshevik rule had given rise to widespread sentiment for realizing the promise of the proletarian revolution more rapidly,” (Freeze 340) This sentiment set the stage for a cultural revolution under Joseph Stalin that would transcend all levels of society and fields of culture, politics, and economies.
Deyneka continued to paint, primarily his brand of Soviet Realism, well into the century, until his death in 1969, and continued to exemplify a socialist utopia that included work, leisure, and most importantly bourgeois aesthetics for the masses. While these paintings may not be regarded as radical or revolutionary, it does symbolize a goal that Soviets at the time were working to achieve, a full proletariat revolution, and a new socialist country.
I fist stumbled across Deyneka’s work several months ago when a Twitter account titled @Soviet Visuals posted his 1941 painting titled “After the Battle” (seen below) The Soviet Visuals Twitter account is a wonderful visual source for soviet era art, literature and cinematography.
All visuals were sourced from The Athenaeum, a gallery dedicated to the accessibility of art.
“Prominent Russians: Aleksandr Deyneka.” Aleksandr Deyneka – Russiapedia Art Prominent Russians. Accessed March 17, 2018. https://russiapedia.rt.com/prominent-russians/art/aleksandr-deyneka/.
“OST – The Society of Easel Painters – Obschestvo Stankovistov – ОСТ – Общество Станковистов.” OST : Russian Avant-garde Gallery. Accessed March 17, 2018. http://www.russianavantgard.com/ost-c-15.html.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.