stalin poster of the week 3: chronicle of the arrests, exiles and escapes of comrade stalin, 1938

Unknown artist, Chronicle of the arrests, exiles and escapes of Comrade Stalin (хроника арестов, ссылок и побегов товарища сталина), 1938

Unknown artist, Chronicle of the arrests, exiles and escapes of Comrade Stalin (хроника арестов, ссылок и побегов товарища сталина), 1938

Stalin poster of the week is a weekly excursion into the fascinating world of propaganda posters of Iosif Stalin, leader of the USSR from 1929 until his death in 1953.

Here, Anita Pisch will showcase some of the most interesting Stalin posters, based on extensive research in the archives of the Russian State Library, and analyse what makes these images such successful propaganda.

Anita’s new, fully illustrated book, The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 -1953, published by ANU Press, is available for free download here, and can also be purchased in hard copy from ANU Press.

This curious poster documents in fine detail Stalin’s arrests, exiles and escapes from exile between 1902 and 1917. Published in 1938 on cheap paper, there are few publishing details printed on the poster, and it is unclear exactly where, and how widely, this poster was published.

The poster features a black-and-white portrait of Stalin in three-quarter view. In 1938, Stalin was 60 years old, although officially, his 60th birthday was celebrated in 1939. He shows a few grey hairs on his head and in his moustache, and a few lines around the eyes.

Stalin looks to the viewer’s left – the left signifies the past. Thus, Stalin is a seasoned Old Bolshevik, looking back over his past glories. The text details, in documentary fashion, all of the major events in Stalin’s revolutionary career, demonstrating that Stalin was a vital and integral part of the 1917 Revolution and the long series of events leading up to it.

Arrests by the tsarist authorities, exiles and escapes were rites of passage for the members of the revolutionary underground, and this poster presents Stalin’s revolutionary credentials. The visual similarities to newsprint are not accidental. The viewer is being offered this information as documentary proof.

The year 1938 was significant because the intense purges or ‘Great Terror‘ were in full swing in that year. Following the murder of Sergei Kirov in 1934, the Party leadership claimed to have uncovered a massive conspiracy to assassinate the Party leadership and undermine socialist progress.

Their investigations were far-reaching and their own leadership in the Central Committee was purged, the armed forces were purged, the Party was purged, and then approximately 20 million ordinary Russians were sent to the gulag.

Stalin’s exemplary revolutionary credentials and self-sacrificial exploits placed him in stark contrast to the traitors and enemies of the people who were placed on trial, denounced, and often either exiled or executed. Party leaders and other major figures were tried publicly in show trials in which many of them signed confessions which were patently absurd.

One of the primary effects of the purges of the late 1930s was to strengthen the identification of citizens with Stalin, and to increase hostility towards enemies.

Stalin scholar Roy Medvedev* quotes ‘V.K.’, an Old Bolshevik, to illustrate the point that, although many did not believe in the guilt of all those accused during the show trials, some still supported the Terror on principle:

Of course I never imagined that Bukharin and Trotsky were Gestapo agents or that they wanted to kill Lenin; moreover, it was clear to me Stalin never believed it either. But I considered the trials of 1937–38 to be a far-sighted political tactic, and thought that Stalin had done the right thing in resolving to discredit all forms of opposition once and for all in such grim fashion. … Most “ordinary people” could not even see the difference between Left and Right … Therefore all deviationists, all types of sceptics had to be portrayed as scoundrels so repulsive that others would recoil in horror; they would become total outcasts, hated and cursed by the people … In prison I became an even more obstinate Stalinist than before …

Portrait of Stalin looking left

Detail of Chronicle of the arrests, exiles and escapes of Comrade Stalin, 1938

*On Stalin and Stalinism, Ellen de Kadt (trans.), Oxford University Press, 1979, pp. 107–08.

 

stalin poster of the week 2: gustav klutsis, under the banner of lenin for socialist construction, 1930

Gustav Klutsis (Густав Клуцис), Raise higher the banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin, andGustav Klutsis (Густав Клуцис), Under the banner of Lenin for socialist construction (под знаменем ЛЕНИНА за Социалистическое Строительство), 1930

Gustav Klutsis (Густав Клуцис), Under the banner of Lenin for socialist construction (под знаменем ЛЕНИНА за Социалистическое Строительство), 1930

Stalin poster of the week is a weekly excursion into the fascinating world of propaganda posters of Iosif Stalin, leader of the USSR from 1929 until his death in 1953.

Here, Anita Pisch will showcase some of the most interesting Stalin posters, based on extensive research in the archives of the Russian State Library, and analyse what makes these images such successful propaganda.

Anita’s new, fully illustrated book, The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 -1953, published by ANU Press, is available for free download here, and can also be purchased in hard copy from ANU Press.

This  well-known poster of 1930 by Gustav Klutsis shows Stalin’s head as only half visible and literally in Lenin’s shadow.

The heads of the two leaders dwarf the diagonally arranged scenes of construction in the black and white of newsprint. The strong diagonals and vivid reds suggest movement and determination. Lenin is seen as at the forefront of the movement towards construction and industrial expansion.

Appearing behind, but literally merged with Lenin, the overt message is that Stalin, the disciple of the great master, is about to become the new ‘Lenin of today’.

Klutsis became a prominent graphic artist under Stalin and was successful in securing many commissions for posters during the early to mid-1930s. He was fully committed to the goals of the regime. In his autobiography, Klutsis summed up his role as an artist of the revolution:

My task was to make the revolutionary struggle of the working class and Soviet reality the contents of my creative output, converting it into artistic imaged comprehensible to the masses […] Before me was the challenge to transform the poster, the book, the illustration, the postcard into mass conductors of Party slogans.

Klutsis had a strong personal allegiance to Lenin and had been a member of the Latvian riflemen which formed Lenin’s personal bodyguard during the days of the October Revolution. It was this Latvian affiliation that would apparently lead to his arrest and execution in 1938 under Stalin.

One could speculate that by placing Stalin so deeply in Lenin’s shadow, Klutsis was making a veiled criticism of the leadership of Stalin, and asserting the unique qualities of Lenin as Bolshevik leader.

Weight is given to this interpretation by Margarita Tupitsyn*, who argues that the claims made in propaganda for Stalin on his 50th birthday in December 1929, that he  was “the Great Leader – the organizer of the October Revolution, the creator of the Red Army, and distinguished military commander … leader of the world proletariat, and the great strategist of the Five-Year Plan” would have ‘infringed on Klutsis’ consciousness’.

It is interesting that, at some time between 21 September 1930 and 31 August 1931, Klutsis was expelled from the Bolshevik Party, accused of not paying member’s dues for five months, of distancing himself from the Party’s work, and of exhibiting ‘political illiteracy’. After repenting his mistakes, Klutsis was immediately reinstated.

Gustav Klutsis in 1915

Gustav Klutsis in 1915. Image in public domain

However, with Under the banner of Lenin for socialist construction, Klutsis was also dramatising the moment of the transfer of power from Lenin to Stalin, and doing so in the visual language of mythology.

Natalia Skradol** notes that the transfer of special characteristics from one great man to his successor can only be accomplished when there is a moment of physical contact between the two, allegorised as a smooth continuation of an intimate co-existence with each man being an extension of the other, punctuated by death.

Physical contact is indispensable for the ‘sacred royal unction ritual’. By merging Lenin and Stalin into one conjoined face, Klutsis employs mythic symbolism to denote the transfer of power and conferring of legitimacy from Lenin to Stalin.


* See Margarita Tupitsyn. Gustav Klutsis and Valentina Kulagina: photography and montage after constructivism. New York, International Center of Photography, 2004, p. 61.

**See Natalia Skradol, ‘Remembering Stalin: mythopoetic elements in memories of the Soviet dictator’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 2009, 10:1, pp. 19–41, p. 34.

 

David Hockney: Current at the NGV

David Hockney self-portrait on ipad

David Hockney (English 1937– ) Self Portrait, 21 March 2012 (1223) iPad drawing Collection of the artist © David Hockney

One of the words being bandied about rather loosely at the media preview of the David Hockney exhibition at the NGV last Thursday was ‘innovative’. This seemed to be in relation to the fact that, for the past seven years, Hockney has been drawing/painting on his iphone and ipad, in addition to working in the more traditional mediums of oil and acrylic painting.

I believe that Hockney is a great innovator. His investigations, with physicist Charles M. Falco, into the use of the camera obscura in art practice have expanded the discourse and our way of viewing the history of Western art since the Renaissance period.

In his book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters (2001), Hockney makes the case, supported through his own experimental artwork, that Old Masters, such as Caravaggio, Velázquez and da Vinci used optical tools in the creation of their realist masterpieces, and that devices such as the camera obscura, camera lucida and curved mirrors are at least partially responsible for advances in realism and visual accuracy in the 16th century. The Hockney-Falco thesis has ignited significant debate among artists, art historians and historians.

BBC David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge 1of2 DivX MP3 MVGForum, uploaded by Taylordiabennet on 23.11.2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKbFZIpNK10

Hockney also has a well-documented and lengthy history of engaging with technology in his practice, and was at the forefront of the British pop art movement in the 1960s.

However, I don’t necessarily agree that just because he is engaging with current technology, he is being innovative.

  • I am not an innovator when I doodle on my free software on my Android tablet.
  • My twelve-year-old niece is not innovative when she draws on her mother’s ipad.
  • Hockney is not automatically innovative because he is 79 years old and uses an ipad.

To say otherwise is condescending and smacks of the ageism embedded in our culture.

 

David Hockney English 1937– Self Portrait, 25 March 2012, No. 3 (1236) iPad drawing Collection of the artist © David Hockney

David Hockney (English 1937– ) Self Portrait, 25 March 2012, No. 3 (1236) iPad drawing Collection of the artist © David Hockney

 

I am not for one second claiming an equivalence of results between my doodles, my niece’s drawings, and Hockney’s artworks.

Many of Hockney’s ipad drawings are visually stunning, especially when blown up to a couple of metres in height, and bring the landscapes of the Yosemite National Park in California, and the Woldgate Woods in East Yorkshire to life with both subtlety and exuberance.

The quality of the mark making is also peculiar to the digital drawing medium, and does not mimic or have pretensions to the pencil or paintbrush. Hockney elevates the features of this discrete artform to a glorious new level.

 

David Hockney English 1937– The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven), 19 May 2011 iPad drawings (looped) Hockney Pictures © David Hockney

David Hockney (English 1937– ) The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven), 19 May 2011 iPad drawings (looped) Hockney Pictures © David Hockney

 

When Hockney discovered the ‘playback’ feature on his Mac, he added a further dimension to his landscapes by recording the process of creation of the ipad drawings, from blank screen to completion.

This animation has both curiosity value – so that’s how he does it! – and also has the effect of making his landscapes grow and blossom over time. Rain falls, puddles form, vegetation grows, light changes. These transformations in space and through time are pivotal themes in Hockney’s work, both past and current.

For Hockney, one of the major challenges for the artist is how to translate lived experience into the two dimensions offered by the page or canvas. He believes that painting is not about the static viewpoint and the frozen moment in time (the realm of the photograph). When it is successful, a painting conveys both the passage of time, and a sense of movement around and through the landscape.

 

David Hockney English 1937– Yosemite I, October 16th 2011 (1059) iPad drawing Collection of the artist © David Hockney

David Hockney (English 1937– ) Yosemite I, October 16th 2011 (1059) iPad drawing Collection of the artist © David Hockney

 

This does not only apply to Hockney’s landscapes. Hockney’s series of ipad self-portraits explore a series of moments and changing moods and activities, and suggest the wider narrative of the artist’s daily life.

Hockney’s iphone drawings – he began drawing on the iphone in 2009 and moved to the ipad in 2010 – are crude but interesting. They work best when viewed on the iphones themselves, and are not served well by being blown up and printed on paper.

 

David Hockney English 1937– Untitled, 655 2011 iPad drawing Collection of the artist © David Hockney

David Hockney (English 1937– ) Untitled, 655 2011 iPad drawing Collection of the artist © David Hockney

 

If I have one reservation about Hockney’s Current exhibition, it is that there are too many digital images, several of which are just memos, messages, greeting cards and handwritten emails to friends. Despite claims that the younger generation of digital natives can deal with such visual overload, I doubt that even ‘they’ can properly view 1200 images in a sitting.

Overall, entering the exhibition was a pleasant and uplifting experience, leaving behind the doom and gloom of ranting political talking heads, for a colourful and vibrant world of warmth, exuberance and human values.

David Hockney: Current is on show at the NGV from 11 November 2016 to 13 March 2017.

You can read my review of the show for The Conversation here

stalin poster of the week 1: iraklii toidze, 1947 – stalin’s kindness illuminates the future of our children!

Stalin holds a toddler aloft in the manner of the soul of the Virgin in icons of the Dormition

Iraklii Toidze (ираклии тоидзе) Stalin’s kindness illuminates the future of our children!(озаряет сталинская ласка будущее нашей детворы!) 1947 61 x 43 cm Russian State Library, Moscow

 

Stalin poster of the week is a weekly excursion into the fascinating world of propaganda posters of Iosif Stalin, leader of the USSR from 1929 until his death in 1953.

Here, Anita Pisch will showcase some of the most interesting Stalin posters, based on extensive research in the archives of the Russian State Library, and analyse what makes these images such successful propaganda.

Anita’s new, fully illustrated book, The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 -1953, published by ANU Press, is available for free download here, and can also be purchased in hard copy from ANU Press.

This 1947 poster by Georgian-born artist Iraklii Toidze combines the themes of childhood, victory in the Great Patriotic War (Second World War), and the bright Communist future in one powerful image in which Stalin is visually compared to Christ.

Stalin is depicted in the uniform of Marshal of the Soviet Union, holding a toddler aloft. At first glance, Stalin’s kindness illuminates the future of our children!  appears to step back to the Stalin iconography of the mid-1930s, in which Stalin was surrounded by happy and affectionate children, all thanking him for their happy childhoods.

But the contact here is not fatherly, intimate or affectionate.

Stalin holds the child away from his body, at arm’s length, his hands placed in the same manner as those of Christ in icons of the Dormition of the Virgin, the child in the position of the soul of the Virgin which is held by Christ.

Icon of the dormition of the Virgin by Theophan the Greek, 1392

Icon of the Dormition by Theophan the Greek, 1392. The Theotokos is depicted lying on a bier, surrounded by the Twelve Apostles. At centre, Jesus Christ is shown in a mandorla, swaddling the soul of the Virgin Mary (a red seraph is shown above his head). To either side of him are depicted the Hieromartyrs Dionysius the Areopagite and Ignatius the God-Bearer who, according to tradition, are responsible for transmitting the account of the dormition. Image in the public domain

 

The feast of the Dormition commemorates the ‘falling asleep’ (natural death) of the Virgin, her salvation by Christ, and her acceptance into paradise.

Unlike the ‘happy children’ of the 1930s, the little blond Russian boy does not look at Stalin, but off to the right. He holds a bunch of flowers and a little red flag over his head, sacred symbol of the revolution and blood sacrifice, protection and intercession.

Detail of Dormition icon by Theophan the Greek, 1392

Detail of Dormition icon by Theophan the Greek, 1392

 

The boy wears white, as does the soul of the Virgin in Dormition icons. Stalin stands in the position of Christ in the icon. In the icon, the Virgin’s soul is held by Christ who conveys it to an angel who carries it to Heaven.

By showing Stalin in his Marshal’s uniform, reference is made to his role as Russia’s saviour in The Great Patriotic War. Russia has endured much pain, bloodshed and sacrifice.

However, from this sacrifice, the pure Russian soul has emerged, was placed into the hands of Stalin and thus conveyed through the passage of worldly suffering to the waiting gates of paradise.

In a socialist reading, this paradise exists here on earth – it is the long-promised land of the Communist utopia. The text of the poster associates Stalin with light and makes it clear that it is Stalin’s care and kindness which has enabled the Russian people to survive the war and emerge into the Communist paradise.