Modernity’s Prometheus Bound
The 2nd Part of the 3rd installment of Brad’s “A Series of Unfortunate Sagittarian Events”
Alexander Rodchenko, “Love and Revolution”, 1922
Photo Montage of the artist with his wife, fellow Avante-Garde artist
A monumental year of vast significance within the history of the country formerly called Russia that now is back to being called Russia once again.
In 1917 Russia, the forces of Change reigned supreme.
Beyond Russia’s borders, military battles raged throughout continental Europe as nearly all of humanity was entrenched in a conflict of global proportions framed within a world war that was the first of its kind.
Within its borders, the year 1917 permanently altered Russian life at large. At that time, the country was an imperial empire governed by a royal family with the surname “Romanov” whose monarchy had ruled over the Russian people since the year 1613.
Despite the Romanov Dynasty living in extreme luxury, at the turn of the century the vast majority of the Russian monarchy’s subjects lived in abject poverty with most of the peasant populace being uneducated and illiterate.
Fed up with the extreme imbalance of power and flaunted wealth displayed by their royal rulers, Emperor Nicholas II and his family, in 1917 Russia’s proletariat, or working classes overthrew the monarchy with Nicholas II being forced to abdicate the throne and a short time thereafter the entire Romanov family being subsequently executed.
This pivotal turning point in Russia’s history is known as The Bolshevik Revolution.
The newly established revolutionary government decreed the imperial empire known as Russia was no more and thus would no longer be named as such. Rather, this new country newly forged by its proletariat would herein be called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR for short.
Although in its infancy, from 1917 to 1932 the Soviet state wholeheartedly embraced its Socialist ideologies with the government encouraging and financially supporting artwork that reflected the revolutionary foundation of its ruling body along with its progressive sense of egalitarianism proposed for its citizens . Thus the artistic movement known as the “Russian Avant-Garde” was born and within this movement the artistic path of a creative genius in his mid-20’s named Alexander Rodchenko first began.
The Astrological Rodchenko
Before delving into this remarkable artist’s breadth of work, some analysis must be given to the natal chart of Alexander Rodchenko:
As with the near entirety of natal charts of those born in the mid to late 19th century that I have previously interpreted, Alexander Rodchenko’s birth time is not known.
To quote myself from my piece about the philosopher Edith Stein who was born just two months before Rodchenko in October of 1891:
“There are those occasions when I have intuited a birth time when one isn’t known and nearly every time I’ve pursued that intuitive method of casting a natal chart it has fit the personality in question quite succinctly.”
In that same piece I also provided a caveat:
“I will clearly state that my astrological interpretation of Edith Stein’s chart is based on an intuitive deduction of a time of birth, not an officially recorded one.”
The same caveat applies with Alexander Rodchenko’s natal chart, although like Edith Stein’s chart, the birth time I have intuited also seems to fit “quite succinctly”.
The Sagittarian Futurist
Part I of this series opens with the discussion of how the concept of the “Future” is subscribed most by two signs of the Zodiac – Aquarius and Sagittarius. When looking at Rodchenko’s astrological “Big Three”, namely his Sun, Moon, and Ascendant or Rising Sign, we see both signs represented with the man being born with his Sun in Sagittarius and his Moon in Aquarius.
The planet which rules over the sign the Horizon was pointed towards at one’s birth is the heavenly body that rules over the entire birth chart overall. Based on your author’s intuitive deduction, Alexander Rodchenko was born with a Leo Ascendant or Leo Rising. The Sun is the planetary ruler of Leo. With that in mind extra emphasis is once again given to the sign of Sagittarius since Rochenko’s chart ruler of the Sun was placed in that sign when he was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on December 5th, 1891.
Added to that, Rodchenko’s Sun is positioned in the 5th House of Creative Self Expression which also is the same House that heavenly body rules over naturally. Astrologically the Sun represents the overall Self, with that said it could be interpreted that Alexander Rodchenko had a powerfully strong need (Chart ruler, Sun) to creatively express himself (5th House, Sun in 5th House) through things that were related to the Future in order to develop his own life philosophies (Sagittarius).
The Aquarian Futurist
Since the Moon astrologically represents one’s emotional self that the outside world doesn’t necessarily see your Author gives an equal level of significance to the House and sign placement of one’s Moon on par with their Sun. Taking that significance a step further, when considering the natal chart of an artist in particular your Author feels the Moon holds the highest level of importance since this is the heavenly body from which an artist cultivates their vision, inspiration, and overall style. In other words, the Moon is the source where one “creates”. With all of that said, it should be no surprise that the man that was one of the central figures in the Russian Avant-Garde who considered himself a Futurist was born with his natal Moon placed in the sign of the Future itself, Aquarius.
Uranus is the planetary ruler of the sign of Aquarius. Each planet rules over a particular sign of the Zodiac but the influences of each planet work best in a sign it does not rule called its “exaltation”. The planet which oversees all things of a futuristic nature as well as anything considered Avant-Garde functions best in or is exalted in the sign of Scorpio. Once again not surprisingly the planet Uranus in Alexander Rodchenko’s birth chart is exalted in the sign of Scorpio in the 4th House of the Soul.
Rodchenko’s Aquarian Moon and exalted Uranus signify the man was born to think, express, and create in ways far ahead of his time. When a person is born with an exalted Uranus, they are said to possess the future seeing gift of foresight. This would indicate that Alexander Rodchenko’s art came from a place where he not only envisioned the future, he could literally see it unfold before his eyes.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Painter
As a teenager Alexander Rodchenko studied formal painting and drawing at the Kazan Art School. It was there he met his future wife, fellow art student and Scorpio, Varvara Stepanova.
In 1915, the two students deemed Kazan as too constrictive and stifling a place for their artistic temperaments and decided to move to Russia’s capital, Moscow. It was there Rodchenko and Stepanova met one of the most formative artists of all of Modern Art, the founder of the “Blue Rider” and later the “Bauhaus” schools in Germany, expressionist painter and fellow Sagittarian, Vassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky was so impressed with the two art students, he gave Rodchenko and Stepanova the keys to one of his Moscow apartments for them to live in as their first official residence together as a couple.
Kandinsky’s key giving to the young Rodchenko is highly significant both literally and symbolically, given the fact both artists would eventually earn positions within the newly established Soviet government. However Kandinsky would soon enough see the disillusioning writing on the wall with the Communist regime and in 1920 moved to Germany never to return to Russia again.
When a teenager first begins to actively pursue their creative path as a young artist, they lack the experience that is necessary to express themselves with a voice that is unique and entirely of their own making. Thus, they will create works in the methods and styles of their mentors and teachers.
This Rodchenko did with Kandinsky.
Trained in formal painting and drawing, Rodchenko’s first works were created in the medium of oil painting and mirrored the style of his friend and mentor, Vassily Kandinsky. Despite these pieces being made in a style that wasn’t entirely original, Rodchenko’s early paintings reflect his Futuristic aesthetic as with the Kandinsky-esque piece entitled “Project No. 9”:
Alexander Rodchenko, “Project No. 9”, 1920
Your author believes the painting’s title is not coincidental given the Sagittarius painter was imitating the style of his Sagittarian mentor and Sagittarius is considered the ninth sign of the Zodiac.
Rodchenko’s Futurist originality did emerge during that time period but through his architectural sketches, such as the following drawing from 1919 which he entered in a competition for a “newspaper kiosk” and subsequently won first prize despite it looking as if was created for the ultra Mod Futuristic flick “Bladerunner” or an episode of “The Jetsons“:
Alexander Rodchenko, “Kiosk”, 1919
Both Kandinsky and Rodchenko would be among the very few artists to hold key positions within the new Soviet government but even before the Bolshevik Revolution took place Rodchenko found himself growing apart from Kandinsky’s aesthetic principles. Where his mentor believed Art was expressionistic and could be considered a source of spirituality in its own right, Rodchenko the atheist theorized that any and all associations with spirituality had to be done away with and that Art must be of use to the general public and therefore should possess some essence of “constructive” purpose.
Thus, the artistic style known as “Constructivism” came into being.
The young adult can at times be insufferable in a cocky, know it all manner, the young artist even more so. The all-knowing attitude of the young Sagittarian artist with an Aquarian Moon however, has no rival by virtue of it taking the form of being an authority figure on all subjects and coming across to others as thoroughly unbearable. During the years which directly followed the Revolution, rather than deferring to the seasoned experience of his mentors or accepting the work of his contemporaries without immediately formulating critical judgement, Rodchenko instead challenged the artistic authorities around him as well as questioned the credibility of his fellow artists. The Sagittarian’s brazen haughtiness would eventually karmicly boomerang back at him.
Alongside Kandinsky, another highly influential artist that inspired the Russian Avant-Garde was the founder of Suprematism, a painter named Kazimir Malevich.
The source of all of Malevich’s paintings was a “black square” over a white background. Malevich called the black square the “algebraic source” that was of a Supremist origin which he believed to be the basis behind every creative artform. In 1918, Malevich exhibited a number of Suprematist paintings housed beneath a series entitled “Black on White”.
Disgusted by Malevich’s sense of spiritualism, Rodchenko set out to mock the Suprematists altogether with his own series entitled “Black on Black” which he had created in 1918 and later placed in a collection of Russian Avant-Garde artists called “5X5=25” in 1921 as seen below:
Alexander Rodchenko, “Black on Black”, 1918
The Sagittarian’s sense of superiority would come full circle to haunt him years later, however. Just as Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler presented his exhibition of “Degenerate Art” in Berlin, Bolshevik dictator Joseph Stalin felt compelled to show off his domineering control over the Russian art world in 1937 when he presented his own copycat faux art expo entitled “Defamatory Art”. Ironically, Rodchenko’s “Black on Black” was put on display in this sham exhibition and can be seen as the painting in the upper right corner in the photo below:
A photo of Joseph Stalin’s 1937 exhibition “Defamatory Art” with Alexander Rodchenko’s painting“Black on Black” displayed in the upper right.
When the Bolshevik Revolution took place, Rodchenko was 26 years old. He had seen first hand the disparities of wealth and property in his hometown of Kazan, along with the fact he was the grandson of a serf (as in the feudal term referring to a land slave from the Middle Ages). For Rodchenko, the Revolution was an event that was a long hoped for but distant dream he never imagined would come to pass. Looking back at that revolutionary time that was 1917 Rodchenko said the following:
“We had visions of a new world, industry, technology, and science. We simultaneously invented and changed the world around us. We authored new notions of beauty and redefined art itself.”
In the years which followed the Russian Revolution, Rodchenko’s idealistic enthusiasm for a Utopian Soviet state exponentially grew hand in hand with a sense of artistic self-entitlement.
In the same 1921 exhibition of the Russian Avant-Garde called “5×5=25” alongside his “Black on Black” painting, Rodchenko also presented 3 portraits which this artist as a young man haughtily made claims over that were as recklessly irresponsible as they were defiantly daring. Believed to be the first monochrome paintings to be officially put on display, Rodchenko announced at the exhibit that the artistic medium of painting had been made a “dead and obsolete bourgeoise artform” and that he had officially killed it with his masterful work. The young Sagittarius then stated henceforth he would be expressing himself creatively only through the medium of photography since the culmination of painting’s essence had been captured with the following:
Alexander Rodchenko, “Triptych: Pure Red, Pure Yellow, Pure Blue”, 1921
To quote the man who believed himself responsible for supposedly putting a final end to the misery that is oil painting as an artform that is still very much in existence:
“I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue, and yellow. I affirmed: it’s all over.”
Like Richard Strauss whose career as one of Classical Music’s greatest composers both began and ended with pieces written solely for woodwind instruments, Alexander Rodchenko’s career as the most versatile artist in the History of Modern Art began in the medium of formal painting and it would be the last artform the creative genius would work with as his life drew to a close in 1956.
But as Part III will show Rodchenko’s artistic brilliance had yet to fully shine in a vast array of artforms yet to be experienced after 1921, most notably in the mediums of Photography, Photo Montage, and Graphic Design.
*Brad Kronen has written a book series which focuses on the life of Alexander Rodchenko as well as fellow Sagittarians Fritz Haber and John Kennedy, Jr. entitled “A Series of Unfortunate Sagittarian Events”. Part II can be purchased at the link below: