Agitation textiles: forgotten masterpieces of Soviet design
Agitation textiles: forgotten masterpieces of Soviet design
Campaign chintz by artist R.E. Vasilyeva

Textiles with tractors, hammer and sickle, factory chimneys … would we now wear clothes made from such fabrics? And in the first decades of the Soviet Union, this is how artists imagined the ideal appearance of Soviet people - in shirts and dresses dotted with the slogans "Five-Year Plan in Four Years" and decorated with images of marching crowds.

Agittextile is an unusual phenomenon in the Soviet industry of the 1920s and 1930s, an object of study and collectible. These are fabrics that reflect the political and social life of Soviet Russia - socialism, the triumph of technology and technology, the development of agriculture, construction projects, sports and rallies. Printed campaign fabrics were produced by the printing method at the Ivanovo textile factory. It did not last long, and after that it was condemned and forgotten for many years.

P.G. Leonov. Chintz

After the revolution, the artists, inspired by the idea of ​​creating a new Soviet man, free from bourgeois life and village prejudices, wondered what this new man should look like. They believed that new clothes, new types of clothes, would allow this transformation to take place faster. A person, as it were, put on his new personality - and he had new, previously unfamiliar, thoughts and feelings that would make it possible to quickly create a socialist society. At first, the idea arose of a complete rejection of the ornamentation of fabrics, but it did not find support. Public figures of that time assumed that household items could become a means of political propaganda. Let slogans, appeals, images of a socialist future appear on fabrics, posters, dishes - this is how a Soviet person will understand what he should strive for. Osip Brik believed that classical painting is a relic of the past, and real Soviet artists should go into production: "The artistic culture of the future is created in factories and plants, not attic workshops."

A.G. Golubev. Chintz

In his article "From painting to calico," he wrote that industrial art is an advanced path for the development of artistic creativity, the true goal of artists. The workers of revolutionary art despised the "senseless" floral ornament, considered it harmful and even dangerous. Leah Raitser, the organizer of the Moscow textile section, called for a "war with flowers" and the creation of ornamental puzzles using slogans and abbreviations. In the 1920s, members of the AHRR in textile factories destroyed more than 24 thousand sketches of floral designs for fabrics.

Lyubov Popova created ornaments without flowers and birds

After the upheavals that befell the country in those years, production was in decline and simply could not provide young artists with the means to realize their revolutionary aspirations. However, two avant-garde artists, Varvara Stepanova and Lyubov Popova, managed to translate their ideas into production. For two years of work at the Ivanovo textile factory, they created several thousand sketches, and about fifty still went into production. They took inspiration from non-figurative painting and created geometric ornaments, pure forms without flowers and birds.

Varvara Stepanova and Lyubov Popova

Strictly speaking, they were invited to the factory as "creative designers" who create ideas, but they demanded to familiarize them with the production in order to understand how they should work. The factory was demanding cost savings, and both artists began to work in a limited range of colors, using two or three colors.

Lyubov Popova's chintz looks like an abstract painting

The works of Popova and Stepanova are very similar - after all, they are created from geometric shapes. However, each artist had her own artistic style. Varvara Stepanova loved complex optical effects, layering of colors, in her sketches and fabrics there is a sense of flight, dynamics, play. She works freely with composition, intertwining, layering, distorting shapes. One of the heroines of the film "A Cigarette Girl from Mosselprom" wears a dress made of fabric with Stepanova's ornaments, but the image on the screen is rather strange.

Chintz Varvara Stepanova Chintz Varvara Stepanova

Lyubov Popova preferred orthogonal forms, her sketches are similar to drawings, the fabric seems to be lined up into figures evenly filled with color. It is as if it is not a fabric, but architectural structures - balanced, clear, structured, usually circles, stripes, right angles. Fabric with this pattern looks stiff.

Chintz Lyubov Popova

By the mid-1920s, the ideas of the Constructivists became obsolete, and by the 1930s, their art was already considered ideologically alien. in addition, the constructivists communicated with employees and alumni of BAUHAUZ, and Germany quickly ceased to be a friendly country). The country exists in conditions of industrialization, and socialist realism is developing in art - the joy of work, technology, agriculture.

Textiles dedicated to electrification

Industrial motives are intensified in textiles. Sheaves and tractors, marching crowds, electrification, smoking factories, and steam locomotives opposed to horses and camels are replacing minimalistic and abstract ornaments.

O.P. Grün. Chintz

The artist V. Maslov creates a calico drawing with scenes of agricultural work among large garlands of fruits and leaves, shadows are worked out, everything looks volumetric and realistic - this is how the transition to a new, more picturesque propaganda textile was marked.

V. Maslov's textiles

Along with the pictorial ornaments, the already mentioned patterns with numbers, abbreviations and symbols developed. Several artists create ornaments on the theme of "five years in four years", where numbers 5 and 4 were intertwined, or devote their works to memorable dates in the history of the USSR.

O.V. Theological. Chintz Chintz

However, the agitation textile itself was subjected to harsh criticism in the 1930s. In 1931, art critic A.A. Fedorov-Davydov wrote venomously that the artists "did not go anywhere beyond simply replacing the rose with a tractor." A couple of years later, G. Ryskin's feuilleton appeared in the Pravda newspaper. He ridiculed agitation textiles and expressed an opinion that was strictly opposite to the ideas of Osip Brik - "there is no need to turn a Soviet person into a mobile picture gallery."

K. Schuko. Chintz

After the crisis caused by the Second World War, textile factories returned to traditional patterns, and propaganda textiles with tractors and marching masses are now kept in museums (for example, in the Chintz Museum in Ivanovo) and private collections.

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