Tag Archives: Russia

A Compressed City of Time in Light | The City in Art

Wassily Kandinsky’s Moscow I (1916), oil on canvas, 49.5 x 51.5 cm, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

A Compressed City of Time in Light | The City in Art
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Wassily Kandinsky painted Moscow I in 1916 after he was forced to return to Russia in 1914 because of Germany’s declaration of war against Russia during World War I. The year 1915 was a period of profound depression and self-doubt during which he tried to build a new life at age 50 after living almost two decades in Munich, Germany. He did not paint a single picture. In 1916, Kandinsky painted Moscow I. He wrote, “I would love to paint a large landscape of Moscow taking elements from everywhere and combining them into a single picture weak and strong parts, mixing everything together in the same way as the world is mixed of different elements. It must be like an orchestra” (Becks-Malorny, Wassily Kandinsky, 1866–1944, 115). Moscow I contains some of the same romantic fairy-tale qualities of his earlier paintings, fused with dramatic forms and colors. “The sun dissolves the whole of Moscow into a single spot, which, like a wild tuba, sets all one’s soul vibrating” (Kandinsky, “Reminiscences,” 360).

At first glance, Kandinsky’s Moscow I appears to be a simple collage of landmarks, freed of the constraints of gravity and space, represented in a highly abstract manner by the artist. However, upon closer examination, there appears to be a logic to the almost spherical layout of objects composing the Moscow built environment (for example, the Kremlin is clearly represented towards the lower right). Using Kandisky’s own words about this painting as a guide (see above), we can hypothesize Kandisky placed these objects within the frame of the painting in relation to the time of day when each achieves its apex in terms of natural light and vibrant color, hence the almost spherical layout and luxurious richness of the hues. The spherical layout seems to mirror the path of the sun across the sky, or perhaps the daylight hours on the face of a clock. In this sense, Kandinsky’s Moscow I is a notional ‘clock of the city’, representing for us the optimal passage of time to see the collected objects of the city as shown in the painting. If true, then it is a clever means to elevate the painting beyond mere collage, above the mere randomness of collected objects that are compressed and freed of space. It also embeds his representation of Moscow with a kinetic energy that metaphorically accounts for the activity of urban life itself, the city as more than a mere collection of things but as a thing that, in itself, is alive.

About Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky (born December 16, 1866, died December 13, 1944) was a Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with painting the first purely abstract works. With the possible exception of Marc Chagall (who was born/educated in Russia but adopted France as his home in adulthood to the point of being considered a “Russian-French” artist), Kandinsky is probably the most influential Russian artist in human history. Born in Moscow, Kandinsky spent his childhood in Odessa but later enrolled at the University of Moscow to study law and economics. Successful in his profession, he was offered a professorship (Chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat where he began painting studies (life-drawing, sketching, and anatomy) at the age of 30. In 1896 Kandinsky settled in Munich, studying first at Anton Ažbe’s private school and then at the Academy of Fine Arts. He returned to Moscow in 1914 after the outbreak of World War I. Kandinsky was unsympathetic to the official theories on art in Communist Moscow and returned to Germany in 1921. There, he taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture from 1922 until the Nazis closed it in 1933. Like Chagall, he then moved to France where he lived for the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939, and producing some of his most prominent pieces of art. He died at Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1944. Unlike Chagall, Kandinsky never attained the status of being (in part) a French artist but has always been considered a definitive Russian one (Source: Wikipedia).

The City in Art is a series by The Outlaw Urbanist. The purpose is to present and discuss artistic depictions of the city that can help us, as professionals, learn to better see the city in ways that are invisible to others. Before the 20th century, most artistic representations of the city broadly fell into, more or less, three categories: literalism, pastoral romanticism, and impressionism, or some variation thereof. Generally, these artistic representations of the city lack a certain amount of substantive interest for the modern world. The City in Art series places particular emphasis on art and photography from the dawn of the 20th century to the present day.

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Urban Patterns | Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia

“Come and keep your comrade warm,
I’m back in the U.S.S.R.
Hey you don’t know how lucky you are boys,
Back in the U.S.S.R.”
Back in the U.S.S.R., The Beatles

Urban Patterns | Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

NOTE: Urban Patterns is going to focus on more obscure and/or extreme locations in a number of posts over the next few weeks.

Satellite view from 3,000 km showing the location of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia north of Japan (Source: Google Earth).

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is located on the Avacha Bay along the Pacific Coast of Russia on the Kamchatka Peninsula to the northeast of Japan. The city and peninsula are located several hundred miles to the west of an extent of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean (see above). The Mariana Trench is where the Pacific plate dives under the Asian plate on the Earth. Because of this, several hundred miles to the west are a series of volcanoes generated by plate tectonics, the most famous of which is probably Mount Fuji outside of Tokyo, Japan. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky has a population of more than 178,000 (the overwhelming majority of which are ethnic Russians and Ukrainians), which serves as the cultural and administrative center of the Kamchatka Krai (a krai is an administrative division of the Russian Empire). In fact, more people live in the city than in the entirety of the peninsula. However, the city’s population has declined by almost 100,000 people over the last 20 years. Russia’s (and the former Soviet Union) largest submarine base is located on Avacha Bay across from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The city was founded by Danish navigator Vitus Bering in the service of the Russian Navy in 1740.

Satellite view from 15 km of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia (Source: Google Earth 2013).

He named the new settlement “Petropavlovsk” (Peter and Paul) after his two ships, the St. Peter and the St. Paul. In addition to serving as an administrative center and providing infrastructure support for the Russian Navy, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky’s main commercial industry is fishing, salmon and crab meat in particular. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is characterized by a subarctic climate and about three-and-a-half times more snow falls in this area compared to Siberia though, due to its location, temperatures are much milder year-round. Due to plate tectonics, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is surrounded by high hill and volcanoes; see the header image of Petropavlovsk and Koryaksky Volcano, as seen from Avacha Bay (Source: Wikipedia).

Because of this, the urban grid in the city is characterized by two attributes: first, a large extent of roads throughout the city and along the coast curving in relation to elevation changes in the area, as seen in other hilly cities around the world, which Moholy-Nagy referred to as a “geomorphic” pattern; and second, the deformation of a series of small-scale regular grids to optimize the buildable area on the flatter terrain, particularly inland to the northeast of the original town. The oldest part of the city is located directly on the bay, east of the smaller peninsula extended and made somewhat more ‘regular’ in shape by the intervention of man over the previous 250 years, i.e. at the lower center of the above image.

(Updated: July 2, 2017)

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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The Kinetic City | The City in Art

Olga Rozanova’s City (1916).

The Kinetic City | The City in Art
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Olga Rozanova has been labeled a Futurist, a Cubo-Futurist, and Suprematist (focused on geometric forms and a limited range of colors, see Piet Mondrian’s Neo-Plasticism), all of which places her in the middle of the early 20th century Russian Avant Garde Movement. The number of works she completed is impressive both in terms of the quality, many of her abstracts are intricately beautiful, and quantity, given her untimely death at such a young age (see this Pinterest page). However, the quality and quantity of her work ultimately – and sadly – indicates her unfulfilled promise as an artist. Because of this, her contemporaries have largely overshadowed Rozanova.

Olga Rozanova’s City (1916) is a wonderful abstract painting, which takes the city as its subject. Her city is all kinetic energy, the canvas almost ‘alive’ with movement. Her painting builds on the Cubist tendency to compress time and space into a single glance at a subject, which conveys a plenitude of information to the viewer. This, in itself, builds on the earlier Impressionist technique, which included movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience in the painting. However, in the case of Cubism, it is not the movement of human perception that depicted in the painting but rather the movement and energy inherent in the subject itself across time and space, which is both compressed and captured in the representation. Olga Rozanova’s City is a brilliant look at all that is inherent in the city: people, buildings, movement, transportation, streets, setting, and light. The city she depicts is not an inanimate object but an animate organism worthy of our attention. I love this painting.

One of the few photographs of the Russian artist, Olga Rozanova.

About Olga Rozanova
Olga Rozanova (1886-1918) was born in 1886 in Malenki, Vladimir province in Russia. She trained at the Bolshakov Art School and the Stroganov School of Applied Art in Moscow. In 1911, she moved to St. Petersburg where she became an active member of the Union of Youth Group, exhibiting with them regularly from 1911 to 1914. She also attended the Zvantseva School of Art from 1912 to 1913. In 1912, Rozanova began illustrating books of Futurist poetry written by her husband, Aleksey Kruchonykh. She also wrote trans-rational Futurist verse (sound poetry), experimented with Cubism and Futurism in painting, produced abstract constructions, and created Suprematist embroidery and textile designs. By 1917, she had developed a completely individual abstract style of painting. After the Revolution in 1917, she supervised the reorganization of craft workshops in provincial towns. She died in Moscow on November 8, 1918, due to diphtheria at 32 years of age.

The City in Art is a series by The Outlaw Urbanist. The purpose is to present and discuss artistic depictions of the city that can help us, as professionals, learn to better see the city in ways that are invisible to others. Before the 20th century, most artistic representations of the city broadly fell into, more or less, three categories: literalism, pastoral romanticism, and impressionism, or some variation thereof. Generally, these artistic representations of the city lack a certain amount of substantive interest for the modern world. The City in Art series places particular emphasis on art and photography from the dawn of the 20th century to the present day.

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