Gustav Klutsis Was born in a country called Latvia, He was drafted into the Russian army in 1917, fighting in WWI. After he served his time in the army he studied art and married his longtime collaborator and wife Valentina Kulagina. He also joined the communist party. This is important because the main focus of his life’s work is Russian Constructivism. Before Stalin rose to power Klutsis enjoyed making very revolutionary art where he explored the use of geometric shapes, photo montages, and Propaganda like images. He was known for making political photo montages and in 1918 he along with Hannah Hoch, Raoul Hausmann, and El Lissitzky were credited on inventing the subgenre of political photo montage. In the beginning of his career he was free to experiment but around when Stalin came to power he was pressured to be less radical and feature Stalin more. In 1938 he was arrested and executed on Stalin’s orders.
Gustav Klutsis “Spartakiada Moscow”
If we take a look that two different pieces we can see the evolution of his photo montage but also his freedoms becoming restricted. If we look at the piece above called “Spartakiada Moscow”. Spartakiada was an international sports event held by the Soviet Union. This is one of the posters advertising it. In the poster we can see the beginnings of his photo montage style. He uses multiple images of people participating in sports to advertise the event that’s being held. We can also see the remints of Dadaism in this poster. It looks a little like organized chaos, it has a grid system that helps organize it but the images help keep that chaotic tension. Some images being squares while others are cropped out to just the figures. This helps with the chaotic feeling. Another thing is each photo that is below the upper half is a fighting sport or a show of strength. They have wrestling, fencing, weight lifting, and two boxing images. This helps create tension because each image is of action. Another very important image is the women in the upper right hand corner. She is important because it represents a very important ideal of Soviet Russia, how everyone can be useful especially the women of society. The type lays along the lines of the grids and are made of cut construction paper helping connect the dada movement to this poster. However, if we jump forward in time we can see some changes in the art.
Gustav Klutsis “Under the Banner of Lenin for Socialist Construction”
If we look above, we see a poster called “Under the Banner of Lenin for Socialist Construction”. This is a propaganda poster made by Klutsis a few years after “Spartakiada Moscow” was made. We see an evolution of his photomontage techniques. His montage’s have become more complicated and complex. The main subject of the poster is Stalin and Lenin who are in the center of the poster. Each a photo of their head are meshed together with the eyes coming together. This is a very popular thing done at the time. This represents the Soviet Union’s one vision. A shared vision of everyone. The photos surrounding Stalin and Lenin are industrious in nature and represent the forward movement the Soviet Union is taking. This image does not push the boundaries nearly as much as the earlier image. This image doesn’t harken back to Dadaism but is much more in control and less random and chaotic. It serves it purpose of encouraging people to follow in the footsteps of the the communist regime.
Klutsis and his wife made many pieces of art some pushing the boundaries of Avant garde art and some more on the side of conventional propaganda. During his whole lifetime however the duo developed Photomontage to an impressive level of complexity and helped set how image and text relate together.