20 Jan

Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen

By Justine Fox, Clarity InColour

Russia is in the limelight right now. Whether from the imminent onset of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the state's political manoeuvrings over libertarian activists or simply the recently opened new concept anti-cafes like Ziferblat ( And timing is everything as they say in the trend forecasting industry. The focus is on and it will affect contemporary aesthetics within the global community. (All images courtesy of Grad Gallery London, above: Stenberg Brothers, The Screw from another Machine, 1926) 


As Samuel Crews at the Calvert Journal ( tells us, the strong relationship between state and cinema has a long history in Russia. He quotes Lenin's argument that "for us the most important of all the arts is the cinema". Experimental and developing at the same time as the Soviet Union, cinema provided the conduit for State to reinforce a sense of patriotic achievement and for Putin we understand, it still does today.


This leads us to the beginning of an UK/Russia year of culture and the opening a new exhibition Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen. At London's GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design ( Co-curated by Elena Sudakova, Director of GRAD and the film critic and art historian Lutz Becker, this show looks at the parallels between director and designer during the revolutionary 1920's and 1930's.


With the fine arts seen as bourgeois by young artists, this emerging medium had the advantage of being able to speak to the largely illiterate population, State took control of both the film industry and supporting advertising. Under Sovkino, the department Reklam Film controlled film poster production. At the head Yakov Ruklevsky employed a number of talented creatives that mimicked the new cinematic theories and effects into their poster design. The films being in black and white laid the basis for the composition with energetic typography and vivid colour blocking creating a powerful message. It's this colour messaging that is one of the most interesting elements of the work.


There is an omnipotent presence running through the colour choice in these posters that demands respect. The relationship between these selections and flag colour standards can't be ignored in the red, blue and gold selection. There's something more, something almost controlling about them, slightly unsettling but most definitely compelling. This is at the very essence of colour communication within brand and trend. Making your colours provoke a response, an emotion within the viewer that you dictate is absolutely essential.


Something that makes us feel incredibly uncomfortable as humans is a discordant collection of colours and it can be used to an advantage as we see here in Aleksandr Naumov, Oil, 1927, (below). The combination of warm yellow and red against black and pharmaceutical blue is at odds with itself and emphasises the ominous feeling portrayed in the layout.


Aleksandr Naumov Oil 1927 Courtesy GRAD Gallery for Russian Arts and Design


We instinctively look for the beauty and perfection within design in the same way we do in nature. From this perspective, Stenberg Brothers, Poster for 'Three million case', 1926 (below), is far more balanced making it easier to look at and understand. It still oozes command and control but the cool mint in her icy stare sits elegantly with its neighbours, quietly drawing you helplessly into their world.


Stenberg Brothers Poster for Three million case 1926. Courtesy GRAD Gallery for Russian Arts and Design


As these works were made for single use only, very little survives but the original artwork. This is an amazing opportunity for colour, branding and simply cinematic enthusiasts to see these unique pieces of design history in the flesh. The exhibition will be supported b screening and a panel discussion.

Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen is on at GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design from 17th January – 29th March 2014.


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