NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 42


Vladimir Mayakovsky; The Herald of the New Era

Olga Severina

Vladimir Mayakovsky was perhaps the most prominent, innovative and influential figure of the entire Russian avant-garde movement. He was born on July 19th, 1893 in the village of Bagdadi, in the suburbs of Kutaisi, Georgia. At the age of seven, Mayakovsky was accepted to the Kutaisi boarding school, but just after four years, his family moved to Moscow and he was forced to drop out.
A simple country boy, Mayakovsky was awestruck by the metropolis. The ever-rushing crowds, two-story horsecars, gas lit streetlights, automobiles, and the never-ending buzz of revolutionary circles all fascinated him. Easily excitable, and barely 15 years old, Vladimir was instantly seduced by anti-monarchy ideas and rushed headlong into an underworld of domestic disobedience, only to be arrested.
In 1911, the three-time political offender, Vladimir Mayakovsky was accepted to College of Arts, Sculpture and Architecture—the only institution in Moscow that did not require a character reference. During his studies, Mayakovsky experimented with every type of medium including pastels, oil, ink, watercolor, pencil and charcoal. From this point forward, he would never stop drawing. When he ran out of drawing tools, Mayakovsky would take cigarette butts or burnt matches, dip them in ink, and scratch on any scrap of paper he could find. His notebooks are covered with caricatures of friends and acquaintances, doodles of dogs, cats, zebras, crocodiles, and his favorite, a giraffe, tall, slightly awkward, and phlegmatic, just as the artist himself.

While in school, Mayakovsky found a new infatuation—the art of a poetic verse. It became his lifework, his insignia, and his exploding bullhorn through which he would blast his creative expression out into the world. During this period, the young poet met Burliuk, Khlebnikov, Larionov, and other like-minded scholars, who denied orthodox artistic traditions in favor of novel practices of a newly-born Russian Futurist movement. A nihilist, Mayakovsky was immediately drawn to the notion of transmuted artistry. His early poesy was bursting with unconventional rhythms and scandalous, defiant imagery, which soon made him a man who single-handedly created an entirely new Russian poetic form. 
In early 1914, with the world on the brink of the Great War, unable to enlist due to his arrests, Mayakovsky channeled his profound sense of patriotic duty into the art of visual propaganda. Together with another Russian avant-garde giant, Kazimir Malevich, Mayakovsky created over thirty illustrative posters that ridiculed German and Austro-Hungarian armed forces. Visually reminiscent of the Lubok folk art, the posters’ primary palette was made up of three basic colors: red, black, and white. Post-war Russia was a land of perpetual unrest. The entire fabric of the decaying society was being ripped apart by an impending revolution. Being a rebel himself, Mayakovsky relished this novel idea, which was unheard of anywhere in the world. To him, it was an intoxicating sense of ever-present liberties that were sipping through every pore of the revolting Russia.

In 1917, the perilous country erupted into a full-blown revolution and a subsequent civil war. Mayakovsky embraced the October uprising unreservedly, devoting the full force of his talent into creating the art of the working class. The Russian Revolution became the greatest creative impulse for the fervent Vladimir Mayakovsky. He was truly in his element. A zealous advocate for the fledgling Soviet state, Mayakovsky joined a guild of artists who were making (the now) world-famous ROSTA windows propaganda signs. Distributed by the Russian Telegraph Agency or ROSTA, the satirical posters were placed in storefront windows. The vivid imagery and memorable phrases exposed enemies of the young Soviet Republic and informed the public of current events. Mayakovsky soon became an unspoken leader among his fellow artists and a genuine master of ideological illustration. The posters’ graphical simplicity and clear, precise messages were great propaganda tools for the barely-literate population of the New Russia.
The developing Soviet state was slowly rebuilding and creating its commercial institutions and industries. It was in dire need of a promotional vehicle that would introduce its businesses to the public. Nobody was better at captivating the proletarian mind than Vladimir Mayakovsky. His groundbreaking collaboration with one of the geniuses of Russian Constructivism, Alexander Rodchenko, brought forth hundreds of promotional circulars that publicized personal hygiene, macaroni, cigarettes, beer, galoshes, books, and even mud baths. Rodchenko’s legendary graphics, coupled with the narrative brilliance of Mayakovsky’s written verse, made “MOSSELPROM, GUM, REZINOTREST” and other posters from simple means of industrial and commercial propaganda into iconic images of a newly formed Soviet nation. 

A passionate proponent of commercial advertising, in his article, Advertising and Propaganda, Mayakovsky writes: There is a common misconception that only rubbish needs endorsing, while a well made product can surely be moved, solely on its merits. This is one of the gravest errors in advertising. An ad is the face of merchandise. Just like an artist needs to make a name for himself, so does a commodity. Ad campaigns should serve as constant reminders that call attention to all, even the most wonderful of goods.
Bigger than life itself, Mayakovsky was just as impassioned in love as he was in art. His last great love was a Russian immigrant, Tatyana Yakovleva, who he met in France. While in Paris, Mayakovsky surrendered his entire fortune to a flower shop, with a special request, “until the money runs out, Mademoiselle Yakovleva is to receive a bouquet of flowers every week, accompanied by a note ‘From Mayakovsky.’” The shop had fulfilled the agreement and Tatiana received flowers for many years, long after the tragic death of Mayakovsky. The Great Futurist never saw how far his act of devotion went. Nearly two decades later, it saved his beloved from starvation. Tatyana sold his bouquets on the streets of Nazi occupied Paris to feed herself.
Unable to bare the stone-cold aura of Stalinist Russia, Vladimir Mayakovsky committed suicide when he was only 37. In this short time, he created literary and visual masterpieces that transformed Russia’s creative heritage and impacted the design culture of the entire twentieth century.

Olga Severina

A Ukrainian graphic designer, Olga Severina obtained her Ph.D. in Visual Arts in 2010. Olga is an author, whose articles on the history and contemporary trends in graphic design are published in magazines around the world. Over the years her works were featured in a variety of design competitions and campaigns: Biennale Golden Bee (Russia), Warsaw Poster Biennale (Poland), International Poster Biennale (Mexico) and Mayakovsky 120 poster campaign are to name a few.  Olga Severina was always an active participant in the design community. In 2006 she became involved with an International Eco-Poster Exhibition The 4th Block (Ukraine), where she currently serves as the exhibition curator.  In her more recent ventures Olga focuses on art shows that celebrate design and promote balance between nature and men in the United States.

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