Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka

Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka

1899 —1969
  • Order of Lenin (1964)
  • Academician of the Academy of the USSR (1947)
  • People's Artist of the USSR (1963)
  • Hero of Socialist Labour (1969)

Alexander Deineka was a prominent Soviet Russian artist who expressed himself in various visual forms such as paintings, drawings, graphic arts, frescoes, mosaics and sculpture. He is well-known for being one of the most important founders of Social Realism. Deineka undeniably can be defined as one of the most significant figures amongst Russian modernist figurative artists of the first half of the 20th century. His style was evolving throughout his entire artistic career and often went through quite radical changes and developments especially in the 1920s, 1930s, and during 1940s-1960s. Nikolai Yerishev, one of Deineka's students at the Surikov Art Institute described the artist: 'Deineka, as I see it now, was a hostage of the [political] systems; as a person incredibly gifted and, most importantly, sensitive to the spirit of the times, he was driven by an ambition to create a new, Soviet style of art ... based on the cult of health, sport, labour and what followed from it - a new life, new family, new way of life. <...> Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka was a leader. He could not see himself as anything other than that. Deineka was either revered or loathed'.  

Deineka was born on May 20, 1899, in Kursk to a railroader family. When he was sixteen, he followed his creative drive and started to study drawing at the Kharkov Art College. Like a lot of other young people of that time, Deineka was preoccupied with the revolution and events that surrounded it. He worked as the photographer in Criminal Investigation Department and managed a section of the Art of Regional Educational Department in his native Kursk in 1918. He also produced many propagandistic visual materials as, for example, promotional posters, and designed political campaigns. During that period, the young artist started his first experiments with Monumentalism in his art. From 1919 to 1920, Deineka served in the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, where he was engaged in creative programmes as a leader of the artistic studio in Kursk Political Department as well as participating in defence of his town against the White Guard. Additionally, Deineka was involved with the travelling Red Army Theatre as their stage designer. After that, he relocated to Moscow and applied to Vhkutemas, the Higher Art and Crafts Training Workshops where he was continuing his artistic education during 1920 - 1925 as a graphic artist under the guidance of highly esteemed artists and talented teachers Vladimir Favorsky and Ignaty Nivinsky. Deineka's art was particularly influenced by his mentor Favorsky, and the formal and compositional approaches that Favorsky uses in his 1920s - 1930s paintings are clearly present in Deineka's early works. Another significant figure for Deineka was the remarkable poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. The artist was pursuing the same themes and motives in his art as Mayakovsky in his poetry. Deineka's paintings of the 1920-s period are occasionally reminiscent of the great Western masters such as French Fauvist Henri Matisse or Swiss Expressionist Ferdinand Hodler. Though being figurative in its nature, Deineka's artworks are extraordinarily modernist in style boldly presenting large flattened patches of bright colours.

At the end of 1924, Deineka began to cooperate with various Soviet magazines and periodicals such as 'Red Niva', 'Atheist at the Machine', 'Change', and 'Spotlight' to publish his drawings. Naturally, Deineka's paintings were always influenced by his characteristically graphic comprehension and perception of form in the visual arts. Resulting from his publishing work Deineka's creative business trips across the country were highly beneficial for his art. He worked as an illustrator for N. Aseev, A. Bartho, and H. Barbusse books. One of the important moments in Deineka's early artistic life was his participation in the 'First Polemical Exhibition of the Groups of Active Revolutionary Art' as part of the radical artistic group, 'The Association of Three', with two young, promising, and talented artists, Andrei Goncharov and Yuri Pimenov. Within the following year, the participants of the exhibition along with other graduates and students of Vhkutemas organised the 'Society of Easel Painters (OST) with Deineka as one of the founding members. This forward-looking creative group was aimed to combine the latest European tendencies, especially Expressionism, with the Soviet motives, proclaiming 'orientation towards the artistic youth'. Similar to other members of the group, during his early period, Deineka produced a lot of artworks devoted to collectivist themes. These works emphasised physical culture and sports as well as the utopian ideas of the 20th century glorifying the peaceful present of the Soviet reality with all its industrial production, the life of the modern city and its citizens, and anticipating the shining future of the Soviet Union. The ideas of Russian revolutionaries about the 'New Person', an ideal citizen of the bright future, have firmly settled in the artist's vision. Deineka's paintings of the 1930s offer this compelling image of the Soviet 'New Person' embodying a social thesis and representing undoubtedly healthy, physically advanced, typically smiling and often enthusiastically committed either to work or sports. These recognisable and powerful portrayals of the well-built heroes and heroines of Socialist Realism reflect state-imposed guidelines and propagate a certain way of thinking to the public. One can confidently argue that the 1930s were the most prolific years for Deineka's artistic career - the heyday of his oeuvre.

Travelling was an important source of inspiration for the artist's development. His trips to Crimea, for instance, resulted in a series of landscapes and significantly added to the new topic that fascinated the artist at that point - aviation. This motive and its connection to Crimea is especially evident in Deineka's masterpiece Future Pilots (1937). In 1935 Deineka went on his first artistic trip abroad. He visited America, Italy, and France. Following the trip, to demonstrate his revised visual means of expression, Deineka opened his first solo exhibition which immediately became 'one of the biggest events of the season'. The exhibition displayed 119 colourful, dynamic and stylistically similar works created between 1930 and 1935. These were paintings, referencing the artist's journey to America and Europe as well as his USSR related works. The artist continued to work during the Great Patriotic War; however, his works became more dramatic, tense, and uneasy as that period itself. Starting from the 1930s, the artist often has appealed to the powerful language of Monumentalism to express his ideas of moral purity and high intensity in art. Deineka was explicitly enthusiastic about something that he has been dreaming since his youth: working on monumental paintings and mosaics designed to decorate the interiors of the public buildings. Deineka was engaged with the projects of Chelyabinsk Opera and Ballet Theatre, Mayakovskaya (1939) and Novokuznetskaya (1943) metro stations, the State Kremlin Palace and the Moscow University. He created the enormous painting for the Soviet pavilion at the international exhibition in Paris in 1937 and decorated the USSR pavilion at the international exhibition in Brussels in 1958. The last years of his life the artist profoundly dedicated to his favourite tendency in art - Monumentalism and continued to create paintings on peaceful and happy labour and sports activities, promoting Soviet ideas of spiritually and physically healthy citizens. Deineka was not only an artist of an incredible gift but also an accomplished teacher. During his lifetime he was working with various educational institutions such as Higher Art and Technical Institute (Vkhutein) in 1928 - 1930, Moscow Polygraphic Institute in 1928 - 1934, the Surikov Moscow Art Institute in 1934 - 1946 and 1957 - 1963, Moscow Institute of Applied and Decorative Arts in 1945 - 1953, and the Moscow Architectural Institute in 1953 -1957. Deineka also held numerous positions in the Decorative Arts Department of the Academy of Arts of the USSR: he was a member of the Presidium in 1958, held the post of vice-president of the Academy between 1962 and 1966, and was appointed as Academic Secretary during 1966 - 1968. Deineka died on June 12, 1969, in Moscow and was buried in Novodevichy cemetery.

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Groys, B. (2014) Alexander Deineka. Moscow: Ad Marginem Pres.
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