by L. Nichols
I went to San Diego last spring for a friend’s wedding. My wife and I decided that since we were traveling across the country, we might as well make a vacation of it, so we took an entire week and went to Los Angeles as well. While in LA, we went to the Getty for the afternoon. We were lucky enough to be there at the same time the Getty research dept. had this exhibit up on books done by the Russian Futurists. This was the first exhibit I went into, and I think this was the only thing I really saw (other than the gardens) all afternoon.
They had reproduced copies of several of their books and had them available to flip through so you could experience them the way they were intended. They had samples from the artwork around. They had covers and variations on them and prints and quotes. I can’t really say that it was an enormous exhibit. It was really just a room. But I spent a lot of time there. My wife was patient enough to understand why I was so moved to keep looking and wait with me, talk with me. Eventually I decided it was too much for me and I had to leave to go sit outside in the sun and think.
These guys were amazing! They used wallpaper to make covers. They hand colored covers. Sometimes entire books were all hand colored prints. Sometimes they had crazy poetry. The power and immediacy of what they were trying to do overwhelmed me. I had to sit down. I had to think. I had to work, to respond.
Historically, they were responding to and against Russian literature/books of the time which were enormous and which contained many many symbols and referenced larger things. These guys were trying to reclaim books for the sake of a simple book. Energy and thoughts captured in a single object, handmade, unique. They wanted the books to be their own objects, separate from symbolism larger in the world. But to me, there was also the thought of “wow, these guys were making zines before there were zines.” They spent all their money to print these things, quite frequently. There was an energy to it all. And out of everyone’s art that was represented, one person struck a chord with me the most — Natalia Goncharova.
I found the force of her work to be refreshing, inspiring, and overwhelming at times. Since photography wasn’t allowed, I sketched down her stuff. Wrote down her name. Tried my best to remember every bit of the experience. There was an incredible longing just to talk to her, with her. To ask her about her art and her life. To see what she was thinking.
Unfortunately, there was no real catalog of the exhibit, only a book that tangentially talked about them. A chapter devoted to this work, hardly enough but I bought it anyway. The rest of the trip, I couldn’t get them out of my mind. And as soon as I got home, I set to work on thinking and working through what I had experienced. So here’s some of the results.
In the first one, I was playing around with repetition and patterns. Thinking about these sound poems that I had heard in the exhibit. Thinking visually what a pattern of sound and repetition would look like. The second, not quite as obvious the influence, I guess. But it was drawn while mulling over what I had seen. Third one uses some of the images I had seen, trying to keep some sort of feeling of the dark lines. Thinking about my own artistic process.
I keep finding myself drawn back to this stuff. Still with the same excitement.