Oil on canvas, 48 x 72 cm. Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.
Vladimir Baranov (Baranoff) Rossine, a lesser known member of the Russian avant-garde, painted The Village in 1916, during his European travels and before his return to Russia in 1917. Cubo-futurism was the style in Russian painting that combined the cubist geometric shapes with the futurist emphasis on motion. Contrary to the monochromatic coloring usually associated with Cubism, Cubo-Futurism returned to the bright colors of Neo-primitivism. This use of bright colors is the first thing that strikes a viewer looking at this painting. Rossine uses bright pastel hues such as pink, blue, orange, and yellow, but he also incorporates darker blue, black and red. This use of color not only adds to the vibrancy of the picture and its ability to catch the audience's attention, but contributes to the artist's depiction of the village.
In keeping with Cubism, the composition is extremely fragmented. The artist uses mostly circular and cylindrical shapes. However, the painting gives an impression of action. This is the influence of Futurism. Rossine's use of ribbon-like bands of color and curving shapes evokes an undeniable feeling of motion. The subject is not static but active.
On the far right hand side of the painting is a group of red buildings, symbolizing the village. Since they are the only dark red objects on the whole canvas, the buildings stand out. They immediately draw the viewer's attention not only because of their color, but because they seem to be the only things in the entire painting that are static and easily identifiable. The buildings serve as an anchor and a focal point for the rest of the painting. One of the buildings has a water wheel attached to its side, which perhaps indicates that it is a water mill. The buildings of the village are the only man made items shown in the composition. In contrast to the static shapes of the buildings, the wheel is a machine in motion. This is an important feature of futurism, as Futurists were obsessed not only with motion itself, but also with the machinery that causes that motion.
Directly across the canvas from the village, on the far left-hand side, the viewer finds fairly discernible clouds enclosed by a circle made of a shaded band. The clouds may represent nature. It is necessary to note that these two items, the village and the clouds, are placed directly across from each other. Then, the main idea of this painting could be the juxtaposition of nature (symbolized by the clouds) and civilization (symbolized by the man-made village). Set between these two is a barely visible outline of a watch, perhaps signifying the passing of time. The watch is not clearly painted, indicating that the picture does not deal with a specific time or with the constraints of a particular time period, but, instead, with time in general.
The story of the village grows out of these three symbolic elements. Although each element interacts with the others, they are depicted in three separate sections of the painting.
The painting reads from left to right, as if it were a book. The left-hand side of the painting, as mentioned before, is where the viewer finds the clouds, Rossine's symbol of nature. These clouds are contained within a ribbon-like circle. The circle could be understood as a metaphor for the cyclical nature of the universe. From this point outward the viewer sees what nature has to offer the village. A large black shape that starts in the upper left-hand corner and works its way down about half way may be interpreted as a thunderstorm or even a tornado. Black is used to impart to the viewer the ominous and dangerous nature of the storm. One can almost picture its forceful, circular movement. From the clouds, large blue raindrops fall on whitish shapes perhaps representing trees or plants. One of the trees has a flame-like shape inside. It is tempting to assume that Rossine alludes here to burning trees or plants perhaps ignited by lightning. The falling rain could be meant to show that the storm, aside from having the power to destroy and burn, can also douse the fire. Under the plants and again about three quarters of the way across the bottom, there are swells of blue that resemble a river. Above the clouds there are bands of mauve and long aqua-colored cylinders that stretch in an arch across the top of the painting to the water mill. These arches could symbolize either a rainbow or the sunset. Although the sunset seems less probable, it would have been in keeping with the idea of the cyclical movement of nature. Crossing the mauve and aqua bands there are three blue pipe-like rays of sunshine that begin at the green end of the central ribbon and end next to the blackness of the storm as if to shed light on it or to indicate that it is ending.
The next portion of the painting consists of the faint outline of the watch hidden behind a swooping, twisting ribbon-like figure. This circular ribbon represents the motion and progression of life and time. Painted into and above the ribbon are at least two schematic white human figures. Their inclusion in the movement of the ribbon may signify that they are also a part of the cycle of nature and life or time and space. Like most elements in the painting, the figures are quite abstract and do not provide the viewers with any specific references. It is noteworthy that the human figures are placed on the canvas between the forces of nature and the village. It is here that humans find themselves in real life, between things made by man and the forces of nature that can either nurture or destroy. The figures seem to balance the two.
Continuing to the right side of the painting, the viewer returns to the village and its surroundings. In the lower right, below the mill and water wheel we see four yellow curved bands on white background. These are the fields adjacent to the mill. At the bottom of the field the river runs into it, showing another interconnection between the village life and nature. Water can also be seen to the right of the mill's wheel. The fields and the mill are crossed on the canvas by the ribbon indicating motion. This intersection shows that not even the village and the fields around it are permanent, but change with time and with the impact of nature.
What is most fascinating about Baranov-Rossine's painting is the title: The Village. It gives the viewer a starting point for a personal (and not necessarily correct) interpretation, perhaps similar to the one presented here. [L.O.]
[Sources: Avant-garde Index, Futurism Manifestos, Web Museum].