NEW YORK- 10/15/2017
Two significant examples of Italian and Russian Futurisms, “Dynamism of a Soccer Player” and “Cyclist” are painted in 1913 by Umberto Boccioni and Natalia Goncharova, respectively. Italian Futurism and Russian Futurism have distinctive features that make it easy to understand whether a painting is an example of one of those two art movements. Most of the paintings are parts of one movement. “Dynamism of a Soccer Player” is an example of the Italian Futurist ideals, especially those that were introduced in the “Futurist Manifesto.” Several artworks don’t belong to one specific art movement, but they are rather between them. “Cyclist” seems to be between Russian and Italian Futurism, featuring characteristics of both of them. I would like to compare “Dynamism of a Soccer Player” and “Cyclist” regarding their compositions, contexts, brush strokes, and analyze them concerning the movements, but also I want to show how a painting can both be entirely within a movement and the opposite.
The composition of a painting is where the meanings hide. By looking deeper and further examining, we can start to compare the artworks with our background information and knowledge about the art movements. What I see in the two paintings that we are discussing is a soccer player created with colors and geometrical shapes, and a cyclist almost disappearing in the dust. It is clear that there are more to that. But this is the kind of thinking we usually have when we walk around a museum and keep walking between great artworks. In the “Dynamism of a Soccer Player”, sharp, geometrical shapes and the splash of colors make the painting difficult to understand at first. We realize the calf of the player at first, and then we start to notice the shape of a body. The colors and the geometrical shapes give the painting the meaning. The main subject of the painting is the pace, and the fact that the soccer player can’t be the soccer player without playing soccer. As we define the person, we can’t do it without the action itself. This phenomenon is also correct for the “Cyclist.” In the “Cyclist,” seeing the body is easier. The point in this painting is not to blend the subject with colors and shapes and show the movement with these qualities but to give the feeling of pace with another method. While we try to find the soccer player in the first painting, we spend time understanding the deeper meaning in “Cyclist.” We give more importance to the background and the message Natalia Goncharova intended to give than trying to understand what is in the painting. The cyclist is on a stone road, like the ones that we can find in the fancy neighborhoods in big cities. He is going fast in one direction, and the background is shifting while he is moving. Both of the paintings have some sort of human in the middle but don’t mistake that it is the subject of the painting because the subject is the speed in both paintings. The geometrical shapes are mostly used both in “Dynamism of a Soccer Player” and the “Cyclist,” like the squares cyclist background, triangles all around the soccer player, circles the wheels, repetitive lines to show the movement, squares between the grid, and the sharp lines used to write the letters.
Color palette changes dramatically between these two paintings. “Dynamism of the Soccer Player” has a wide color palette, including blue on the top, like the sky, and green on the floor, as the soccer field. The colors tend to get more aggressive and vivid. Pink, dark blue, claret red, and orange are mainly used to paint the player because it’s the focus of the painting. Looking at “Cyclist,” you can see the difference in colors. It is paler comparing with the other painting. The painter chose two primary colors that would define the artwork, instead of a color splash. She used dark, vivid blue and the color of the soil. The other colors we see are white and black, and they are used to form light and represent solid material. For example, the bike is black, so the letters behind and on the cyclist. And the mix of blue and white is used to give the illumination. The parts that are moving in the painting are more light colored. The new source of light is introduced with Industrial Revolution, and the Futurists took that subject in their portrayal. The sense of light for the movement is used by the artist on legs, hands, the center of the wheel. Importance of light can be seen thinking how it changed the human life, and city development. Instead of candles and primitive sources, artificial sources were born. Streets were not scary and dark, and the sun wasn’t the only source of life anymore because the streets and the city life were alive now. Industrialism and the peak of industrial developments led to the increase of light. And it is no surprise that for a movement that focuses on the development of cities, and human life with the new inventions have the new sources of light in the paintings.
Both “Dynamism of a Soccer Player” and “Cyclist” are part of the Futuristic Movement. Even though they followed two different country’s and culture’s versions of the same movement, we can see both the similarities and the differences. In the “Cyclist,” the shapes and the lines specifically indicate the movement and the pace because of the multiple versions of the shapes, for example, the cyclist’s legs, head, body are illustrated more than once. The bike’s wheels look like they are in a rush. This gives the painting, especially the cyclist, a three dimension. Because of this style, the body looks like it will come closer to us and leave the painting. We can see where the cyclist is right now, but also where he was seconds ago. With his body going forward, leaving the blur behind, and making dust on the ground, we have the sense of movement. The movement is not illustrated by dematerializing the body but multiple versions of the same object. We can see the cyclist easily, in contrast with the soccer player in “Dynamism of the Soccer Player” where the painter challenges us to find the player. In “Cyclist,” what captured my attention is the background. There are multiple meanings hidden. There are advertisements that we normally see on the street, and since the cyclist is passing by, they are all mixed. On the right side, we see a hat. It is probably a store window showing a hat, and because of the movement, the hat looks like it is divided into two pieces. The sharp lines on the background illustrate the time lapses that the cyclist creates. The letters also blend, and we can only distinguish letters and the word “silk” (шелк), and it made me think that it is probably a sign of the store. On the left side, we have a drawing of a beverage, perhaps a beer, and a hand pointing right. I will further explain the meaning of the hand.
Brush strokes are more orderly in “Cyclist” than in “Dynamism of a Soccer Player.” In both of the paintings, the brush strokes are sharp and linear. The direction and length of the brush strokes are usually meant to show different time periods of the movements. While the surroundings have longer and more orderly strokes, the cyclist and the soccer player have shorter lines. It means where the action, the change happens. In “Dynamism of a Soccer Player,” the whole painting is made like how we would see the world if we were on a train. All the lines look like they are passing by. But in “Cyclist,” we look at the cyclist from outside. We see the movement he made in a couple of seconds. And the background is more how the cyclist observes his surroundings. The paintings as a whole look like a motion picture. Natalia Goncharova did not blend the colors but instead decided to have more intermittent shapes. Even though almost every brush stroke is either linear, diagonal, or circular, the hand pointing right is drawn carefully and in detail.
Movement and speed are actually used in Italian Futurism more than Russian Futurism. Italian Futurists admired speed, technology, violence, industrialized city, and everything that triumphed humanity over nature. They loathed everything old and used new means of expression. Russian Futurism was interested in Russian culture, folklore, religious paintings, and they were fed by the energies of collectivity. They were nationalists too. As Futurist Movements, we can see how the perspective changes. “Dynamism of a Soccer Player” is a great example of Italian Futurism, but the “Cyclist” is more between these two art movements. (The Art Story) While it is one of the most important artworks of the Russian Futurism, the subject the painting covers and the style of the painting can be associated with Italian Futurism too, because of its love for pace and the lack of Russian nationalism in it. “Cyclist” also has a side where it is against the development. For example, he uses the bike in the era where locomotives and cars are important and more common. Why did he choose to ride the bike? Also, looking from a different view, while he is going forward to somewhere, it is no coincidence that the hand is showing the opposite direction. It should mean that the cyclist is being told to return to a higher authority. Thinking about these conflicting issues, I wonder, what does the painting celebrate, or judge?
The Futuristic Movement affected many artists’ view of the world because the world itself was changing. Keeping that in mind, Umberto Boccioni and Natalia Goncharova painted many paintings that represented the industrialism, speed of life, city development, and new sources of lights. But they also covered different subjects from each other. Seeing the parts where they collapsed and wandered away makes it easier to understand the painting.