Mikhail Roginsky

Railway Platform

1964

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Not on display

Artist
Mikhail Roginsky 1931 – 2004
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 906 × 611 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee 2020
Reference
T15541

Summary

Railway Platform 1964 is a painting in oil on canvas by the Russian nonconformist artist Mikhail Roginsky that depicts a typical Soviet suburban railway station complete with Stalin-era benches, rubbish bins and a standard issue station clock. The metal electric cable posts double as pillars for boards with train timetable and station announcements. Above the posts, and dominating the composition, is the date ‘1964’ with a small Cyrillic ‘г.’ – meaning ‘year’ in Russian – roughly painted in red. Three railway lines trace the brick-red ground and disappear beyond the blue horizon. A lonely passenger reads a book while waiting for his train. The scene is dramatically lit from the left. While the setting is mundane and recognisable as depicting the daily commute, its composition is based on flattened surfaces, simplified perspective and bold colours, evoking the appearance of posters and information boards. Railway Platform is one of the artist’s earliest paintings, in which he explored varying themes and stylistic approaches that would become key characteristics of his practice. A much later work, Interior with a Ladder, is also in Tate’s collection (Tate T15481).

In 1964 Roginsky, along with other nonconformist artists in the Soviet Union such as Oskar Rabin (born 1928), began to introduce verbal and visual properties of written language into his paintings, releasing text from its traditional descriptive role. In Railway Platform as well as in Pokrovskoe-Streshnevo or Mosgaz (The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), all created in 1964, he utilised a distinctive red colour and typeface reminiscent of official Soviet warning signage. In the visual environment of the Soviet Union in the 1960s, ostensibly free of advertising but filled with noticeboards announcing slogans or warnings, Roginsky was particularly interested in railway posters. Paintings relating to the visual language of boldly coloured railway placards constitute one of the key themes in his work throughout the 1960s to the 1990s. He progressively increased the visual role of words and text in his pictures, switching to French after his emigration to Paris in 1978. Prior to taking up painting, Roginsky, having trained as a stage designer, worked for provincial theatres. Speaking about how stage design taught him to approach setting a scene, he commented: ‘The landscape is to be painted using just a few details featured on a homogeneous background of a bold blue skyline. It’s the play, it’s the theatre, it’s the method.’ (Mikhail Roginsky, ‘Khudozhnik oformliaet spektakli v narodnom teatre’, in Obraz sovremennika na stsene narodnogo teatra, no.3, Moscow 1964, pp.56–7.) Railway Platform perfectly illustrates this approach.

The year 1964 was marked in the Soviet Union by the dismissal of Nikita Khrushchev as head of state, which signalled the end of a brief period of cultural and political appeasement known as ‘the Thaw’ that had seen the emergence of the first generation of unofficial artists in the Soviet Union. Roginsky’s official employment as an art professor at the Moscow City Art School from 1963 provided him with a studio space and necessary tools for his own practice. The result was his first series of paintings of suburban landscapes and still lifes featuring individual everyday objects that he gradually imbued with an existential subtext. He referred to the works as ‘documentary paintings’. His next step would be to move towards treating the painting itself as an object, which was achieved with Door 1965 (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). This piece of plywood, painted an intense red, had a red tin door handle complete with a keyhole and was considered the first Russian pop art work. The same year Roginsky participated in his only group public exhibition, which authorities closed on its opening day. His first retrospective in Russia, at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, did not take place until 2002, just two years before his death.

Further reading
Alena Romanova, Nadezhda Vasilevskaia (eds.), O Mikhaile Roginskom. Duraki ediat pirogi. Vospominania, intervyu, stati, Moscow 2009 (in Russian).
Mikhail Roginsky. Beyond the Red Door, Moscow 2014.
Olga Yoshkova, Mikhail Roginsky: narisovannaia zhizn, Moscow 2017 (in Russian).

Natalia Sidlina
April 2019

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