Formula of Petrograd Proletariat

Pavel Filonov Formula of Petrograd Proletariat 1920-21 Oil on Canvas 154 x 117 cm.

Intrigued by Formula of Petrograd Proletariat from afar, I inspect it more closely, with my leg touching the wire; every second there, I notice something new, something else emerging.
The kaleidoscope of red, blue, pink and white shapes, like crystals forming together, mystically growing.
It’s difficult to know where to look first. With so much going on within, it almost makes me dizzy.
Formula of Petrograd Proletariat, was about the great victory for the working people—the Russian October Revolution. The reality after, however, was, like the painting, an imaginary vortex.
Filonov created his own idiosyncratic style, Analytical Realism, which was set up as an opposition to Cubism. He wrote in his diary

‘I cannot take commissions. I am a researcher. A commission leads to other commissions, and I must do my own works.
I cannot follow the path of official art. I do not need fame. My ideology will find its own path.’

I see a splintered figure, nearly touching both top and bottom, absorbing the canvas, shaking his head, leaving imprints of many eyes, ears and hands. He has hair, unlike the peasants who, stony-faced and glum, are moving towards the stacked three-dimensional buildings, hands pleading.
Emerging fragments of green shards pierce through; then a boot, then another, all painted with expert precision.
Sharpened pencils create minute beginnings; many truncated fingertips and hands peek through. These details overwhelm and undermine any sense of a single, coherent meaning.
To my right, circles spin, swirling, exploding into sharp shapes, cascading down like a waterfall, breaking and shattering into thousands of pieces, the whole strangely resembling a modern-day ‘mindfulness’ colouring book.

I wonder if the Russian revolutionaries would have used mindfulness to zone-out during this unsettling period, as we can in 2017, with Brexit, Trump and North Korean nuclear tests.

Lisa Godfrey