Alexander Bogomazov, a Ukrainian Avant-Garde painter, theorist and teacher, is one of the most significant figures in the advent of Cubo-Futurism, a phenomenon unique to Russian and Ukrainian art in the early 1910s. A distinct response to European Avant-Garde trends, the movement’s origins were exemplified in literary circles by figures such as Velimir Khlebnikov (1885-1922), Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) and Alexey Kruchenykh (1886-1968), who were known for their opposition to conventional morality and aesthetic taste. Poet-futurists closely collaborated with Cubist artists from the Knave of Diamonds and Donkey's tail groups, publishing illustrated books of poems together. This close cooperation between literature and art played an important role in the formation of the Cubo-futurist aesthetic principles in painting.
For many artists, both Russian and European, Cubo-Futurism was a transitory period but for Alexander Bogomazov, it became his key doctrine. Bogomazov’s significant research and analysis of this 'new art' resulted in his 1914 treatise Zhivopis' i ee elementy [Painting and its elements]. Where Cubists tried to decompose the object, to translate its inner structure onto canvas, and thus demonstrate it to spectators as the only proper way of depiction, Futurists were fascinated by industrialisation and the dynamism of their epoch and as such concentrated on depicting an object’s motion. Under the influence of both trends, Cubo-Futurists were the first Avant-Gardists who rejected the conventional way of painting, and in doing so shocked an unprepared public. By offering a theoretical explanation of the artistic process, Bogomazov believed he could help critical spectators to reject these inert and traditional judgments: 'Painters are faced with a dilemma at this moment: either to move forward or turn back in fear of the New Art. Boundless joy and throes of creation are in store for those who are brave enough to advance, while melancholy, frustration and the tedium of repeating the known and blaming everything new await those who are not. It is about this New Art that I want to speak and to tell the reader, to the best of my abilities, what I see, feel and understand'. (A. Bogomazov, Zhivopis' i ee elementy [Painting and its elements], Kiev, 1996, p. 91).
Kiev, where Bogomazov spent most of his life, was to the artist what Rome was to the Italian Futurists. 1907 however, the year Bogomazov spent in Moscow, proved critical as it allowed him to become acquainted with the newest artistic trends and key-figures of the art world, providing the impetus for his progression to 'new art'. There, studying alongside other future Cubo-futurists such as Lyubov Popova (1889-1924), Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958) and Nadezhda Udaltsova (1886-1961), he closely collaborated with the noted Russian painter and theorist Konstantin Yuon (1875-1958), particularly on theatrical productions.
Bogomazov's Cubo-futurist artworks were first presented to the Kievan public at the Kol'tso [Ring] exhibition organised in early 1914 by himself and Alexandra Exter (1882-1949). Here the painter demonstrated that he was already aware of the Futurist idea of motion and Cubist principle of deformation, and managed to create his own formula of Cubo-futurism. By displaying his work alongside that of Alexandra Exter, Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964) and David Burliuk (1882-1967), Bogomazov confirmed his position as an important figure in Kievan art circles.
The present work Toys, appearing at auction for the first time, is a powerful example of Bogomazov’s belief that in order to strengthen an object’s dynamism and tension, an artist has to saturate a certain form with a certain colour. The level of the form’s tension will depend on the intensity of the tone chosen by the artist. Bogomazov believed that it is a coloured mass that makes a given form complete because colour reveals all of its pictorial values: ‘Colour is the expression of the mass contained in a form, its plastic completion.’ Furthermore, one of the most prevalent principles discernable in Bogomazov’s works from 1913 was the use of straight lines originating from one point. Although bow-shaped lines and oval forms would later become Bogomazov's main pictorial device, this works indicates this imminent transition.