Finding their adult poetry impossible to publish, with its absurdist imagery and aesthetically radical approach, they turned to writing for children. In that field they could earn a living and work without too much interference from the authorities. They could also collaborate with equally avant garde visual artists such as Vladimir Tatlin, the designer of the famous unbuilt Monument to the Third International, and El Lissitzky, the suprematist painter, typographer, and graphic designer.
Partly because of such collaborations, and partly because children’s books provided a hiding place for a while, the early Soviet period was a miraculously rich time for children’s books and their illustration. A new book, Inside the Rainbow: Russian Children’s Literature 1920-1935 offers a glimpse into that astonishing world. The designer, Julian Rothenstein, and the writer of an essay in the book, Olga Budashevskaya, have produced something truly remarkable. Brilliant primary colours, simple geometrical shapes – at first sight it looks like a textbook of suprematism, the movement that emerged from the intellectual ferment of pre-revolutionary Russia to express the supremacy of pure, artistic feeling above the mere depiction of objects. In the hands of Kazimir Malevich, for example, the great theoretician of suprematism, a black square expressed such feeling, and the white field on which it appeared was the void beyond all feeling.