A distinctly Russian avant-garde in the visual arts took shape in the decade before the Revolution. By 1915, the painter Kasimir Malevich and the sculptor Vladimir Tatlin had created original styles of abstraction, grounded in the physical qualities of the artist's materials.
After spending his early childhood in his native St. Petersburg, Rodchenko attended art school from 1910 to 1914 in provincial Kazan, where he emulated styles that had been popular at the turn of the century. After moving to Moscow at the end of 1915, he made his mark in avant-garde circles by presenting a series of compass-and-ruler drawings at The Store, an exhibition organized by Tatlin in March 1916. The mechanical precision of these drawings introduced Rodchenko's artistic self-image as a professional technician or engineer. Not long after the exhibition, he began military service as operations manager of a hospital train, and he made little new work until after his discharge in December 1917.
The Revolution forced Russian artists and intellectuals to make difficult political choices, and many emigrated. Rodchenko and other members of the avant-garde soon sided with the Bolsheviks, who welcomed their support. Thus it was that a tiny, gifted, obstreperous group, whose sophisticated art was unknown to the vast majority of the Russian people, set forth their own artistic ideals as the vanguard of Communist culture--and in the process created a unique and lasting body of art and theory.