Soviet Space Dreams: ET and the USSR

Our new book, Soviet Space Graphics, reminds us how even the most fantastic of visions can’t help but show a little of their time and place
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Technology for the Youth, issue 3, 1955, illustration by N. Kolchitsky
Technology for the Youth, issue 3, 1955, illustration by N. Kolchitsky

Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR recalls far-off worlds. Viewed in whole, this new book’s illustrations, originally commissioned for the USSR's wide-range of popular science magazines, capture the scientific might and ambition of the Eastern Bloc during the mid-to-late 20th century.

Alongside illustrations lauding the Russian space program’s very real early achievements – such as the first satellite in space, and the first manned flight out of earth’s atmosphere – the book contains a great many images for science-fiction works, picturing the alien inhabitants of far-off worlds.

However, at least some of these images seem to be informed by the Soviet Union’s own cultural heritage. Take for instance one of the book’s earlier works: an illustration by L. Epple for Boris Anibal’s science-fiction novel Sailors of the Universe, about a mission to Mars. Which was published in a 1940 edition of Knowledge is Power (below).

The diminutive Martians are certainly in keeping with the kind of extraterrestrials depicted in sci-fi stories in many other parts of the word, yet the intrepid cosmonauts bring to mind a tsarist court rather than a serious space mission; one even seems to be wearing something akin to the pointed, Monomakh's Cap, a crown associated with olden-days Russian aristocracy.

 

Knowledge is Power, issue 5, 1940, illustration by L. Epple for Boris Anibal’s science-fiction novel Sailors of the Universe
Knowledge is Power, issue 5, 1940, illustration by L. Epple for Boris Anibal’s science-fiction novel Sailors of the Universe

N. Kolchitsky’s 1955 illustration for a 1955 edition of Technology of Youth (top), meanwhile, seems to bring things a little more up-to-date. As our new book explains, “Kolchitsky was an engineer and artist who worked at the Central Institute of Aviation Motors, as well as contributing illustrations and cover designs to popular science magazines.

“Due to his scientific background and interest, Kolchitsky was able to bring realistic and highly detailed qualities to his artworks, successfully bridging the gap between his two professions. He also designed a number of popular-science and art books on space exploration, and was on the editorial board of Technology for the Youth magazine. He was a member of the Artists’ Union of the USSR, as well as the Union’s regional Moscow division.”

Kolchitsky’s blue-skinned alien might reside on some strange, tropical planet with two suns, yet the calm manner in which he appears to be demonstrating planetary mechanics to onlookers certainly places him in concert with the progressive technicians that Kolchitsky and his comrades would recognise.

 

Soviet Space Graphics

The artistic might wander far in space and time, but earthly concerns have a way of asserting their pull too, it would seem. To see these images and many more in exquisite detail, and for more informed commentary, buy a copy of Soviet Space Graphics here. 


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