Gustav Klutsis was a Latvian artist who began his career in 1912 and his work was greatly influenced by events throughout the early Twentieth Century. Wars, revolution, and political repression would come to define his art and his life in a visual representation to that time period. Drafted into the Russian Army in 1915, he fought in the First World War and later joined the Bolsheviks. Against the background of the Russian Revolution, Gustav was a teacher, an artist, and a photographer who made significant contributions to the newly formed Soviet Union. Because of that passion, Klutsis developed a distinct style that is still emulated to this day. He had the kind of artistic talent that reflects an original, creative mind and a unique perspective.
Unfortunately, the Soviet government had different priorities and art soon became just another tool for totalitarian control over people’s lives. Under the rule of Joseph Stalin, artists were forced to make highly specified propaganda as well as all other aspects of the dictator’s Cult of Personality. This included films, statues, photos, and posters revolving around the benevolent leadership of Stalin, who was overseeing a brutal series of purges and famines at the time. In fact, this worsening political climate was manifested in Gustav’s work until the secret police eventually claimed the artist among their victims. In 1938, Klutsis was arrested and secretly executed as part of the Great Terror (1934-1940). This targeted millions of innocent Soviet citizens whose families went through hell for years, unsure if their loved ones were alive or dead.
Like so many others, Gustav Klutsis had disappeared into a system of paranoia and repression. The creativity that marked his life stood in stark contrast to an oppressive state and those two ideas could not coexist for very long.