Drawing Between the Lines: Illustrating the Work of Elena Guro

Elena Guro (1877–1913), the only woman to gain any prominence as a Russian Futurist writer, was trained as a painter before she began to publish her prose and poetry. Literary scholars have made significant contributions toward our understanding of relationships of her writing to movements in painting in the early twentieth century. In contrast, Guro’s own work as a painter has received much less attention. Important among her activities as a visual artist was her work as a professional illustrator. She illustrated a Russian translation of George Sand’s Tales of a Grandmother and was invited to illustrate a piece by Aleksandr Blok. She also produced artwork for her own writing. While scholars have noted broad features of style or mood in this artwork or have focused on individual illustrations, there has not yet been an in-depth analysis of her illustrations to her own work as a vital dimension of her literary production. Careful study of this dimension reveals an important dialogue between Guro’s verbal and visual work. Not only can her artwork for verbal texts be shown to be less arbitrary than some have presumed, but it also can be demonstrated to actively function in the engagement and subversion of certain readings of her work. An integrative view of Guro’s art reveals an ongoing concern in her work about the role of artists of the avant-garde and about the perspectives of women in particular. In my proposed study, I will employ inter-art and inter-textual approaches to examine the interface between Guro’s verbal and visual production. Primary focus will be placed on her illustrations for the collection Hurdy-Gurdy (Šarmanka, 1909) and for Autumn Dream (Osennij son, l912). Because these works were published in her lifetime, Guro likely had significant control over their final format. Additionally I will consider illustrations for her collection Little Camels of the Sky (Nebesnye verbljužata, l9l4), published after her death from leukemia. References to book-design methods in other avant-garde publications will provide further context for the study. Slides will accompany the presentation.