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El manifesto

The Rayonist Manifest (Reality Is Not What We Believe)


At the beginning of the 20th century, this pictorial movement set out to capture reality invisible to the human eye.

The erasure of the border between what is called a picture plane and nature. The rudiments of Rayonism in the preceding arts. The doctrine of the creativity of new forms.

 Mikhail Larionov

As Cubism, which it preceded, and together with Italian Futurism, Rayonism was a pictorial movement of an eminently conjectural nature.

While Cubism implied a definitive rupture with traditional painting, opening the gap that would hoist the so-called historical vanguards, Rayonism would not manage to make the same impact on the development of the arts of the 20th century. In spite of that, its two protagonists, Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova, endeavored to propel a new painting which, to a certain extent, would serve Abstract art as an advance party.

Written by Larionov, the Rayonist Manifest is fundamental to assess the historical moment in which art and science seemed to become allies. Rayonism, indeed, relied on recent scientific discoveries to support its modern proposal. Inspired by the multifaceted decomposition of space, defended by Cubism and the impossible dynamism of Futurist paintings, Rayonism set out to take another step towards capturing reality.

The Rayonist Manifesto can be summed up as follows:

There are phenomena whose real identity only allows us to know science, even when our senses do not allow us to perceive them in such a way. However, we are convinced they are exactly as we feel them and not any other way.

In a strictly official sense, Rayonism is based on the following postulates:

The radiation of the reflected light (in the space between two objects, which forms a type of chromatic dust).

The theory of radiation.

Radioactive rays. Ultraviolet rays.


Larionov made the new movement’s scientific nature clear. Science proved that the human eye is not capable of discerning certain light wavelengths that nonetheless exist, ultraviolet rays, for example. The space that surrounds us revealed to be traversed by luminous forces that, bouncing off objects, are translated by our brain into a palpable physical world.

Now, by contemplating not the objects themselves, but the sum of the rays which they give off, we can build the painting in such a way that: The sum of the rays of objects A is crossed by the sum of the rays of object B. In the space which lies between them a form which is defined by the artist’s will is formed. […]

That is how I have painted the first works truly realistic works.

To Larionov and Goncharova, the constitutive and essential reality of objects will be that of light rays that bounce off their surface and which, captured by the conscious subject, give way to the appearances of the world. Idealism’s old philosophical problem, where the object acquires the dodgy consistency of a phantom, is translated in Rayonism as plastic affirmation of the real nature of said phantom. If the object is uncertain, our senses can deceive us in relation to it, but, in contrast, the light which emanates from its surface is certain. Before it is transmuted by the brain and after it has been reflected on the object, that light must be captured by the Rayonist on the surface of his canvas. Every painterly expression that came before, where the object was represented in accordance to the shared conviction of its apparent form is accused of naïve falseness.

Larionov did not forget Cezanne had already walked the same path. Unlike the Impressionists, his contemporaries, who were more concerned with light’s fugacity and ephemeral effect, Cezanne embarked on the titanic task to represent not the objects nor the light that falls upon them, but the particular way in which these were perceived by his retina. The world revealed itself as a mystery of geometrical and flat shapes, as a firmly united lattice that lost all illusion of relief.

Larionov took Cezanne’s boldness further. If the latter tore his conclusions from his tireless work in nature, his revelation the fruit of his tireless and inexorable vision, Larionov, in turn, based his proposal on a priori reflection, or in other words, mere hypothesis.

Perhaps it was this conjectural nature of movement, too subjected to theories, which conditioned its length and posterior influence. Rayonism’s cathode images were nothing more than the images of an image, i.e., representations of a supposition that, although confirmed by scientific experiments, did not cease to be as spectral as that conventional figure of the object they attempted to avoid at all cost. Rayonists paid little or no attention to the Cezannean maxim: work now and theorize later.

Despite its deficiencies, Rayonism opened the path for painting’s real autonomy, definitely unfettered from the object’s representation. The proposal was as risky, vehement and passionate as the electrifying surface of its fabrics.

Rayonism set out to reduce reality to its reflected light purity, and perhaps because of this, its paintings strike us as impossible jungles, splendorous and impenetrable luxuriance, images of a world where excess vision would make us yearn for the object’s vulgar night which we often inhabit.

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