Kharkiv School of Trademark Graphics (1920s–1980s)


Cet article retrace le fonctionnement de l'école de graphisme de Kharkiv et permet de mieux appréhender la façon dont les changements (économiques, géopolitiques) du XXe siècle ont affecté la pédagogie au fil des années. À travers la documentation de cette école de design influente, Hladun offre au lecteur une relecture de l’école de Kharkiv, décrivant comment elle a assuré une continuité graphique, par la formation en son sein, des futures générations d’enseignants. Il retrace également le parcours de Volodymyr Pobiedin et de Yevhen Nadiezhdin, figures marquantes du graphisme, qui ont progressé au sein de l'institution, d'abord comme étudiants, puis comme enseignants.


In the 1920s in Kharkiv, graphic art saw its development on the premises of the specialized middle school of arts and industry, which had its traditions established back in the times of Mariia Raievska-Ivanova.1

One of the new policies introduced by the Fine Arts Department of the Peoples Commissariat for Education of the Ukrainian SSR was the reorganisation of the Kharkiv School into state-owned studios. The role of an artist as a master craftsman’ embodied the policy of the Higher Arts and Technical Studios (Vkhutemas) which aimed at a practical embodiment of Productivist ideas.

From the first year an "objective method" of teaching was implemented. It relied on an empirical basis and became the only method for all the types of artistic activity. The idea for a scientific and logically objective approach was linked with the shift away from figurative imagery, through the harmonious use of the primary elements in graphic form: line, shape, colour, texture, within the trademark.

Vasyl Yermilov and Ivan Padalka

The 22nd of September 1921 marked the official opening of Kharkiv Vocational School of Arts.2 In January 1922, a graphic studio opened there under the direction of Vasyl Yermilov. There, he used to experiment with form and texture, trying out a wide variety of materials: wood, metal, glass, fabric; working out problems of colour. The "Yermilov Typeface" also stems from this period. In addition, commercial and trademark design played an important role in his creative activity. In many ways Vasyl Yermilovs pursuit resonated with the experiments by Volodymyr Tatlin, Lazar Lisitsky, Aleksandr Rodchenko, however it stood out in its emotion, heightened decorativeness, and a sense of connection with Ukrainian national applied arts, which in the 1960s-1970s became one of the stylistic features of the Kharkiv graphic design. With his work, Vasyl Yermilov cemented his influence on the design traditions in Ukraine, particularly in Kharkiv.

In general, between 1921-1923, the artistic education system remained fairly academic, not corresponding to the direction of the industry (design), which is why in 1925, alongside other professors, Ivan Padalka was invited to Kharkiv. Before starting his work at the Kharkiv Vocational School, just as Vasyl Yermilov, he had worked on mural painting, event decoration, illustrating books and magazines.

Although it seemed Yermilovs primary interest was in carrying out the formal tasks of design, when entering Padalkas workshop on formulating artistic expression, his artistic expression soon became influenced by ornamental techniques reminiscent of the less sleek of Ukrainian folk imagery style.

Yermilovs Constructivist ideas alongside those of Padalkas Neoprimitivism, were the two opposing poles of the same phenomenon, were shaping the new system of training for designers while at the same time expressing a distinctive national identity. The particularity of Ivan Padalkas graphic style was in its special artistry that expressed a certain ornamentalism, giving the image a foreign tone.

The two different artists – Ivan Padalka and Vasyl Yermilov – corresponded in being responsible for the direction of the art industry, as well as being linked by the demands of the time and the tasks of artistic education.

Thus, with the backdrop of a fierce struggle between the academic strand, which defined the easel forms3 as most significant, and the industry which was ordered by the new era, two main schools emerged, reflecting the character of a crucially new pursuit, and the new developments of Ukrainian graphic art of the early 20th century. On the one side, the principles of Boychukism being developed by Ivan Padalka, on the other, a withdrawal towards nonobjectivity taking place in the system of instruction by Vasyl Yermilov which had laid the ground for the future designer education.

Of course, to an industrial city (like Kharkiv) with its artistic particularities and its tradition of arts and industry schools lead by Mariia Raievska-Ivanova, a leaning towards design was natural and inherent. This added to new demands that the arts became subject to.


From the 1930s onward, the politicisation of the arts also caught onto the learning process. The Peoples Commissar of Education Mykola Skrypnyk made a statement defending the relationship between art and industry, responding to the demands of society at the time. The impact of the totalitarian regime upon the art life in Kharkiv deprived the institute of its status of a higher education institution (1934) and caused the transfer of Ivan Padalka to Kyiv (1936). In 1937 total ideological control over culture manifested itself in physical elimination of the best representatives of the national art tradition, including Ivan Padalka. The ideological dictate left Vasyl Yermilov morally broken and doomed him to an internalised opposition of Ber Blank, Yosyp Daitz, Moisei Fradkin and other designers. Given the existing Kharkiv tradition of drawing lessons, the formal return to academic principles of education was not strictly dictated, thus the reform of the artistic education system took place in a fairly calm way. The etching studios of Vasyl Myronenko and Yosyp Daitz were open at that time, as well as lino printing studios of Ivan Padalkas students Ber Blank and Moisei Fradkin. Albeit it was only by the end of the 1950s with the regimes laxation, did their work become interesting and nationally distinctive.


During World War II, although there was no demand for the creation of trademarks, poster art had saw a rise. From the first days of the war, an output of silkscreen posters was established in Kharkiv. Soon after its relocation from Kyiv to Kharkiv, Mystetstvo (Art) publishing house had started to print posters too.

A group of professors from Kharkiv and Kyiv Arts Institutes evacuated to Samarkand, where they set up poster workshops with Vasyl Kasiian leading the way. His best works belong to this period.


Within the unified walls of Socialist Realism exist the trademarks created in the 1950s (with the development of mass production, graphic marks got into the spotlight of public interest). Getting influence from the easel art forms of the previous period, marks moved closer to advertising posters, bookplates and universally understood emblems with their straightforward imagery. These sincere and naïve compositions were not only used to identify goods and services, but also to create the feeling of a happy life. Due to their symmetrical composition, trademarks looked somewhat celebratory. During this period Ber Blank, Moisei Fradkin, Yosyp Daitz and Borys Kosariev were turned to graphic marks in order to avoid political pressure and the ideologically imposed clichés of the time.

By the end of the 1950s, in response to new artistic tasks, there was a return to formalist ideas and visual explorations by the leading graphic masters of the early 20th century. The new aesthetic agenda; the Severe Style,4 monumentalism,5 within graphics; a shift away from etching and prioritisation of lino printing (as flat outcome). However, distinctive manifestations of this trend only surfaced by the 1960s: today, this lag can be explained as an outcome of the surrounding environment (in Kharkiv at that time).


Following the reorganisation of the Kharkiv State Institute of Arts into an institute for arts and industry6 (academic year of 1962-1963), a department was created on the foundation of easel based graphics; the department of Industrial Graphics and Packaging. Fig. 1

New tasks now faced the Institute: to develop a new strategy for the discipline, direct methodologies, curricula and plans for study. Gaining the qualification of Designer within that easel-based education establishment was quite dramatic, due to the difference in artistic outlooks of professors. Throughout the 1960s the department was made up of outstanding figures in graphic art: Vasyl Myronenko, Hryhorii Bondarenko, Volodymyr Selezniov, Moysei Fradkin, Ber Blank, Yosyp Daitz, as well as the youths of the time: Viktor Vikhtynskyi, Ihor Stakhanov, Mykola Hnoiovyi, Volodymyr Pobiedin, Mykola Kamennyi, Yevhen Nadiezhdin, Volodymyr Nenado, Vitalii Kulykov, and others. Thanks to them, a new system was created: flexible to reforms and firm in keeping traditions alive. Important for the new program was the partial rehabilitation of the 1920s’ avant-garde, its graphic essence.

The new program had a positive impact upon the development of the trademark. Along with the decree of the USSR Council of Ministers on the 15th of May 1962, "On Trademarks" an obligation that asked that state, cooperative and other enterprises to mark their goods or packaging, and register their trademarks in the USSR State Committee on the Rights of Invention. In the early 1960s, working at the the Kharkiv Regional Department of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI)

were renowned masters of trademark design: Ber Blank, Volodymyr Selezniov, Borys Kosariev, Yosyp Daitz, and others. The creative activity of these figures has to a large extent defined the further development of the trademark in Ukraine.

Yevhen Nadiezhdin

At the frontier of the new specialism was Yevhen Nadiezhdin, ceramicist by qualification and graphic artist by profession. The artist had moved to Kharkiv at the time of the Trademarks Decree.

Yevhen Nadiezhdin said that in placing himself in the sphere of design as a self-taught designer, he was pushed towards constant self-improvement. This was reinforced by his communication with experienced professionals of the graphic mark at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the annual exhibitions in various regions of the USSR, and his internship at the studio of famous Estonian graphic artist Paul Luchtein. As graphic design in the Baltic region were ahead of Leningrad and Moscow at the time, Luchtein’s experience and contribution had played an important role in the departments evolution.

Creating graphic marks requires a special creative talent – a conciseness of artistic language. Yevhen Nadiezhdin aptly described the process of creating a mark: "thought of it – imagined“. Concise explanations of the creative process, as well as in how professors taught students, were a characteristic trait of many of the department’s professors.” Say less, but accurately – so that it will be remembered for the rest of their life." Yevhen Nadiezhdin used to say that his first graphic marks were "tell-tale signs" or "story-marks“. Characteristic to marks in the early 1960s was the use of "literature” and adornment, inherited from the painted forms of the previous decade.

Through the 1960s, the features of the graphic mark changed entirely: decoration became functional and informative. To begin, the appearance of the first initial of the name of an enterprise or its location was subtly included as a piece of helpful information, but as time went on it occupied the graphic marks, the composition of which was designed to be as informative (to the viewer) as possible.

In the 1970s, the precedence of the initial began to dominate graphic marks: dominant, the letter took on a symbol of a given manufacturer.

In 1964, Volodymyr Pobiedin joined the department. Together with Yevhen Nadiezhdin, Volodymyr Selezniov, Mykola Kamennyi and Moisei Fradkin, he shaped the aesthetics and principles of graphic mark production in Kharkiv.

However, if the trademarks of Moisei Fradkin and Ber Blank (whose work belongs to the previous art generation) leant more toward the Ex Libris7, then in general the symbolism in the work of the new generation of masters took on a new laconic extreme.

Volodymyr Pobiedin

According to Volodymyr Pobiedin8, work on graphic marks demands a specific characteristics of the designer – intelligence, ability to think outside of the box, but within this be able to take account of the social norms of the time and not to fear compromise –, imperative to develop not only in their education, but throughout their whole life pushing yourself, a sense of times, tolerance and responsibility were the essential traits of Volodymyr Pobiedin as artist and teacher. When recalling his studies, he was especially grateful to his professors Moisei Fradkin (student of Ivan Padalka and Vasyl Yermilov) and Ber Blank (student of Ivan Padalka), wholehearted friendship with Yosyp Daitz (student of Ivan Padalka and Oleksii Marenkov). "The role of the teacher is similar to that of an athlete, who passes the relay baton within a team. Somebody grabs it and passes it on!", Volodymyr Pobiedin once said. These reflections unveiled one of the crucial attributes of the Kharkiv graphic school, the continuity of generations: the system brings in its professors through the selection of its best students. From the 1950s onward, supported and assisted by Yosyp Daitz, Volodymyr Pobiedin had become an unofficial cooperator of the Kharkiv branch of All-Union Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where he worked until 1995, staying a member of its Arts Council for over twenty years. Fig. 2

The body of work by Volodymyr Pobiedin includes handouts, labels, packaging, and a large amount of complex orders. However, the artist was particularly passionate about the trademark design. Over his 45 years of work in the CCI, he created over 700 graphic samples that were approved by the state committee – in addition to the thousands of draft projects that had been abandoned for different reasons. In the multitude of languages in his first compositions of graphic marks (the 1950s), one can still trace the influence of Ber Blank, although Volodymyr Pobiedin was more restrained and laconic. The representational character of the static emblems had shifted towards inwardly-dynamic and balanced compositions. The illustrative quality of the early 1960s, inherent to the Kharkiv graphics industry, is naturally reflected in the works of Volodymyr Pobiedin. Using real imagery, he was one of the first ones to retreat from narrative compositions, instead working towards the creation of marks as symbols.


The first graduation (of students) of the new department of Industrial Graphics and Packaging took place in 1968. Little by little, the department’s staff was filled out by its graduates Yevhen Korovianko, Anatolii Kuzmenko, Ivan Kryvoruchko, Tetiana Serdobinska, Valentyna Zhubr, Volodymyr Ovchynnikov, Oleh Veklenko, Volodymyr Shevchenko, Oleksandr Bliakher, Volodymyr Lesniak, and later by Vladyslav Khrystenko, Oleh Yurchenko, Nadiia Sbitneva. A special focus at the time was on complex tasks of designing complex structures and sign systems, working on corporate style and visual image.

In order to nurture a broad professional outlook and creative mobility, the department was subject to constant adjustment. Its conceptual foundation was to train universal graphic professionals. Fig. 3

The domination of the letter is the feature of the 1970s: trademarks were based on one, two or several letters which were taken from the title of the company or the name of the region. Fig.4


In the 1980s, the evolution of the form of graphic marks saw a definite abandonment of naturalistic imagery. The mark now resembled a formula-image, such as arrows, to signify ascension, or round bottomed flasks to symbolise the chemical industrys development. Fig. 5 The graphic mark at the time, at least in the political sector, reached its utmost level of abstraction. Marks did not demand any deep symbolism and were quickly becoming generic and non-specific. Fig. 6

The mid-1980s, marked by reorganisation of the economy, set to work the powerful engine of advertising. Replacing the iconic and typeface based and combined marks, were the convenient to remember marks containing words.

Logo had taken the stage. It was at this time that Volodymyr Lesniak, Oleh Veklenko, Oleksandr Bliakher, and others started to actively work in this sphere. Fig. 7 By the late 1980s, the Modernist sign paradigm impregnated with Socialist ideology, faded from existence. Fig. 8

As computer technology forges transformations in the sectors of science and technology, as well as in culture and society, the provision of information services became the basis of both the economy and design. Unlike Modernist rationalism (minimalism used for maximum expression), the main criteria of quality for a graphic mark became its originality. The graphic mark increasingly leaning towards a specific consumer, and moving away from mass production. New technologies directly impacted trademark design. The preference of clients towards international signs, meant the dominance of the Latin alphabet, almost entirely pushing out the Cyrillic, explained Volodymyr Pobiedin. Fig. 9 Fig. 10 Perplexity only sharpened the necessity to reorganise all the systems, including the aesthetics. And so appeared the new graphic mark, intended to fulfil all the tasks of economy and culture in the Postmodern era. Fig. 11

  1. Mariia Raievska-Ivanova. In 1868, she founded the first private school of applied graphics and painting in the Russian Empire that later became the basis for the school of arts and industry. (Ed. Note)↩︎

  2. This type of educational institution was part of the system of higher education in the 1920s. (Ed. Note)↩︎

  3. Easel arts referring to traditional methods, e.g. painting. (Ed. Note)↩︎

  4. Severe style, sometimes also referred to as the austere style, was a movement in art which grew from a shift in politics with the death of Joseph Stalin, characterised by simplified modelling of forms, harsh edges, dramatic contrasts and bold colour usage. (Ed. Note)↩︎

  5. Monumentalism defines the architectural tendencies that during the first half of the twentieth century had as their essential canon the inspiration and connection to classicism and neoclassicism. (Ed. Note)↩︎

  6. Kharkiv State Institute of Arts was reorganised into Kharkiv Art and Industrial Institute. Restructured to ready students for industry. (Ed. Note)↩︎

  7. An Ex Libris also known as a bookplate is a printed or decorative label pasted into a book, often on the front endpaper, to indicate ownership. (Ed. Note)↩︎

  8. See also on Problemata U,N,A Collective. 1918-2006. Volodymyr Oleksiiovych Pobiedin. Designer, Professor, Innovator. An Exercice in Admiration↩︎