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November 10, 2019 3 min read

El Lissitzky

El Lissitzky born as Lazar Markovich Lisitsky in the Pochinok town of Russian Empire on was birthed on November 10 or 11th of the year 1890. He was a Russian avant-garde artist, photographer, designer, typographer and architect. Being a Lithuanian Jewish, he took a special interest in the Jewish traditional architecture and themes. His work reflected his belief that artists can be an agent of social change. He is best known for delivering strong political statements by using primary colour and basic shapes. His art was linked with the propaganda works of the Soviet Union, yet, he was instrumental in breaking away the traditional notions of art and has a profound influence on the world of graphic design

Early life:

Lissitzky’s interest in art and design was evident from childhood itself and at a young age of 13 he started taking instructions from Yehuda Pen, a local Jewish artist in Vitebsk. Within 2 years he started teaching students himself, a profession that he never truly left. He faced the consequence of being born in a small Jewish community when was rejected from Petrograd Academy of Arts due to antisemitic laws of the time. So, in 1909 he left for Germany to study Architectural Engineering atTechnische Hochschule in Darmstadt. During that period he travelled Europe and drew full colour illustrations of building and landscapes that he saw. These drawings were in contrast with his later mature art. Ossip Zadkine, who himself was a sculptor, revealed to Lessitzky the clash between various groups piquing his interest in Jewish culture. He returned to Russia at the start of WW I and attended Polytechnic Institute of Riga. He also worked with architects like Roman Klein and Boris Velikovsky. The fall of the Tsar regime led to Jewish renaissance and Lissitzky devoted himself to support local Jewish artists and illustrating many Yiddishchildren's books.

Gallery of Work:

Lissitzky believed in that the old notions of art did not reflect the changes taking place due to industrialisation and advances in technology. For him art was abstract & theoretical carrying substantial messages and not decoration and artefacts.

Lissitzky’s encounter with Kazimir Malevich’s artistic style called ‘Suprematism’ inspired him profoundly. He co-founded UNOVIS withMalevich to promote suprematism. But instead of being an art of ‘world of non-objectivity’ as Malevich aspired, Lissitzky’s work had political symbolism. It can be seen in his most famous work and the propaganda poster ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge’, which was a result of Russian Civil war. The architecture style of the time was deeply influenced by the European style and Lissitzky’s included Suprematism in his architectural designs to break away from it.

Proun, a series of abstract geometric paintings, was a style developed by him. The exact meaning of Proun was never revealed. Although Proun was influenced by Suprematism, Lissitzky tried to expand it in 3D installations. These paintings were models for new and utopian world. Influence of Lissitzky’s Jewish descent was also visible in these paintings.

In 1921, after decline of Suprematicism, he returned to Germany as the Russian cultural representative. During this period, the him as an artist as well as an engineer. Under the guidelines of Constructivism, he focused on his passion for architectural . He took to design skyscrapers and favoured ‘horizontal skyscrapers’ which directly contradicted the American skylines. The conflict of his utopian aspirations and the physical constraints, limited most of his architectural designs to paper only.

After returning to Russia in 1928, he experimented with typography and photography. This period was his most progressive. Degradation of his health in late 1930s due to TB led to decreased involvement but he still produced Soviet Propaganda art. Even the heavy restrictions imposed by Stalin on arts and his hostile attitude towards Jews could not stop Lissitzky, who produced propaganda poster even months before his death. He died at an age of 51 years and was survived by his wife Sophie.

The Constructor,Had Gadya, Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, Proun 99,Of Two Squares,USSR, Russische Ausstellung are some of his notable works.

Contemporary art exhibition Utopia and reality? El Lissitzky, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Location: Multimedia Arts Museum in Moscow, Russia.

Contemporary art exhibition Utopia and reality? El Lissitzky, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Location: Multimedia Arts Museum in Moscow, Russia.

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