EL LISSITZKY BIOGRAPHY

Design must be revolutionary. Design is not the act of promoting commerce. Design is a part of a new society. An important figure of the Russian avant-garde and a huge influence in the development of Suprematism, El Lissitzky; born on November 23, 1890 was a Russian engineer, artist, photographer, cultural ambassador, typographer and designer. The Tsarist Regime El Lissitzky was born in made it difficult for him to travel as he came from Jewish heritage; however, like other Jews, Lissitzky traveled to Germany where he studied architectural engineering. While at school, he toured Europe where he began to teach himself about fine art and architecture. This travel influenced his work tremendously, where crossing boundaries became largely apparent and eventually lead to his work being included in the 1912 St. Petersburg Artist Union — the first time his work was showcased to the world. Lissitzky’s first designs were published in 1917, his work showed the incorporation of Hebrew letters — a huge influence in his work, with art nouveau characteristics.

In 1919 Lissitzky returned to Russia to teach graphic arts, printing and architecture at the People’s Art School — created by the Jewish artist and friend Marc Chagall. This is where Lissitzky’s work with propaganda began. Lissitzky believed that art needed to be political and useful; he believed work needed to increase awareness of the new regime’s political ends. Kazimir Malevich was also invited to work at the People’s Art School, which sparked the creation of Suprematism that took the stage 1915. Suprematism refused the usage of natural shapes and focused solely on geometric forms. Lissitzky’s most famous piece “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge”, completely described the work of the era. The piece displayed minimal, geometric shapes, letters and colors — it was clean, energetic and effective and completely political but useful at the same time. The piece communicated an explicit message to the user as it utilized political symbolism to his advantage, this also led to the breaking of style from Malevich into a creation of his own, he stated, “The artist constructs a new symbol with his brush. This symbol is not a recognizable form of anything that is already finished, already made, or already existent in the world — it is a symbol of a new world”. Lissitzky was named one of the leading figures in the avant garde when he established his manifesto on art within books, “the book enters the skull through the eye not the ear therefore the pathways the waves move at much greater speed and with more intensity”. Lissitzky then began to branch away from Malevich, creating his own style of geometric and abtract art — Proun. Proun was Lissitzky’s complete exploration of Suprematism and how it communicated messages with spatial elements through shifting axes and multiple perspectives. Lissitzky used his engineering and architecture experience to his advantage by experimenting with three-dimensional concepts. Basic architecture features like volume, mass, color, space and rhythm were apparent through his Proun work, however, suprematist ideals were still largely present. Like his previous work, Lissitzky continued to use his work as a product for change — he began creating work with socially defined purposes and utopian models for a better world. Lissitzky solely believed that artists were an agent for change.

Lissitzky’s work began to lead to the fracture of Suprematism- it was split between those who favored utopian and spiritual art and those who believed it was a utility to serve society. This break in Suprematism caused Lissitizky to move back to Berlin as a culturual representative of Russia and his work as a writer and designer for international magazines and journals began. During this period Lissitzky also began to develop his carrer as a graphic designer through the books “Dlia Golossa”, poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky and the collaboration “Die Kunstismen” with Jean Arp.