It’s Day 179 and it was a hot day! Feeling a little exhausted because I’m a lady (girl times coming up), but I got some big grocery shopping done, drove around, walked the dogs and did a painting! Join me in honoring El Lissitzky today.
Lazar Markovich Lissitzky (Russian: Ла́зарь Ма́ркович Лиси́цкий) (November 23, 1890 – December 30, 1941), better known as El Lissitzky (Russian: Эль Лиси́цкий, Yiddish: על ליסיצקי), was a Russian artist, designer,photographer, typographer, polemicist and architect. He was an important figure of the Russian Avant Garde, helping develop suprematism with his mentor, Kazimir Malevich, and designing numerous exhibition displays and propaganda works for the Soviet Union. His work greatly influenced the Bauhaus and constructivist movements, and he experimented with production techniques and stylistic devices that would go on to dominate 20th-century graphic design.
Lissitzky’s entire career was laced with the belief that the artist could be an agent for change, later
summarized with his edict, “das zielbewußte Schaffen” (goal-oriented creation). Lissitzky, of Jewish оrigin, began his career illustrating Yiddish children’s books in an effort to promote Jewish culture in Russia, a country that was undergoing massive change at the time and that had just repealed its antisemitic laws. When only 15 he started teaching; a duty he would stay with for most of his life. Over the years, he taught in a variety of positions, schools, and artistic media, spreading and exchanging ideas. He took this ethic with him when he worked with Malevich in heading the suprematist art group UNOVIS, when he developed a variant suprematist series of his own, Proun, and further still in 1921, when he took up a job as the Russian cultural ambassador to Weimar Germany, working with and influencing important figures of the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements during his stay. In his remaining years he brought significant innovation and change to typography, exhibition design, photomontage, and book design, producing critically respected works and winning international acclaim for his exhibition design. This continued until his deathbed, where in 1941 he produced one of his last works – a Soviet propaganda poster rallying the people to construct more tanks for the fight against Nazi Germany. In 2014, the heirs of the artist, in collaboration with Van abbemuseum and the leading worldwide scholars, the Lissitzky foundation was established, to preserve the artist’s legacy and preparing a catalogue raisone of the artist oeuvre.
Lissitzky was born on November 23, 1890 in Pochinok, a small Jewish community 50 kilometres (31 mi) southeast of Smolensk, former Russian Empire. During his childhood, he lived and studied in the city of Vitebsk, now part of Belarus, and later spent 10 years in Smolensk living with his grandparents and attending the Smolensk Grammar School, spending summer vacations in Vitebsk. Always expressing an interest and talent in drawing, he started to receive instruction at 13 from Yehuda Pen, a local Jewish artist, and by the time he was 15 was teaching students himself. In 1909, he applied to an art academy in Saint Petersburg, but was rejected. While he passed the entrance exam and was qualified, the law under the Tsarist regime only allowed a limited number of Jewish students to attend Russian schools and universities.
Like many other Jews then living in the Russian Empire, Lissitzky went to study in
Germany. He left in 1909 to study architectural engineering at a Technische Hochschule in Darmstadt, Germany. During the summer of 1912, Lissitzky, in his own words, “wandered through Europe”, spending time in Paris and covering 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) on foot in Italy, teaching himself about fine art and sketching architecture and landscapes that interested him. His interest in ancient Jewish culture has originated during the contacts with Paris-based group of Russian Jews led by sculptor Ossip Zadkine, a lifetime friend of Lissitzky since early childhood, who exposed Lissitzky to conflicts between different groups within the diaspora. In the same 1912 some of his pieces were included for the first time in an exhibit by the St. Petersburg Artists Union; a notable first step. He remained in Germany until the outbreak of World War I, when he was forced to return home through Switzerland and the Balkans, along with many of his countrymen, including other expatriate artists born in the former Russian Empire, such as Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall.
Upon his return to Moscow, Lissitzky attended the Polytechnic Institute of Riga, which had been evacuated to Moscow because of the war, and worked for the architectural firms of Boris Velikovsky and Roman Klein. During this work, he took an active and passionate interest in Jewish culture which, after the downfall of the openly antisemitic Tsarist regime, was experiencing a renaissance. The new Provisional Government repealed a decree that prohibited the printing of Hebrew letters and that barred Jews from citizenship. Thus Lissitzky soon devoted himself to Jewish art, exhibiting works by local Jewish artists, traveling to Mahilyow to study the traditional architecture and ornaments of old synagogues, and illustrating many Yiddish children’s books. These books were Lissitzky’s first major foray in book design, a field that he would greatly innovate during his career.
His first designs appeared in the 1917 book, Sihas hulin: Eyne fun di geshikhten (An Everyday Conversation), where he incorporated Hebrew letters with a distinctly art nouveau flair. His next book was a visual retelling of the traditional Jewish Passover song Had gadya(One Goat), in which Lissitzky showcased a typographic device that he would often return to in later designs. In the book, he integrated letters with images through a system that matched the color of the characters in the story with the word referring to them. In the designs for the final page , Lissitzky depicts the mighty “hand of God” slaying the angel of death, who wears the tsar’s crown. This representation links the redemption of the Jews with the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. An alternative view asserts that the artist was wary of Bolshevik internationalization, leading to destruction of traditional Jewish culture. Visual representations of the hand of God would recur in numerous pieces throughout his entire career, most notably with his 1924 photomontage self-portrait The Constructor, which prominently featured the hand.
During this period Lissitzky proceeded to develop a suprematist style of his own, a series
of abstract, geometric paintings which he called Proun (pronounced “pro-oon”). The exact meaning of “Proun” was never fully revealed, with some suggesting that it is a contraction of proekt unovisa (designed by UNOVIS) or proekt utverzhdenya novogo (Design for the confirmation of the new). Later, Lissitzky defined them ambiguously as “the station where one changes from painting to architecture.”
Proun was essentially Lissitzky’s exploration of the visual language of suprematism with spatial elements, utilizing shifting axes and multiple perspectives; both uncommon ideas in
suprematism. Suprematism at the time was conducted almost exclusively in flat, 2D forms and shapes, and Lissitzky, with a taste for architecture and other 3D concepts, tried to expand suprematism beyond this. His Proun works (known as Prounen) spanned over a half a decade and evolved from straightforward paintings and lithographs into fully three-dimensional installations. They would also lay the foundation for his later experiments in architecture and exhibition design. While the paintings were artistic in their own right, their use as a staging ground for his early architectonic ideas was significant. In these works, the basic elements of architecture – volume, mass, color, space and rhythm – were subjected to a fresh formulation in relation to the new suprematist ideals. Through his Prouns, utopian models for a new and better world were developed. This approach, in which the artist creates art with socially defined purpose, could aptly be summarized with his edict “das zielbewußte Schaffen” – “task oriented creation.”
Very partial biography from wikipedia.
I focused on his Proun works for my tribute. I really fell in love with his artwork and design. I would elaborate more on this piece, but I’ve been pretty busy and fell ill this week so I have a ton to get done tonight. I hope you enjoy this piece and I’ll see you tomorrow on Day 180! Best, Linda