Wednesday, March 18, 2015

El Lissitzky: Mostly Non-Objective

Lazar Markovich Lissitzky (1890-1941), who styled himself El Lissitzy (the "El" might be from Eleazar, or perhaps from an aspect of the Unovis movement of 1920 when he first identified himself as "El"), was a major player in the group of Russian modernists who briefly thrived around the time of the Great War and for a dozen years or so in its aftermath. Biographical information on him can be found here, and this site features a number of large images of his graphic work.

Lissitzky trained in architecture in Germany and traveled in the west, but was forced to return to Russia when the war started in 1914. He did not serve in the Imperial army though he was of military age. This might have been because of tuberculosis, a disease that killed him at age 51. (Though one source mentions that the disease did not impact him until after the war, so perhaps his professional training or other factors kept him out of the army.)

The October Revolution kicked his creativity into high gear, his Jewishness no longer being a social barrier. Lissitzky's graphic designs helped anticipate the work of the Bauhaus in Germany and modernist-inspired designs elsewhere up into the 1950s when angled design elements became largely passé.

Some of his designs spilled over into painting, where his works were what was termed Non-Objective Art, a phrase used during the 1930s by New York's Museum of Modern Art for abstractions often comprised of geometrical elements. Aside from some Op-Art pieces in the 1960s and 70s, this geometrical type of decorative painting seems to have been an artistic dead-end.


"Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge" poster - 1920
This was in support of the Bolshevik armies during the post-revolution struggle against anti-Bolsheviks.  The Red Army eventually succeeded against the White forces, but didn't do well in its push into Poland.

Preliminary version of poster design - 1920

Proun design

Proun design

Vyeshch cover - 1922
Vyeshch was an avant-garde, modern art review that seems to have been multi-lingual to a degree. Note the German and French, especially at the lower left. The title is the three large Russian letters, the third of which symbolizes the "shch" sound.

"Iron in Clouds" design for Strastnoy Boulevard structures - 1925
The note at the upper right indicates that this drawing was a gift from Lessitzky to J.J.P. Oud, the Dutch architect who happened to have been born the same year.

Kusntgewrbemuseum Zürich catalog cover - 1929
This is perhaps Lissitzky's best-known graphic design, the merged heads being a clever but not particularly meaningful touch.  The event was a Russian exhibition, presumably of architectural and graphic designs.

1 comment:

Hels said...

I knew about Bauhaus but I did not realise that in 1921 he was working as the Russian cultural ambassador in Weimar Germany. Yet that makes perfect sense. El Lissitzky's total oeuvre was on based on 1. its didactic value and 2. the view that the society needed change and artists should be part of that change.

Whether the modern viewer likes El Lissitzky’s work or not, his posters and book designs fulfilled his goals perfectly.