El Lissitzky (Lazar Markovich Lissitzky dit)

1890 1941
(Russie) 1890 /   (Russie) 1941

Born in Polshinok in Russia, Lissitzky acted in the 1920's as a bridge between the Soviet and Western avant-gardes.

His early graphic work dates from 1905 when he was executing woodcuts, which were strongly influenced by Russian popular art.

In 1909, after being turned down from the Petrograd Academy of Arts, Lissitzky decided to travel to Germany and study architecture at the "Technische Hocuschule" (technological university) in Darmstadt, a stronghold of the Art Nouveau. Pursuing his studies in a Western European milieu and travelling to Paris and Brussels, he witnessed the breakthrough of a new architecture and the new conception of clean lines.

However he was forced to return to Russia when the war broke out and received his diploma in architecture and engineering from the Riga technological university in Moscow. In spite of his training, he began his working life as a traditional graphic artist and came in 1919 under the influence of Choral who invite him to teach architecture and Graphic arts at the Vitebsk Labour Cooperative.

The time spent in Vitebsk was probably the most important in the development of his career as an artist: Malevich succeeded Chagall as principal of Vitebsk school and Lissitzky became fascinated by his work. Malevich's theory of Suprematism rejected the natural shapes and demanded the new creation of more distinct, geometric forms within the picture frame. Lissitzky became non-objective and proceeded to evolve an abstract style to which he gave the name "Proun": an abbreviation of Russian words meaning " Project for the establishment of new art." He introduced into his pictures the impression of absolute space and a three-dimensional conception, playing a significant role in the transfer of two-dimensional to three-dimensional Suprematism and architecture.

His theory is documented at the beginning of his "Proun manifesto" in which he writes: "Not world visions, But world reality" and in his own words Prouns are "the interchange station between painting and architecture" or by definition a projection of utopian architecture. Since the outbreak of the October Revolution in 1917, Lissitzky had been in the front rank of Russian artists, searching for new building projects and their adaptation to the daily necessities of a new communist society.

In 1921 he travelled to Berlin with instructions to establish contacts between artists in the Soviet Union and Germany. Here he came into contact with eh avant-garde of the time and met the two artists with whom he was to be most closely associated, Lazlo Moholy Nagy and Kurt Schwitters.

In 1922 he took part in the creation of the first Soviet Art exhibition in Berlin introducing Russian Suprematism and Constructivism to the mainstream of European Art. Lissitzky's print work is centred around three portfolios: in 1921 he produced the first Proun portfolio in Moscow, in 1923 he made the second one for the Kestenergesellschaft which was related to the Opera 'Victory over the sun' by Alexei Kruchenykh and Mikhail Matiushin), before traveling to Switzerland for medical treatment.

In 1924, he worked with Kurt Schwitters on the issue of the periodical Merz called "Nasci," and with Arp on the book Die Kunstismen. The next year, he returned to Moscow to teach at Vkhutemas-Vkhutein, which he continued to do until 1930.

During the mid-1920s, Lissitzky stopped painting in order to concentrate on the design of typography and exhibitions. He created a room for the Internationale Kunstausstellung in Dresden in 1926 and another at the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover in 1927.

He died on December 30, 1941, in Moscow.