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El Lissitzky is a renowned Russian designer, and his ideas are considered to have innovated and inspired the graphic identity and topography in the 20th century. Russia’s post World War I and movements, such as suprematism, constructivism, dada, Bauhus, reaction to poverty and communism, influenced Lissitzky to come up with a new approach that was aimed at understanding image, type and design. This approach was meant to communicate messages about the graphics that even the uneducated could understand. In this paper, we will provide an analysis of El Lissitzky’s graphic influence. History indicates that El Lissitzky was one of the greatest personalities who made remarkable contributions in the field of graphic design. Some of the aspects that will be analyzed include a historical description of El Lissitzky, information regarding decades of his greatest influence, relating to a movement, a type of foundry, and designed typefaces. The paper will also look at the influences that affected the graphic design or advertising within that period.
El Lissitzky was a Russian, designer, artist, architect, photographer and topographer (Meggs 289). He was born in Pochinok, a tiny Jewish community in the former Russian Empire in 1890. He lived and schooled at the Vitebsk city during his childhood, and later moved to Smolensk to live with his grandparents. However, since his childhood, Lissitzky always had an interest in drawing. However, at the age of 13, he began receiving some aid from a local Jewish artist, Yehuda Pen, and studies highlight that at the age of 15, he began to teach other students (Meggs 290).
In 1909, Lissitzky sent an application to an art academy that was located in the Saint Petersburg, and despite his qualifications, was rejected. The main reason for this was the fact that the law at the time only permitted few Jewish students to go to Russian universities and schools, thus being forced to go to Germany where he studied architectural engineering. In 1912, Lissitzky spent his summer holidays wondering in the Paris, where he got an opportunity to interact with a group of Russian Jews, based in the Paris and practicing some sculpture work. It was in the same year when some of his pieces of art were for the first time incorporated in an exhibition organized by the St. Petersburg Artists Union. He continued to stay in the Germany until the outbreak of the First World War, which forced him to return to the Russia. After he returned home, he was employed by the architectural firms, while schooling at the Polytechnic Institute of Riga. He got his degree with the diploma in architectural engineering from the same school, and continued working for the architectural firms. However, during his work, he took a passionate and active interest in the Jewish culture, which was going through a renaissance after the fall of its regime.
The new regime revoked a ruling that proscribed the printing of the Hebrew letters. Therefore, Lissitzky devoted his time to Jewish art, displaying the works done by the local Jewish artists, and even travelled to Mahilyo to learn the traditional ornaments and architecture of the old synagogues. He also demonstrated numerous Yiddish children’s books. Lissitzky’s first designs came into view in 1917, in the book named, An Everyday Conversation, where he distinctly integrated the Hebrew letters with an art nouveau style. The next book entailed a visual retelling of the One Goat, a customary Jewish Passover song, where a topographic device was illustrated. Images were integrated with letters in this book in a manner whereby the characters colours in the story were matched with the words used to refer to them. The last page of the same book displayed the mighty hand of God, assassinating the angel of death, while wearing the crown of tsar. This was considered as a link to the deliverance of the Jews in Russia’s Revolution and also, as the demolition of the Jewish culture.
El Lissitzky’s Graphic Design Influence
In May 1919, Lissitzky received an invitation from Marc Chagall, a fellow Jewish artist, and he went back to Vitebsk to train the students about architecture, printing and graphic arts at the newly established People’s Art School. It was during this period when Lissitzky, together with his friend Malevich established a movement known as the suprematism. Suprematism revoked the emulation of natural shapes, but laid more emphasis on the design of discrete, geometric forms (Stedelijk 94). However, there were some controversies at the introduction of this movement, since Lissitzky’s friend who invited him to teach at his school was against the movement, but when Chagali left the school, Lissitzky subscribed completely to suprematism.
During the same year, that is 1919, Lissitzky designed a poster, ‘’Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge”. At this episode, Russia was experiencing a civil war, and the fight was between the Reds, who were the revolutionaries and the communists, and the whites, who included the liberals, monarchists socialists and the conservatives who were against the Bolshevik Revolution (Perloff, et al 125). This image, which illustrated a red wedge smashing the white form, communicated a very powerful message to the viewers. This poster was designed in such a manner that movement, hierarchy and direction have all been applied. In addition, the incorporation of geometric shapes, size and colour enables the eye to move from the left hand side of the poster to the right. The eyes are attracted to the big red triangle, and then move to the white circle, and finally to the black area around the circle.
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Around 1920, Lissitzky established his own suprematist style, which entailed a series of geometric paintings and abstract and named proun (Spencer and Poynor 230). According to Lissitzky, Proun is a station where an individual moves from painting to architecture. It entails exploring suprematism’s visual language with spatial elements, applying shifting axes and other multiple perspectives (Stedelijk 102). During this time, suprematism was basically carried out in flat 2 dimensional shapes and forms, and since Lissitzky had some skills in architecture and 3 dimensional concepts, he managed to expand suprematism. It is also important to note that Lissitzky was used to apply Hebrew letters as component of the visual code or typography and therefore, the Jewish symbols and themes at times appeared in his Proun. For instance, in the cover of his book, Four Billy Goats, which was written in 1922, Lissitzky displays an array of Hebrew letters in the form of architectural elements in a unique design that portrays his current Proun typography.
During the period of 1923-1925, Lissitzky suggested and built up the concept of the horizontal skyscrapers. He argued that the fact that human beings had no ability to fly was apparent, but moving horizontally, as opposed to the vertical direction, was natural. Therefore, where land for construction was insufficient, it was preferable to create a new plane in the atmosphere at a medium altitude. According to Lissitzky, such buildings provided superior ventilation and insulation for the occupants. It is important to note that during this period, Lissitzky designed adverts for the Pelican industries (Perloff, et al 256). He also designed a constructivist exhibition room. However, one of his prominent exhibits was the 1927 All-Union Polygraphic Exhibit designed in Moscow. In 1928, the state assigned Lissitzky to organize the Press Show. He also managed and designed in other sites such as the Hygiene show held in Dresden in 1930. He also served as a lead decorator for the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition in 1937.
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Some of Lissitzky’s influence that affected graphic design during that period includes the emphasis on the use of pictorial representation, based on the constructivist ideology (Spencer and Poynor 232). For instance, the constructor is a photomontage created in 1925 and features contrast texture, movement and depth. He also incorporated visual punctuation in his designs and emphasized on the use of horizontal and diagonal rules to help direct the viewers’ eyes. In addition, his works were greatly influenced by the application of colour. He uses colour to provide distinction and provide a deeper understanding to his viewers. It is apparent that modern artistic designers have also tried to incorporate the use of colour into their designs and clearly, color play a significant role when it comes to brand identification and other aspects. Other than just providing visual illustrations, Lissitszky highlighted that it was important to provide meaning to the pictures. He indeed upheld a new approach to the understanding of design and images since his laid emphasis on the illustration of meaning in the context that the message illustrated could be well understood by the illiterate component of the society. Such an approach is well applied in the contemporary designs and even adverts. Some of the companies provide adverts with pictorial illustrations that could as well be understood by the uneducated people. He recognized the importance of understanding and getting the message from the pictorial drawings. In addition, he also brought the concept of the three-dimensional into graphic design.
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El Lissitzky was a renowned Russian designer of the twentieth century. His ideas have had a great influence in the world of graphics and typography. His ideas were basically influenced by the post World War I in Russia, and movements, such as suprematism, constructivism, dada, Bauhaus and in reaction to poverty and communism. Lissitszky introduced a new approach into the understanding of design and image, since his graphics represented much meaning into the ability to communicate messages that could as well be understood by the illiterate or uneducated people. His works were not only directed towards illustrating pictorial drawings but were used as a means of conveying intended messages across. His novelty also enabled him to get contracts from various industries to design product adverts. Indeed, these ideas have a great influence in the field of graphics since most contemporary designers incorporate meaning into their graphic designs.