By Francesco Carelli – Professor Family Medicine in Milan, Rome

“I have never been sparing of my energy in my life. Now I’ve arrived at the limit, and now I know how one should create pictures that are “fine”, “strong”, “dynamic”. An enigma must once more rise up in

  1. I don’t belong to the birds that sing for the sake of singing”  El Lissitzky

Painter, designer, architect, graphic designer, photographer and, above all, revolutionary: a life lived at the limit – indeed, dedicated to going beyond them. This is El Lissitzky, whose works are spreading in  leading international institutions and museums.   Markovic Lisickij  ( Pocinok, Smolensk, Russia, 1890 – Moscow, 1941), called El Lissitzky, was one of the most influential, experimental and controversial artists of the early 20th century.

Creative and innovative, he aspired to blend countries and cultures, art and design, West and East in his work. For him, art was a heterogenous  process of research, within which  he constantly built up links between different disciplines: architecture, construction, design, graphic design, illustration.
El Lissitzky experienced the “totality” willing to investigate the development of art  through all the languages adopted to build a new, collective and revolutionary art, presenting paintings, printing projects, book and magazine illustrations, architectural studies, photographs, photo-montages and photographs like “Runner in the city” of 1926 and the iconic self-portrait known as “The builder” of 1924.
El Lissitzky was not interested in the final object, but focussed rather on a “creative process” in which labour and culture were indissolubly bound. In 1919, he invented his own personal form of abstract art which was subsequently to typify his entire production and artistic investigation. These work, called Proun (Design for the confirmation of the new), were conceived as “transitional stations from painting to architecture”.
Later on, the ideas underlying the Prouns took the form of sketches for architectural projects that frequently never saw the light of day (horizontal skyscrapers, apartment blocks, interiors of pavilions for fairs, and so on). El Lissitzky wrote that “The Proun starts as a flat surface, is transformed into a model of three-dimensional space and continues with the construction of all the objects of everyday life”.
Together with Kazimir Malevich, El Lissitzky conceived a new visual language, revolutionary suprematism, which was used not only in painting but also in architectural projects and designs for theatre sets, in ceramic works, in didactic theory and propaganda works.

Art was not to limit itself merely to the production of objects or to being the representation of individual expression, but was to help pave the way to the organisation of collective and social activities. Above all, it was to be public.

As was the case with other artists of the Soviet Union, El Lissitzky bore in him a concept of political art helping to increase the sense of belonging and of participation in Stalinist ideas, communicating their ideological message in a visual manner. Like with the Russian constructivists, he used his creative energy to invent a new social structure in which the new engineer-architect-artist would be able to cross and eliminate the old borders. Very famous the poster “ the read  wedge wins the white square “.

He is considered the founder of modern typography and as such has helped completely renew the approach of graphic design. He illustrated books and periodicals and, as militant in the national movement for the resurgence of Hebrew culture, a number of volumes in Yiddish, many of which for children.

From the 1920s, it is worth recalling the illustrations for Vladimir Mayakovsky’s opera “For the voice” and the cover design for magazines like “Broom” and “Wendingen”; from the 1930s, significant works include the graphic design and photographic montages of various issues of the “USSR under construction”. El Lissitzky also produced the cover for editions of books by three great Russian authors: Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky.

The architectural projects, Prouns, graphic and typographical projects, together with the layouts of exhibitions – for which he was a pioneer in seeking the active involvement of the public – are the materialisation of political and social convictions developed with propulsive energy by the Soviet avant-garde movements; they form the link towards an art that was truly an “experience of totality”.