El Lissitzky: The Artist and the State
On the 25th of September 2015, the class of HND1 visited the Irish Museum of Modern Arts in Kilmainham. There were two exhibitions, one titled ‘El Lissitzky: The Artist and the State’ and another titled “What We Call Love: From Surrealism to Now Exhibition”. I chose to focus on works by El Lissitzky which were displayed in the Garden Galleries. The exhibition was to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising and the establishment of the new Republic. This exhibition consists of contemporary and old masters who gave voice to a new image for the emerging state. Contemporary artists that participated in the exhibition were Rossella Biscotti, Nuria Guell, Sarah Pierce, Annie Fletcher and Sarah Fletchie.
About El Lissitzky
El Lissitzky was a Russian architect, artist, painter, photographer and typographer who worked throughout the first half of the 20th century. El Lissitzky was born Eleazar Markovich Lisitskii, in the town of Pochinok, situated in the western region of Russia. After studying architectural engineering in Darmstadt, Germany, he then became a teacher in the architecture faculty of an art academy in Vitebsk, Belarus. As a cultural ambassador for the Soviet Union, he was a vital link between Soviet culture and the Western art.
El Lissitzky was influenced by an abstract artist named Kazimir Malevich, whose works were called Suprematist. He used geometric forms and bright colours. El Lissitzky, along with the other artists in the exhibition envisaged their creative practice as tools for social and political change. For example; geometry has no particular style and is thought to be communal. All the decorative features were stripped, giving it a clean, energetic and effective look. El Lissitzky used bold fonts for lettering to emphasize the message. He commonly used the colour red to symbolize the red army or the Workers and Peasants army of the Soviet Union. Here are three samples of his work which were displayed at the exhibition:
El Lissitsky’s works
In 1922, El Lissitzky produced his first children’s book titled ‘About 2 squares’. The story is about two squares, one red and the other black, who join forces to shatter chaos and establish a new order. The artist encourages children to participate by featuring notes or play re-enactments of the story by using basic materials at hand. El Lissistzky uses a palette of primary colours, black and white, text, and basic forms and shapes both real as well as invented geometric constructions – to tell stories, including traditional Jewish tales, and to make very powerful political statements.
The four fundamental ways of arithmetic (1928). These are reprints, which are silkscreen on paper (1976) also using bold fonts and colours.
Victory Over the Sun was made after seeing a futuristic Russian opera. It is a series of architectonic figures. The opera inspired El Lissitsky to recreate the main protagonists as Suprematist automatons. The series consists of ten large colour lithographs
Close ups of El Lissitzky’s work inspired by Victory over the sun opera
A sketch of costumes done by Kazimir Malevich for Victory over the Sun opera.
Proun, Street Celebration Design. Done using gouche on paper and painted photograph collage mounted on cardboard. Proun series are two-dimensional Suprematist paintings which combines architecture and three-dimensional space with traditional, albeit abstract, two-dimensional imagery. It leaves the viewer to imagine the possibilities, things that can be constructed.
Cover design for the Unchained Theatre. Notes from stage manager by Alexander Talroff. Letterpress print on paper.
- IMMA’s leaflet titled, El Lissitzky: The Artist and the State.
- IMMA’s website: http://www.imma.ie/en/page_237015.html
- Wikipedia : The Red Army : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Army
- The Art Story Website: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-lissitzky-el.html