El Lissitzky

El Lissitzky is an influential and prominent Russian artist in the constructivism (the idea of solving problems with solutions; practicality) and suprematism (eliciting feeling of intensity) movement. Together with his mentor, Kazimir Malevich, known for his suprematist artwork – “Black Square”, they developed suprematism by designing propaganda posters and exhibitions for the Soviet Union.

His artworks are greatly influenced by his training as an architect in Germany. It incorporates the usage of simple shapes as symbolism for the rationale behind his works which are mostly about the socio-cultural context of the emergent Soviet Union after World War 1.

El Lissitzky is known for his photography, photomontage and coming up with the term ‘proun’. He produced a large number of artworks that he termed as “project for the affirmation of the new” in Russian which is heavily influenced by the political issues at that point in time. ‘Proun’ is a style that creates an illusion of depth from a 2D canvas.

El Lissitzky’s propaganda poster styles are abstract and interpretative as compared to Britain and America’s propaganda poster which are more visual with bold eye-catching letters with flat colors which is similar to the plakatstil style. 

One of his iconic works is “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” – 1919. The composition of simple geometric shapes strategically placed to create a narrative and meaning about his visualization of the fundamental transformations in society within the space and material used. The play of contrasting striking colors – Red and White to show the opposing team during the civil war in Russia.

Despite being an abstract artwork using political symbolism, people involved or knew the context of what is going on will be able to interpret and understand the message behind this piece. The image of the red wedge shattering the white form communicated a powerful message that left no doubt in the viewer’s mind of its intention. The shapes he used are similar to the military maps to elicit suprematism.

There are so many design styles to send out an impactful message to the audience. To me, the idea of using symbolism and play of colors stands out among the rest despite the minimal visual graphics. It can be used in so many contexts such as a secret or hidden message to people who belong to a certain group or association, who know of the meaning of the symbol and logo. It gives designers and artists, their own freedom to create their own meaning and have a personal take on what the shape or symbols mean to them, similar to the idea of expressionism movement.