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December 30: El Lissitzky

December 30, 2015

aussRussian artist, graphic designer, and architect El Lissitzky, an important avant-garde creator who strongly influenced the Bauhaus and constructivist movements, died at 51 on this date in 1941. Born in Lithuania, Lissitzky was barred by the anti-Semitic quota system from attending an art academy in Saint Petersburg, so he took himself to Germany in 1909 to study architecture, then wandered through Europe until the outbreak of World War I. Back in Russia, which was soon to become the Soviet Union, Lissitzky became an illustrator of Yiddish children’s books and was then invited by Marc Chagall to teach graphic arts, printing, and architecture at the newly formed People’s Art School in Vitebsk. He became a notable poster maker, type designer, book maker, and graphic designer, involved as a leader of several avant-garde movements, including in photography, photo-montage, and architecture. Lissitzky “used color and basic shapes to make strong political statements,” according to The Art Story. “A teacher for much of his career and ever an innovator, Lissitzky’s work spanned the media” as “a force of change...” His “influence in the world of graphic design cannot be overstated. He utilized a pared-down palette of primary colors, black and white, text, and basic forms — shapes both real as well as invented geometric constructions — to tell stories, including traditional Jewish tales, and to make very powerful political statements.”

“Art can no longer be merely a mirror, it must act as the organizer of the people’s consciousness... No form of representation is so readily comprehensible to the masses as photography.” —El Lissitzky