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El Lissitzky’s pieces were produced within the 20th Century
art movement, Constructivism. Closely linked to the Modernist era of design, Constructivism
started within the Soviet Union with the Russian avant-garde. This movement
followed the trends of work primarily influenced by industry, manufacturers and
architecture. Constructivism incorporated elements of both fine art and design,
whilst utilizing mechanical and geometrical shapes to construct abstract forms
that represent deeper meaning, function clearly dictated form. El Lissitzky was
the face of this modern movement in early 1920s Russia and much of his work
took the form of propaganda. His approach to creativity also fully subscribed to
the Suprematist movement, in addition to a minimalist approach to the use of
basic shapes and abstract forms his imagery, which also has associations with
spiritual purity. This sense of clarity relates to Russia’s communist
philosophy and structure – as well as the Suprematist movement. This radical
movement was one of the earliest to represent symbols of purity and perception
using abstract forms.One of the last standing modern art movements that
flourished in 20th century Russia,
the Constructivism Movement remains as one of the highest influencers within
the industry. Initially acting as a step forward in terms of hope and ideas for
many Russian Artists, the movements evolution occurred in alignment with the
Bolsheviks rise to power in the 1917 revolution. Supporting the revolutions
goals, these artists borrowed ideas from Suprematism, Bauhaus and Modernism.
With an entire new ideology and approach, the goal was to construct an entirely
new philosophy to making objects. Attempting to abolish the traditional
artistic concern with formation, and replace it with ‘construction.’ Called for
careful technical analysis of materials, the movement ultimately floundered in
trying to make the transition from the artist’s studio to the factory. However,
it’s influences are not absent in today’s industry, for artists in the west
have sustained a movement called the international constructivism. This
flourished in Germany in the 1920s, and endured into the 1950s.

Manipulating established
tropes within communications, from typography to graphic design, the drastic
shift in style within the Modernist movement abided to a strict, structed grid
system. In doing so, Lissitzky emphasised negative space with the sole purpose
to create strong graphics that abraded commercialism and cheapness. With this
in mind, from Lissitzky’s ideology to the overall composition, he has inspired
artists to produce thought provoking, flat and sharp-edged designs with a direct
political/social representation. This doesn’t seem alien in today’s industry
and when Lissitzky initially started assembling his work the Modernist movement
allowed for a platform of acceptance.  

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His work often took the
form of large scale propaganda posters and made a strong visual impact on the
viewer. With manipulation of vast blank areas, white space and carefully placed
token shapes his designs still look fresh and modern by today’s standards so
must have looked incredibly contemporary in the 1920’s. An otherwise simple hierarchy
of design, the scale itself would have made his designs appear more real and
directly confronted the viewer – it reflects a sense of movement and energy
that was made apparent within the Modernist movement. This is further supported
by his control over dimensions. Manoeuvring between flat shapes to objects with
sharp angles and 3D faces, not only draws attention to each fundamental element
but also breaks the aberrant standard of how an audience would typically perceive
imagery. The images produced do not ‘paint
a typical picture’ of something which had been the expected format up until the
beginning of the 20th century.  The artist subtly adds three dimensions
through shading and adds textured areas. The textural differences emphasise his
process and reveal the story of the composition, which is otherwise not
immediately evident. This aspect also means that there is detail only visible
on closer inspection to draw the viewer closer to the imagery.The overall connotations of the shapes used however do retrospectively
support the idea of his work as Russian, Communist propaganda. His use of
linear shapes unveils how Russia as a nation was presented as a power force to
be reckoned with. The use of squares could represent stability and balance and
the rectangles could prompt the ideology of efficiency and professionalism. The
hierarchy within his pieces is fundamental also. With the majority of the
elements centralised, they not only become a focal point but also produce a
sense of movement due to the manipulation of dimensions. The organisation of
the components produce a natural vertical movement, it emphasizes structure and
form – similar to the Russian empire’s political ideology.The colour palette Lissitzky
utilized again reinforces this idea of form and order in which the Modernist
movement specialised in. The alignment of the shapes and the use of dense and
heavy tones means that the collections convey an impersonal impression and
might even alienate a viewer. The hues used convey a certain sadness and
melancholy; the triad of off white, dark blues, deep reds and black make the
piece relate to purity, structure and formality because of their minimal
quality and mostly flat application to create a simplicity of form. The
stylized nature of the imagery the Modernist movement manufactured made
Lissitzky’s designs seem impersonal and as a result makes the viewer feel detached.
This in itself might mirror how Russia as a country was and still is perceived
internationally. The viewer is made to feel isolated and removed from the
inhuman geometric shapes because of the depth of hues and the choice of non-organic
colours that have an industrial feel and mood. As a result of being a piece of propaganda
and its associations with Communist Russia, the imagery cannot be described as
emancipated –  it is most definitely
restricted in its social and political viewpoint. This is visually clear and
makes the viewer feel similarly unliberated and confined by the narrow-minded communist
ideology. The work confines the viewer by encouraging them to think that this
idea of structure and form are more important than insight, creativity and
expression. We are hemmed in by the confines of the boxes and restrictive lines.
This statement is further implemented when thinking back to when the work was
initially produced. The industrial revolution impacted every nation and
society; sweeping changes from the landscape to mass generated wealth amongst
manufactures. This is supported by the trail of artists that have left their
work as a trademark of the times.

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