10 (22).11.1890, Pochinok, now in Smolensk Province – 30.12.1941, Moscow
Painter, graphic artist, architect and designer
The son of a minor businessman, Lissitzky was educated at Smolensk grammar school and attended the school of Yehuda Pen in Vitebsk from the summer of 1903. From 1909 to 1914 he studied in the Faculty of Architecture of the Technical High School in Darmstadt and the Riga Polytechnical Institute, which was evacuated to Moscow during the First World War. He took part for the first time in the exhibition of the Artists’ Union in St Petersburg in 1912. After travelling to Paris in 1912 and around Italy in 1913, he returned to Russia in 1914 and worked with the architect Roman Klein. He took part in an expedition to study Jewish antiquities in 1916, and participated in the exhibitions of the Jewish Society for the Encouragement of the Arts in Moscow and Kiev in 1917–20. He was one of the founders of the Kiev section of the Kultur Lige movement (1918). He began illustrating Yiddish children’s books and in 1917–19 designed Sichat Chulin (Prague Legend) and Chad Gadya (Little Goat).
Lissitzky travelled to Vitebsk in May 1919 at the invitation of Marc Chagall to head the graphic art, printing and architecture studios at the People’s Art School. Here he met Malevich and worked with him to develop the fundamentals of Suprematism. He took part in the activities of the Unovis group, created spatial objects – PROUNs (Proekty utverzhdeniya novogo – Projects for Confirming the New) produced the poster Klinom krasnym bey belykh (Hit the Whites with a Red Wedge) and decorated the town for festivals. He adopted the pseudonym El Lissitzky in 1920.
After returning to Moscow in 1921 he taught at VKhUTEMAS and took part in the work of the Institute of Artistic Culture. He also made a study trip to Germany in the autumn of that year and in 1922 took part in organising the first exhibition of Soviet art at the Van Diemen Gallery in Berlin. Together with Ilya Ehrenburg, he published the journal Veshch (Gegenstand, Object) (1922–23). He held his first solo exhibition in Hanover in 1922. He experimented with photomontage, and designed Ehrenburg’s Six Stories with Easy Endings. His books The Tale of Two Squares and For the Voice (by Mayakovsky) were a revolution in book design. Both appeared in Russian in Germany in 1922. Lissitzky became a member of the De Stijl group from 1923, founded the journal ABC in 1924, and worked with Kurt Schwitters on nos. 8 and 9 of the periodical Merz.
He returned to Moscow in 1925 where he again taught at VKhUTEMAS, joined the Association of New Architects, and worked on architectural projects for competitions. He designed the All-Union Polygraphic Exhibition in Moscow, and in 1928 the Soviet pavilion for the International Press Exhibition in Cologne. In 1932–40 he worked on the graphic design of the journal USSR on the Building Site rom 1935, he was chief artist for the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. He designed the USSR pavilions at exhibitions abroad, the album 15 Years of the USSR. and other works. He worked on posters at the start of the Second World War. He died of acute tuberculosis. F.B.