El Lissitzky had the unusual distinction of being a key member of both the Russian and Western European avant-gardes. He made significant contributions to the Jewish cultural renaissance in Russia, illustrating children's books, designing journals, and co-founding a Yiddish publishing house. He also traveled frequently to Germany, settling there for periods, and becoming well known for his masterful graphic design. His work included paintings, photographs, photomontages, designs for exhibitions, architecture, and books, and also prints, primarily lithographs.
At the behest of Marc Chagall, Lissitzky accepted the directorship of the graphic workshop at the Vitebsk Art Institute in 1919. Following Kazimir Malevich's arrival at the school, Lissitzky became greatly influenced by Suprematism and began to work in an abstract style. He invented imagery known as Proun (Project for the Affirmation of the New), which consisted of images of floating architectonic structures that occupied an imagined three-dimensional space through which one might move above, below, and through. The Proun style can be seen in New Man, the name of a character in the groundbreaking 1913 Russian Futurist opera Victory over the Sun. After seeing a 1920 production staged in Vitebsk, Lissitzky adapted the opera for a cast of mechanical puppets. His designs incorporate the geometry and limited color palette of Suprematism and the multidimensionality of the Proun images.
Lissitzky's innovations in graphic and book design are strikingly visible in his landmark project For the Voice, a collection of thirteen of the best-known poems by Russian Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. The poems were intended to be read aloud, and Lissitzky designed a thumb index with titles to help the reader quickly locate a desired verse. He also designed title pages for each of the poems, constructing images by combining typefaces of various sizes printed in red and black.
Publication excerpt from Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004.