Italian Futurism is Translated into English, German and Russian
Blast Soir Slap in the Face Revolt

Blast Magazine 1914-1915

Marinetti's Futurist speech in England insulted and provoked his audience by analyzing their shortcomings, "To a degree you are victims of your traditionalism and medieval trappings, in which there persists a whiff of archives and a rattling of chains that hinder your precise and carefree forward march." 1

English artists initially embraced Marinetti but later rejected him to start their own Modernist movement, Vorticism, manifesting elements of both Cubism and Futurism. Two members, painter Wyndham Lewis and writer Ezra Pound, founded the Vorticist magazine, Blast, a folio edition of art and poems. Despite abrogating Marinetti, they embraced his expressive typography and asymmetrical page layouts in the publication. Only two issues were completed as World War I began shortly after the first issue. Click here to see the entire issue





In 1916 Zurich was a safe haven for artists fleeing the war in Europe. The international mix brewed up a post-Futurist development, named Dada. Considered an anti-art movement, it spawned a number of collage and photomontage artists who influenced later graphic designers. Collage masters, such as John Heartfield, worked in images while while others pushed forward the typographic energies begun in Futurism.

Shown above, Ilia Zdanevitch, (1894-1975) Dada-esque design for a program for the second staging of Tristan Tzara's Dadaist play, "Le Coeur à Barbe, (Evening of the Bearded Heart), 1923 in Paris. The combination of several typefaces and various sizes in a word or line is known as paragonnage.

"The only thing worse than a serif typeface is a sans-serif typeface" Dadaist Marcel Duchamp's reaction to what he called "the tyranny of the alphabet" led him to substitute dingbats and punctuation for letters.

Plenty of information about Dada is available on line at the University of Iowa's International Dada Archive.

1924, Paris. Journal de l'instantanéisme (with a portrait of Marcel Duchamp).

From Tzar to Avant Garde

Sandwiched between the Academic and Social Realist styles of Russian art was an intense period of artistic exploration. Russian writers and artists embraced parts of the Futurist dogma but nationalized it by integrating Russian myths and folklore as well as Cubism into a hybrid style known as Cubo-Futurist.

By the time Marinetti visited Russia in 1914 he declared that Russians were not Futurists, but rather savage primitives. The Cubo-Futurist reveled in shocking the public by dressing in outlandish clothing and producing controversial works such as A Slap in the Face of Public Taste, 1912, (above).

Enjoy a full selection of Russian Avant Garde Books at the Getty

Russian Artist Books

Small handmade artist books were a Russian artistic tradition redefined by the Futurists and carried forward by the Cubo-Futurist and Constructivists. These small editions included etchings, bold prints and tipped-in pages of art work. Shown above, The Revolt of the Misanthropes, 1922, designed by Liubov Popova. 2

In 1918, Vera Ermolayeva organized a gang of artists "Today," which produced tiny children's books, decorated with linocut. Unfortunately she was shot in 1937. Link to her work on the Moma website.

The use of asymmetrical type, white space and weight variations of the Futurists was continued, although in some cases the text was organized in a more readable configuration. It is easy to see the influence these books had on future typographers, especially Jan Tschichold who articulated his text and page layout in a similar, albeit more refined, manner.


A spread from Vasily Kamensky, Tango with Cows, 1914. 3

malevitch book
Kasimir Malevitch and Olga Rozanova, A Game in Hell, 1914. (above and right)

Varvara Stepanova + Alexander Rodchenko
malevitch_suprematism Rodchenkos4 LEF bathing suits

Artistic Revolution in Russia

In 1915 Kasimir Malevich introduced his final logical evolution of Cubism in an abstract non-objective style he named Suprematism. His stark color field paintings demonstrated the theories from his manifesto From Cubism to Suprematism. (Black Square, 1915, above). Among other things he believed that geometric shapes could evoke strong emotions.

In revolutionary-minded Russia the acceptance of avant garde waned in a new era of practicality and rejection of individual expression. By 1921 Constructivism, an art form that conformed to the needs of the state, was the accepted means of graphic expression.

Much of the graphic work was in advertising but with a distinct difference from Western advertising, as historian Stephen Eskilson observed— Russian advertising did not promote desire for an object, rather it inspired feeling of guilt and duty. Constructivist advertisements promoted industry or political propaganda. The work was dominated by the color red, the color of the Communist Revolution.

The Constructivists

Leading the Constructivists were husband and wife team Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958) and Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956). They rejected fine arts to create images that served the new worker state, replacing the word artist with the more productive term constructor.

Stepanova's Bespredmetnye stikh, 1918

Stepanova was among the founders of Constructivism having participated in the Moscow 5 x 5 = 25 exhibition held in 1921. She was significant in shaping Russian's visual culture during the turbulent years following the revolution. In addition to paintings she created geometric constructions, sets and costumes, fashion designs, posters, and typography. 5



In 1923 Rodchenko formed an advertising office, Ad-Constructor with Stepanova where they served the people by creating constructivist style advertisements, such as the poster for Red October Cookies, 1923, shown below.


They were joined by writer Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930), one of those involved with The Slap in the Face of Public Taste. Mayakowsky also helped launch LEF (Left Front of the Arts) magazine, for which Rodchenko designed covers and photomontages. One of Rodchenko's covers montages the image of art critic, Osip Brik, with the name LEF. (top)


Rodchenko is most celebrated for his photographic contributions. Thanks to Oskar Barnack's invention of the hand-held Leica camera in 1925, Rodchenko was able to shoot from extreme angles to force the viewer to see the world from new perspectives.

girl with leica


Liubov Popova   VKhUTEMAS  
Papova popanova

art exhibit
Exhibition of VkhUTEMAS student projects, 1923

Liubov Popova (1889-1924)

Born into wealth, educated and well traveled, nevertheless Popova became one of the leading artists for the proletariat. (in fact the Tate Museum exhibited her work equally with Rodchenko's in the 2009 Rodchenko and Popova Defining Constructivism Exhibit.

In 1921, Popova turned away from studio painting to execute utilitarian Productivist art: she designed textiles, dresses, books, porcelain, costumes, and theater sets. She sometimes collaborated with Stepanova on various Agitprop projects. (Agitprop was the Department for Agitation and Propaganda, which produced stage plays, pamphlets, motion pictures and other art forms with an explicitly political message)

popovaOne of Papova's clothing designs, published in LEF.



(above) Liubov Popova, magazine cover design for Questions of Stenography.

Her book cover design for Nikolai Asev's poetry book, Bomba, 1921.

popaniva painting
Popova, Painterly Architectonic, 1918

VKhUTEMAS Art Institute, 1920

The first art school established after the Russian Revolution was Svomas "to spread awareness of and competence in the arts to the previously underprivileged workers and peasants." There were no entrance requirements, no exams, art history courses were optional, all faculty were avant-garde artists, and students choose their professors. 7

When the lack of structure of Svoma descended into chaos the school was reorganized and renamed VkHUTEMAS (Higher Art and Technical Studios). As the main state sanctioned art and technical school in Moscow it served 100 faculty and 2500 students through 1930.

"Like the Bauhaus, Vkhutemas was a state-sponsored initiative to merge craft traditions with modern technology. Both schools flourished in a relatively liberal period and were later closed under pressure from increasingly totalitarian regimes."

Both Liubov Papova and Varvara Stepanova taught at Svomas Art School, and at the new Vkhutemas school. Women in the new Soviet society were afforded all of the opportunities of their male counterparts.


"Part of the school's mandate was to serve as a specialized educational institution for advanced artistic and technical training, preparing highly qualified master artists for careers in industry or education. A major achievement of VKhUTEMAS was the three-tiered Basic Course. Students first developed studio art techniques, then incorporated them into a specialized industrial/ professional education.
Augmenting this basic course were chemistry, physics, mathematics, geometry, the theory of shadows, military training, scientific theory of color, a foreign language and the history of art." 8

El Lissitzky's 1927 design for architecture at VkhUTEMAS.

El Lissitzky
Proun story vicotry pelican

El Lissitzky (1890-1941)

Lazar Markovich Lissitzky was a visionary artist/designer who worked in exhibition design, photomontage, poster and book design. Mostly notably he integrated typography and page elements into a new and dynamic compositional style.

Trained originally as an architect, he began his career illustrating Yiddish children's books. He met and was greatly inspired by Malevich and others in the Supremacist movement while working as a teacher at Vkhutemas Art School.

Lissitzky developed his own variant of Suprematism, Proun (an acronym for Project for the Affirmation of the New). Proun was Lissitzky's exploration of the visual language of Suprematism but with dimensional elements, existing half-way between painting and architecture, utilizing shifting axes and multiple perspectives.


Prouns were initially paintings but later were expressed as fully dimensional works. They also influenced Lissitzky's commercial work as shown above in Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge. The 1919 lithograph, printed during the Russian Civil War, marries the compositional aspects of PROUN with geometric symbolism to tell a revolutionary inspired story.


Like Rodchenko, El Lissitzky's used his art to promote the state. His The Story of Two Squares (1920) was a symbolic narrative in which the protagonists are a red square and a black square. "When it was first published in Berlin in 1922, About 2 [Squares] presented a radical rethinking of what a book was, demonstrating a new way of organizing typography on a page and relating it to visual images. His revolutionary typographical layouts were a synthesis of the composition of Proun with his command of page layout from his earlier book designs." 9


See all of the pages of The Story of Two Squares on on

Lissitzky's Influence in Europe

El Lissitzky moved to Berlin as an artistic ambassador of Russian art and culture, bringing with him the language of Constructivism and Suprematism. While in Europe he experimented heavily in typographic design and photographic montage. Because he could speak German, he became a major conduit for ideas flowing between Europe and Russian.

While in Berlin he was commissioned to produce prints based upon the Cubo-Futurist opera, Victory over the Sun. Lissitzky analyzed the text's celebration of man's technological capabilities: 'the sun as the expression of old world energy is torn down from the heavens by modern man, who by virtue of his technological superiority creates his own energy source.'

new man

The cover sheet (shown top) is composed with an arrangement of bold and light type aligned on a grid. Horizontal and vertical bars are balanced with the type in a vocabulary of space and organizational relationships that were emulated by designers in the following decades.

(New Man character from the opera shown above.)

Lissitzky's fluency in German helped him advance his theories in Europe through lectures, articles, and commercial graphic design. Dada artist Kurt Schwitters commissioned Lissitzky to work on a special issue of the Dada journal Merz.


Lissitzky's work was highly influential at the Bauhaus school through his relationship with Walter Gropius. He also deeply influenced The New Typography of Jan Tschichold and the De Stijl movement.

Lissitzky fell ill to tuberculosis in 1923 and went to Switzerland for treatment. He financed his recovery by designing advertisements for Günther Wagner's Pelikan division, an office supply company. With this assignment he combined his typographic theories with Proun spatial composition to create a new visual vocabulary for advertising.


The Voice voice

For the Voice (1923)

"For the Voice, first published in 1923, has long been recognized as one of the finest achievements of Russian avant-garde bookmaking, a tradition in which poets and artists collaborated to create books that attained the status of art objects. By any reckoning, For the Voice is a landmark event in the history of modern graphic design. The book was inspired by the "new optics," where ideas are given form through printed letters, turning them into pictorial signs, and by "words that are seen and not heard," as Lissitzky wrote." 10


El Lissitzky's book used a collection of 13 of the most often quoted poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky. As part of his design he placed an icon on the right-bottom side of the page, helping the viewer to navigate forward and back. Left hand pages were notched to allow the icons to be viewed.

His work foreshadowed the functional graphics of designers that followed, including Latislav Sutnar.

For the voice



Fry, Tony, A New Design Philosophy, p. 161, UNSW PRess, 1999.


On-line Archive of California

Image from World Socialist Web Site, David Walsh, Bolshevism and the Avant Garde Artists

Varvara Stepanova The Complete Work Alexander Lavrentiev

Image Source
Photo Forager


The Getty Finding Aid

There are dozens of sources claiming this quote, I am choosing the MIT Press as the source. Link

MIT Press Link

El Lissitzky, For the Voice (Dlia golosa), 1923. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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