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El Lissitzky, a Russian born avant-garde designer, painter, and artist, led the avant-garde’s movement from art to construction through his Prouns. Lissitzky started making his Prouns in 1919 which infused flat geometric forms of Suprematism with a sense of virtual architectural space. Lissitzky uses axonometric projection instead of two-dimensional planes of colour, as Malevich did in his Suprematist composition. Using the rules of traditional Renaissance perspective, Lissitzky would draw a geometric figure and then rotate it 90 degrees adding a new volume that corresponds to the new orientation. This confuses the viewer’s relationship with the composition contributing to the art historian, Yve-Alain Bois, description of the Prouns as “radical reversibility”. El Lissitzky describes perspective as something that limits space and has made it finite and closed, however Suprematism has extended this finite visual cone of perspective into infinity through axonometry. As opposed to perspective, axonometry moves the apex of a visual cone to an infinite point. Perspective is the means of expressing the limited world where the human center is fixed. It limits the space within the visual field where the man has a fixed perspective. Perspective is the technique of depicting volumes and spatial relationships on a flat surface in a realistic way. It is the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface and is positioned relative to one another when viewed from a particular point. A perspective drawing is constructed using the eye level of the observer and the vanishing point. It is the view from a particular fixed viewpoint; however, axonometric projection removes the vanishing point adding volume and depth to the image. Perspective can be used and interpreted in different ways through various movements in art and architecture that also contribute to the transition of art to construction.
El Lissitzky’s New Man, lithography on paper, is a two-dimensional design of the Electro-Mechanical Show “Victory of the Sun”. It incorporates geometric abstraction, the limited color palette of Suprematism, and the multidimensionality of Proun images. The red square represents the torso in the New Man figure and its head is composed of a red star and a black star. New Man represents axonometric projection where the arms, legs, and head are outstretched. The image relates to the floating-in-space geometry of the Prouns. In avant-garde’s movement from art to construction, Lissitzky’s Prouns define as Suprematist ideas of two-dimensional forms and shapes that were transformed into three-dimensional architecture. I recreated his artwork, New Man, where I transformed his work from a two-dimensional piece into a three-dimensional work of architecture representing the movement from art to construction. The reimagined figure was recreated using three-dimensional objects that occupies space and was placed in an empty room hung on the wall. By hanging these objects on the walls of a room, it becomes a sculpture rather than a print. This sculpture is now able to interact with the room and is an articulation of space, energy, and forces, rather than aesthetics. This artwork can now be visualized by engaging with the objects themselves. The original piece of the New Man figure by Lissitzky uses axonometric projection where the vanishing point is removed to infinity and thereby takes it out of the picture. The image appears to be three-dimensional as it shows depth from its projection, however, by reimagining it into his Proun Room it becomes a form of architecture involving the spectator movement in order to apprehend space. Pieces of abstract art are exposed and physically hung on the wall allowing viewers to physically interact with the space. Axonometry in Lissitzky’s Prouns forces the spectator to make constant decisions about how to interpret what he or she sees: is the figure hollow or in relief? Furthermore, Proun 19D is another work by Lissitzky that meets the criteria of perspectival ambiguity. The top left corner of this piece incorporates polychromatic and scattered geometric shapes that creates a multitude of viewpoints confusing the spectator and disrupting one’s spatial relationship to the image’s plane. Both, Lissitzky’s two-dimensional prints of Proun images and his three-dimensional works of Proun Rooms result in a multitude of viewpoints blurring the distinctions between real and abstract space. This was a zone that Lissitzky called the interchange station between painting and architecture. His Prouns use materiality, shape, colour, line, transparency, and opacity which Lissitzky ultimately extends his practice from Proun drawings to three-dimensional installations that transforms the spectator’s experience of conventional, gravity-based space and portrays a perspectival uncertainty. This is evident in the recreation of the representation of the human figure as I changed the medium to a three-dimensional installation collaged using three-dimensional objects. Ultimately the original New Man by Lissitzky and the recreation of New Man explores spatial elements utilizing shifting axes and multiple perspectives; both uncommon ideas in Suprematism. However, the difference is that the original piece uses flat geometric 2D forms and shapes with a sense of virtual architecture giving the viewers an illusion of multidimensionality whereas the recreated piece is a 3D installation. This makes it a form of architecture where volume and depth are not an illusion and the spectators are able to engage with the objects. Thus, it is evident that Lissitzky’s exploration of axonometric projection and Proun images transformed two-dimensional planes of colour into three-dimensional architecture in the Modern era.
The use of perspective and the transformation from art to construction is also evident in many other works during the modern period. Mies van der Rohe’s Urban Design Proposal for the Alexanderplatz competition in Berlin incorporates existing aerial views. The proposal is drawn onto a urban aerial photograph and the model is placed over the photograph. In a sense the two images are collaged together similar to that of the reimagined version of the New Man where three-dimensional objects were collaged together in the style of his Proun Rooms. Mies used perspective as his main visualising tool, however, he stands against the exploration of axonometric. Architects such as Mies introduced distortion to make their ideas more explicit. For example, his sketch of the Hofhauser of 1935 is based on distortion. The image gives a panoramic effect due to the right and left of the image portraying different constraints of perspective. Furthermore, Vladimir Tatlin’s Counter Reliefs (1914-16) were also three-dimensional assemblages made of ordinary industrial materials. These were organized into abstract multilayered configurations of elemental geometric forms. Lissitzky’s Proun Room and Tatlin’s Counter Reliefs are both made of similar material such as wood and metal that didn’t require frames and spatial boundaries. Tatlin was intrigued by the flexibility and durability of these materials and created these three-dimensional installations to see what different shapes and angles he could create out of the materials. His Counter Reliefs consisted of metal sheets and wood that were bent in a certain way and hung on a wall whereas Lissitzky’s Proun Room was more abstract and experimented with geometric shapes and linear vectors wrapping around corners of the wall and ceilings. The term counter-relief reinforces the interchange between matter and void. Reliefs are intended for a visual appreciation from a frontal perspective and are works that are created through sculptural techniques. Although Tatlin’s Counter Reliefs do not perform axonometric representation like Lissitzky, the relationship between mass and void produces an illusion of space and depth. In Tatlin’s Counter Reliefs the spatial relationship is reversed where matter occupies void and space becomes the support for the work. Tatlin was highly influenced by Cubist ideas. Many of his other works include The Fish Monger (1911) and The Nude (1913) which were paintings using the elements of Cubism. Tatlin fragments the image and separates it into different planes. He uses curvilinear lines and rounded forms. Although this is a two-dimensional painting, depth and perspective are skewed and the forms of the figures and objects are simplified and flattened. Tatlin distorts the perspective and breaks down the forms into different planes. Similar to El Lissitzky, Tatlin experiments with perspective and the illusion of depth in two-dimensional paintings and then extended towards his three-dimensional installations of Counter Reliefs. By making the objects extend into space it creates a relationship between the object and its surrounding space. The Bottle (1913) is another one of his works which serves as a bridge between his earlier figural paintings and his three-dimensional Counter Reliefs. The Bottle combines the use of various industrial materials but has not yet been liberated from the restrictive flat painterly surface and has not fully broken away from the canvas and into the surrounding space. Moreover, Naum Gabo’s Head of a Woman (1917-20) incorporates principles from engineering and architecture into his sculptures. Rather than carving or moulding from mass, Gabo constructs his sculptures from sets of interlocking components which allowed him to incorporate space into his work. Similar to Tatlin’s figural paintings with skewed perspective and distortion of the human figure, Gabo also uses distortion but sculpts the human figure using semi-transparent materials to create abstract sculpture that incorporates space in a positive way.
Perspective and the movement from art to construction can also be represented through movements outside of the Modern era and as early as the 1300s in the Renaissance era. Beyond being an architect, Filippo Brunelleschi was important to the Renaissance movement for rediscovering the principles of one-point linear perspective which revolutionized painting and paved the way for naturalistic styles. Through his experiment, Brunelleschi observed that with a fixed single point of view, parallel lines appear to converge at a single point in the distance. He applied a single vanishing point to a canvas and discovered a method for calculating depth. This allowed many artists of his generation to create illusions of three-dimensional space on two-dimensional canvases. His architecture consisted of perfect geometry. All of his works used linear perspective and was symmetrical. The churches he built had a real emphasis on the geometry of space by his technique of using pietra serene and stucco to outline the linear shapes and lines. Although the original piece of New Man by Lissitzky and the recreation of New Man do not fall in the Renaissance time period and do not represent linear perspective, they are still quite similar in the sense of showing depth and creating an illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional canvas. However, Brunelleschi’s method of perspective involves a single vanishing point where every object is drawn to that single point whereas Lissitzky uses axonometric projection where the vanishing point no longer exists and geometric objects are scattered around in different planes with no specific direction. This type of perspective still redraws an object in three-dimension however Lissitzky’s use of axonometric projection appears to be less realistic. If Lissitzky’s New Man were to be drawn in the Renaissance era, the image would follow strict order, perspective, and have perfect geometry. Objects would not have been scattered and collaged on top of each other. The human figure would also be drawn so that it is balanced and symmetrical on both sides. Another movement was Cubism which deconstructed the conventions of perspective that had dominated painting since the Renaissance. Cubism was one of the most important movements of the 20th century. Objects were analyzed and broken apart and then reassembled into an abstracted form. Artists such as Pablo Picasso would use geometric forms to build up the final representation. During this era, images were simplified to minimal lines, shapes and colour palette. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1901) by Pablo Picasso is an example of Cubist art that uses limited hues for a flattened appearance. It also separates the image into fragments where depth and perspective are skewed. Lissitzky’s New Man can perfectly fit into this movement because of its limited colour palette and its use of geometric forms; however, its perspective is not distorted but follows axonometric projection. Furthermore, Cubism opened the doors for later art movements such as Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Surrealism puts two contrasting things together. It creates art where the impossible becomes real through a disparity of what we see and what we know about reality. The Persistence of Memory (1931) by Salvador Dali depicts several surreal objects such as the ‘soft’ watches. It uses perspective as an illusion of space in his works. It makes the viewer question what the background, middle ground, and foreground of the painting is. It also makes the viewer question where the horizon line and the vanishing point is in the painting. If New Man were to be a part of the Surrealist era, the human figure would be distorted into something that is not possible in reality. The red square for the torso would be much larger and the red and black star for the head would be much smaller making the human figure have an extremely large torso with a small head. This would appear as an image from the Surrealist era because it incorporates ideas that are ironic and is impossible to have in real life.
There are many movements in art and architecture that have contributed to the way that perspective is used and interpreted. Earlier movements such as the Renaissance era strictly followed the method and techniques of one-point linear perspective. This period adopted ancient interests like balance, naturalism, and perspective. It follows strict order and is symmetrical. Cubism separates the image into different planes. Depth and perspective are skewed and the forms of the figures and objects in the two-dimensional painting are simplified and flattened. Surrealism uses juxtaposition and irony to create depth and an illusion of space in its art works. Finally, from the Modernist era, El Lissitzky explores perspective and axonometric projection through his Proun images and Vladimir Tatlin explores perspective through his Counter Reliefs. All of these movements were similar in creating an illusion of space by representing a three-dimensional object onto a two-dimensional canvas. This form of perspective and Lissitzky’s further developments of Proun Rooms represent the transition from art to construction which is evident in the reimagined figure of the New Man by portraying it in an empty room collaged using three-dimensional objects. Thus, it is evident that these movements helped transform two-dimensional planes of colour into three-dimensional architecture.
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