El Lissitzky (1890 – 1941) created the poster Beat the Whites With the Red Wedge (1919 – 20) in Vitebsk (a city in northeast Belarus, known as the birthplace of Marc Chagall). It is an early example of agitprop (Soviet political propaganda) that uses abstraction. The work was produced during the Russian Civil War (1918 – 21) in support of the Red Army and the young Soviet government in their struggle against anti-Bolshevik White forces. In the middle of the composition, a revolutionary red triangle drives into a white circle on a black background. The symbolic significance of these forms — emphasized by the scattered Russian words for wedge, red, beat, and whites — would have been easily understood by the artist’s contemporaries.
This painting, entitled Anywhere Out of the World (1915 – 19) may be a self portrait. Mark Chagall (1887 – 1985) bisected the head of the figure because, as he explained it, it “needed a bank space right there“ to strengthen the composition. The pictorial strategy, which appears in some of his earlier paintings, could be a rendition of the “luftmensch,“ a Yiddish term used to describe a person who is concerned with intellectual pursuits rather than with the practicalities of life. The sideways cityscape adds tension to the scene. The painting’s overall geometrization is reminiscent of El Lissitzky’s Proun paintings — abstract compositions meant to be looked at from various vantage points.