Lettrism or ‘letters’ in French was an art movement founded in the 1940’s by Isidore Isou in Paris, influenced by the theories of Dada and Surrealism, Isidore Isou’s aim was to rewrite all of human knowledge. In order to accomplish this rewriting of all human knowledge he believed that transforming the letter and creating a new language to abolish all others would complete this. His idea of a language consisted of letters and symbols, creating a visual art. He aimed his work at all fields of knowledge including theatre, art, cinema, economics and law. His paintings including his self-portrait were covered in a layer of symbols and letters. The movement soon expanded by attracting numerous creative people, such as Gabriel Pomerand, Maurice Lemaître and Gil J Wolman.

Isou is argued to have had a connection with ideals of Futurism within his ideas. One of his main areas to deconstruct was poetry. He saw that many aspects of society including poetry, music and painting had been created with a blue print. In the case of poetry, he saw that Homer had created the blue print of poetry and that poets had simply built upon this blue print instead of creating original work. Isou wanted to be the man who radically changed the blue prints of society and become the original. He believed that deconstructing this idea through re-writing poems using symbols and letters would destroy the idea of the poem and therefore create a new Lettrism poem. He further tried to deconstruct film and cinema by making his own film ‘Le Traité de bave et d’éternté / Treatise on Venom and Eternity (1951) where Isou destroys the concept of the classical image by using scraps of film found in trash bins, scratching graffiti on these images to make them unrecognizable. He goes even further in radically disassociating the sound and the image, viewed as two totally independent channels.

The Lettrist ideals carried on into the 1990’s until Isou died in 2000. His friend Lemaitre continues to pursue the theories of Lettrism, however these techniques are on a much smaller scale than they were in the 1940’s and 1950’s. 

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Written by Felicity Jones

Felicity Jones, studying Literature at Portsmouth University, with a passion for all things art and fashion, writer/reader/ editor/ artist/ dedicated shopper. Felicity looks after the Catwalk Yourself Art Dictionary.

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