Er (He), a Merz collage from 1922 is a truly groundbreaking work that reflects the development of Schwitters' Merz method of assemblage into an 'elemental' art of construction. One of the most austere and geometric of Schwitters' collages from this period, Er clearly reflects the growing influence of constructivist thinking on his work and in particular the de Stijl paintings of Theo Van Doesburg.
Schwitters had first met Van Doesburg in April 1921 in Weimar. Van Doesburg was, at the time, participating in the Dadaist movement by writing and performing nonsensical poetry under the pseudonym of I.K. Bonset. Both men subsequently became good friends who would, over the next few years collaborate again on a number of projects that had particular importance for the so-called Dada-Constructivist alliance that many avant-garde artists in the early 1920s were seeking to establish as the basis for the creation of a new elemental art. Schwitters' collaborations with Van Doesburg and later with the Russian El Lissitzky form much of the core of this important but short-lived attempt to join two of the most important artistic aesthetics of the age into a cohesive and revolutionary basis for change.
By 1922 Schwitters' Merz aesthetic of assemblage had grown to reflect the fundamental organising principles behind the geometric abstraction of much Russian Constructivist art and the non-objective painting of de Stijl painters like Piet Mondrian and Van Doesburg. Er is a work that develops this growing tendency in Schwitters' work even further than any Merzbild that had gone before. Reducing the colours almost entirely to the red, yellow, white and black of de Stijl and enforcing a strict geometry on the work, Schwitters was seeking to find and convey a sense of an elementary and universal aesthetic of construction. A strong spatial logic is used in the layering of each rectangular piece of paper so that it builds the composition into an intricate, dynamic and cohesive whole. Even the forms of the two simple letters of the word 'er" that sit at the heart of the collage become a contributory part of the composition. At the same time, it is these words that clearly distinguish the work as an earthly creation of man - as a Merzbild - and not some impossible to attain, over-idealistic utopian vision of cosmic purity.