SynopsisKazimir Malevich was a Russian artist of Ukrainian birth, whose career coincided with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and its social and cultural aftermath. Malevich was the founder of the artistic and philosophical school of Suprematism, and his ideas about forms and meaning in art would eventually form the theoretical underpinnings of non-objective, or abstract, art making. Malevich worked in a variety of styles, but his most important and famous works concentrated on the exploration of pure geometric forms (squares, triangles, and circles) and their relationships to each other and within the pictorial space. Because of his contacts in the West, Malevich was able to transmit his ideas about painting to his fellow artists in Europe and the U.S., thus profoundly influencing the evolution of non-representational art in both the Eastern and Western traditions.
ChildhoodMalevich was born in Ukraine to parents of Polish origin, who moved continuously within the Russian Empire in search of work. His father took jobs in a sugar factory and in railway construction, where young Kazimir was also employed in his early teenage years. Without any particular encouragement from his family, Malevich started to draw around the age of twelve. With his mind set firmly on an artistic career, Malevich attended a number of art schools in his youth, starting at the Kiev School of Art in 1895.
Early TrainingIn 1904 Malevich moved to Moscow to attend the Stroganov School of Art. He also took private classes from Ivan Rerberg, an eminent art instructor. Malevich continued his training in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, where such artists as Leonid Pasternak and Konstantin Korovin taught him Impressionist and Post-Impressionist techniques of painting. Malevich's early work was largely executed in a Post-Impressionist mode, however the influence of Symbolism and Art Nouveau on his early development was just as significant.
A shift toward decidedly more avant-garde aesthetics occurred in Malevich's work around 1907, when he became acquainted with such artists as Wassily Kandinsky, David Burlyuk, and Mikhail Larionov. In 1910, Larionov invited Malevich to join his exhibition collective named the Jack of Diamonds. Malevich also held memberships in the artistic groups Donkey's Tail and Target, which focused their attention on Primitivist, Cubist, and Futurist philosophies of art. After quarreling with Larionov, Malevich took on a leading role in the association of the Futurist artists based in Saint-Petersburg, known as the Youth Union (Soyuz Molodezhi).
Most of the Malevich's works from this period concentrated on scenes of provincial peasant life. Although influenced by Cézanne and the Fauves, these works were Malevich's independent interpretations: the figures in the artworks were constructed from conical and cylindrical forms in strong primary colors, a compositional system Malevich adopted and evolved from the tradition of Byzantine and Russian icon painting. From 1912 to 1913, Malevich mostly worked in a Cubo-Futurist style, combining the essential elements of Synthetic Cubism and Italian Futurism, resulting in a dynamic geometric deconstruction of figures in space.
By 1915 Malevich abandoned figurative elements in his painting altogether and turned to pure abstraction through the depiction of elementary geometric forms on a canvas free from all iconographic reference. He called his new art Suprematist, literally the supreme approach that rose above the tradition of signification and rational understanding of pictorial forms. For Malevich, Suprematism was concerned purely with feeling, and not logical understanding. He laid out the core concepts of his theory in the pamphlet Ot Kubizma i Futurizma k Suprematizmu ("From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism"), which was published on the occasion of the 0.10 avant-garde exhibition in Saint-Petersburg where the now iconic Black Square was first shown.
The Black Square (1915) was followed by The Black Circle (1915) and The Black Cross (c.1920-23). Malevich himself described these paintings as "new icons," holy images for the new aesthetics of abstract art. The Black series was followed by the White on White paintings, which further explored the relationship of pure forms to unobstructed space, this time without the stark contrasts of black and white.
Late Period and DeathThe October Revolution of 1917 opened a new chapter for Malevich. In 1918 he joined the People's Commissariat for Enlightenment as an employee of its Fine Arts Department, known as IZO. The new agency was to administer museums and to oversee art education in the new Soviet Republic. Malevich also taught at the Free Art Studios (SVOMAS) in Moscow, instructing his students to abandon the bourgeois aesthetics of representation and to venture instead into the world of radical abstraction. That same year, Malevich designed the decorations for a performance of Vladimir Mayakovsky's Misteriya-Buffa, which marked the first anniversary celebration of the Communist Revolution.
In 1919 Malevich completed the manuscript of his new book O Novykh Sistemakh v Iskusstve (On New Systems in Art) in which he attempted to apply the theoretical principles of Suprematism to the new state order, encouraging the deployment of avant-garde art in service to the state and its people. Later that year, however, Malevich left the capital for the town of Vitebsk, where he was invited to join the faculty of the local art school directed by Marc Chagall. When Chagall left Vitebsk for Paris, Malevich remained as the influential leader of the Vitebsk school. There he organized students into a group under the name of UNOVIS, an abbreviation, which could be translated as Affirmers of New Art. No longer focused on painting proper, the UNOVIS group, especially after its move to Petrograd in 1922, designed propagandistic posters, textile patterns, china, signposts and street decorations, reminiscent of the activities undertaken at the Bauhaus school in the German Weimar Republic.
Malevich continued to develop his Suprematist ideas in a series of architectural models of Utopian towns called Architectona. These maquettes were composed of rectangular and cubic shapes arranged to enhance their formal qualities and aesthetic potential. Malevich was allowed to take these models to exhibitions in Poland and Germany, where they sparked critical interest from local artists and intellectuals. Malevich left several Architectona models, as well as theoretical texts, paintings, and drawings in Germany after his hasty departure for Russia. Thus his ideas were effectively exported to the West, where the avant-garde discourse would incorporate Malevich's theoretical perspectives on abstraction. In the Soviet Russia, however, a different cultural paradigm was set in motion. The artistic flourish of the 1920s was curtailed by the advent of state-sponsored Social Realist art, which eventually came to suppress all other artistic styles.
Malevich and his work were doomed to descend into obscurity in such belligerently conservative socio-cultural circumstances. In 1932, a major state-endorsed exhibition commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution was held in Moscow and Leningrad (former Petrograd, and Saint-Petersburg before that). Malevich was included, only now his paintings were accompanied by pejorative slogans, labeled as essentially "degenerate" and anti-Soviet. Barred from state schools and exhibition venues, in his late years the artist returned to old motifs of peasant and genre scenes, while also executing a number of portraits of friends and family. He died of cancer in Leningrad in 1935 and was buried in a coffin of his own design, with the image of the Black Square placed appropriately on its lid.
LegacyKazimir Malevich was one of the first artists who completely abandoned representational art in favor of entirely abstract compositions. Besides producing abstract images, Malevich developed a comprehensive theory of non-objective painting that remained influential long after his death. Malevich's main input into the evolution of modern art consisted of establishing basic geometric forms, abstract by definition, as independent and meaningfully valid constituents of the pictorial composition. The conceptual backing of this position found in Malevich's text also tied the emerging artistic movement to classic philosophy, citing the works of Plato and Immanuel Kant.
Below are Kazimir Malevich's major influences, and the people and ideas that he influenced in turn.
Years Worked: 1890 - 1935
Quotes"To the Suprematist the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth."
"Academic naturalism, the naturalism of the Impressionists, Cézanneism, Cubism, etc., all these, in a way, are nothing more than dialectic methods which, as such, in no sense determine the true value of an art work."
"Feeling is the determining factor ... and thus art arrives at non-objective representation through Suprematism."
"No more 'likenesses of reality,' no idealistic images, nothing but a desert!"
"Suprematism is the rediscovery of pure art which, in the course of time, had become obscured by the accumulation of "things"."
"The black square on the white field was the first form in which nonobjective feeling came to be expressed. The square = feeling, the white field = the void beyond this feeling."
WHERE TO SEE WORKS:
Museum of Modern Artwww.MoMA.org
Metropolitan Museum of Artwww.METmuseum.org
BiographyKazimir Malevich: Suprematism
Kazimir Malevich and the Art of Geometry
Kazimir Malevich, 1878-1935
Kazimir Malevich: The Climax of Disclosure
Kazimir Malevich in the State Russian Museum
Written by ArtistThe Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism
Kazimir Malevich: Black and White
Malevich IV: The A:5HK5, Infinity, Suprematism: Unpublished Writings 1913-33
ArticlesKazimir Malevich: Suprematism Exhibition
Guggenheim Museum, Berlin
2003-01-18 until 2003-04-27
The Prophet: Malevich's Revolution
By Peter Schjeldahl
The New Yorker
June 2, 2003
Malevich's Search for a New Reality
By Michael Brenson
The New York Times
September 17, 1990
Work by Kazimir Malevich sold for record $60 million
By Souren Milikian
The New York Times
November 6, 2008
Video about ArtistBreaking Free of the Earth: Kazimir Malevich 1878-1935 (1990)
Websites about ArtistKazimir Malevich
Discussion of Malevich and Suprematism
The State Hermitage Museum
Description of Black Square Exhibition
20 June, 2002 - 30 June, 2003
Kazimir Malevich: Beyond Figuration, Beyond Abstraction
|Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
ArtStory: Paul Cézanne Page
|Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting, and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
ArtStory: Pablo Picasso Page
|Henri Matisse was a French painter and sculptor who helped forge modern art. From his early Fauvist works to his late cut-outs, he emphasized expansive fields of color, the expressive potential of gesture, and the sensuality inherent in art-making.
ArtStory: Henri Matisse Page
|El Lissitzky was a Russian avant-garde painter, photographer, architect and designer. Along with his mentor Kazimir Malevich, Lissitzky helped found Suprematism. His art often employed the use of clean lines and simple geometric forms, and expressed a fascination with Jewish culture. Lissitzky was also a major influence on the Bauhaus school of artists and the Constructivist movement.
ArtStory: El Lissitzky Page
|A member of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, and later a teacher at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky is best known for his pioneering breakthrough into expressive abstraction in 1913. His work prefigures that of the American Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: Wassily Kandinsky Page
|Mikhail Larionov was a Russian avant-garde painter and the founder of Rayonism, the first movement that celebrated Russian abstract painting. Larionov was also a major promoter of Post-Impressionist and Neo-Primitive art during the early 20th century, and helped widen the internation appeal of artists like Matisse, Van Gogh, and Gauguin.
|Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism Page
|Expressionism is a broad term for a host of movements in early twentieth-century Germany, from Die Brücke (1905) and Der Blaue Reiter (1911) to the early Neue Sachlichkeit painters in the 20s and 30s. Many German Expressionists used vivid colors and abstracted forms to create spiritually or psychologically intense works, while others focused on depictions of war, alienation, and the modern city.
ArtStory: Expressionism Page
|Byzantine Art is a broad category that covers work made within the Byzantine Empire, from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries. Mosaics, icons, and panel paintings frequently include hieratic depictions of Christian figures and symbols, and make use of a flattened, elongated style.
|Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde of the 20th century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and non-traditional forms of art.
ArtStory: Futurism Page
|The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
ArtStory: Marcel Duchamp Page
|The Swiss-born painter Paul Klee worked in a variety of styles, including expressionism, geometric abstraction, and collage. His most famous works have a mystical quality and make use of linear and pictorial symbols.
ArtStory: Paul Klee Page
|Ad Reinhardt was an American abstract artist whose monochromatic canvases show side-by-side rectangles painted in subtle variations of the same color. Very much part of the New York scene in the 1940s, he nonetheless scorned the label and gestural ethos of Abstract Expressionism.
ArtStory: Ad Reinhardt Page
|Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
ArtStory: Constructivism Page
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the hot expressivism of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism Page
|British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
ArtStory: Pop Art Page
|Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid 1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
ArtStory: Conceptual Art Page