Kazimir Malevich Life and Art Periods

"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."

KAZIMIR MALEVICH SYNOPSIS

Kazimir Malevich was the founder of the artistic and philosophical school of Suprematism, and his ideas about forms and meaning in art would eventually constitute the theoretical underpinnings of non-objective, or abstract, art. 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 United States, thus profoundly influencing the evolution of modern art.

KAZIMIR MALEVICH KEY IDEAS

Malevich worked in a variety of styles, but he is mostly known for his contribution to the formation of a true Russian avant-garde post-World War I through his own unique philosophy of perception and painting, which he termed Suprematism. He invented this term because, ultimately, he believed that art should transcend subject matter -- the truth of shape and color should reign 'supreme' over the image or narrative.
More radical than the Cubists or Futurists, at the same time that his Suprematist compositions proclaimed that paintings were composed of flat, abstract areas of paint, they also served up powerful and multi-layered symbols and mystical feelings of time and space.
Malevich was also a prolific writer. His treatises on the philosophy of art addressed a broad spectrum of theoretical problems conceiving of a comprehensive abstract art and its ability to lead us to our feelings and even to a new spirituality.
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KAZIMIR MALEVICH BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Malevich 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 12. 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.

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Early Training

In 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.

Kazimir (Severinovich) Malevich Biography

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 known as the Youth Union (Soyuz Molodezhi) based in Saint Petersburg,

Most of the Malevich's works from this period concentrated on scenes of provincial peasant life. 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. In 1913, Malevich took part in one of the most significant artistic collaborations of modern times, creating set designs for the opera Victory over the Sun. In 1915, Malevich laid down the foundations of Suprematism when he published his manifesto, From Cubism to Suprematism, abandoning figurative elements in his painting altogether and turning to pure abstraction.

Late Years and Death

The 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. In 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.

Kazimir (Severinovich) Malevich Photo

Malevich and his work were doomed to descend into obscurity in such belligerently conservative socio-cultural circumstances. In 1930, Malevich was arrested and questioned about his political ideologies upon his return from a trip to the West. As a precautionary measure, the artist's friends burned some of his writings. In 1932, a major state-endorsed exhibition commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution was held in Moscow and Leningrad (formerly 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. Having previously been consigned to the basements of Soviet museums, it was only under Gorbachev in 1988 that Malevich's works were brought out and shown to the public. Before glastnost, there were only a few of Malevich's works available for viewing in America -- the ones available were the results of the extraordinary measures taken by New York's Museum of Modern Art's Alfred Barr, who smuggled 17 of Malevich's paintings -- some of which were rolled up in his umbrella -- out of Nazi Germany in 1935.

KAZIMIR MALEVICH LEGACY

Malevich conceived of Suprematism prior to the 1917 Revolution, but its influence was already significant amongst the Russian avant-garde. Malevich's use of non-representational imagery and his interest in dynamic geometrical form in pictorial space influenced the art of Lyubov Popova, Alexander Rodchenko, and El Lissitzky. In 1922, the artist devised his three-dimensional Suprematist works, called arkhitektony, which were studies in architectural form. Some of Malevich's ideas were exported to the West through the exhibition of these Suprematist models for Utopian towns in Poland and Germany, where the avant-garde discourse would incorporate Malevich's theoretical perspectives on abstraction. Malevich made only one trip to the West in 1927, accompanied by a number of Suprematist canvases, which were exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, where they were subsequently seen by many European artists. In Warsaw, Malevich met with artists who had studied with him in Vitebsk, and whose work was heavily influenced by Malevich's monochrome works. More broadly, Malevich's influence is evident in the work of later artists in Europe and particularly the United States whose work consists of totally abstract shapes that represent technology, universality, or spirituality -- all ideas stemming from Malevich. Thus, through both his art and his writing, Malevich paved the way for many generations of later abstract artists -- especially Ad Reinhardt and all Minimalist art -- to free themselves from reliance upon the real world.

Original content written by Ivan Savvine
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KAZIMIR MALEVICH QUOTES

"Academic naturalism, the naturalism of the Impressionists, Cezanneism, 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."

Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich Influences

Interactive chart with Kazimir Malevich's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.

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Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Paul Cézanne
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Pablo Picasso
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was a French painter and sculptor who helped forge modern art. From his early Fauvist works to his late cutouts, he emphasized expansive fields of color, the expressive potential of gesture, and the sensuality inherent in art-making.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Henri Matisse
El Lissitzky
El Lissitzky
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information El Lissitzky
Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Wassily Kandinsky
Mikhail Larionov
Mikhail Larionov
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 twentieth century, and helped widen the international appeal of artists like Matisse, Van Gogh, and Gauguin.

Modern Art Information Mikhail Larionov
Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism was an early twentieth-century art movement founded by Henri Matisse and André Derain. Labeled as "wild beasts", Fauve artists favored vibrant colors and winding gestural strokes across the canvas.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Fauvism
Cubism
Cubism
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Cubism
Expressionism
Expressionism
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 1920s 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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Expressionism
Byzantine Art
Byzantine Art
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.

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Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde movement of the twentieth 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 nontraditional forms of art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Futurism
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Marcel Duchamp
Paul Klee
Paul Klee
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Paul Klee
Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Ad Reinhardt
Constructivism
Constructivism
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.
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Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced 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 postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Abstract Expressionism
Minimalism
Minimalism
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 passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Minimalism
Pop Art
Pop Art
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Pop Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Conceptual Art
Suprematism
Suprematism
Suprematism, the invention of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, was one of the earliest and most radical developments in abstract art. Inspired by a desire to experiment with the language of abstract form, and to isolate art's barest essentials, its artists produced austere abstractions that seemed almost mystical. It was an important influence on Constructivism.
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Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
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Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Post-Impressionism
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism is an artistic and literary movement that first emerged in France in the 1880s. In the visual arts it is often considered part of Post-Impressionism. It is characterized by an emphasis on the mystical, romantic and expressive, and often by the use of symbolic figures.
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Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau was a movement that swept through the decorative arts and architecture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Generating enthusiasts throughout Europe, it was aimed at modernizing design and escaping the eclectic historical styles that had previously been popular. It drew inspiration from both organic and geometric forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing, natural forms with more angular contours.
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Primitive Art
Primitive Art
Nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists in the West were greatly influenced by art they deemed 'primitive' or 'naïve', made by tribal or non-Western cultures. Such art, ranging from African and Native American to naive depictions of the French peasantry, was thought to be less civilized and thus closer to raw aesthetic and spiritual experience.

Modern Art Information Primitive Art
Cubo-Futurism
Cubo-Futurism
Cubo-Futurism was a painting and sculpture movement associated with the Russian Futurists, who in the early part of the twentieth century adopted the teachings and styles of the Italian Futurists and combined them with the Parisian Cubism of Picasso and Braque. Among the more well-known artists associated with Cubo-Futurism are Alexander Archipenko, Wladimir Baranoff-Rossine, and Sonia Terk.

Modern Art Information Cubo-Futurism
Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall was a Russian-born, Jewish-French artist that reached great popularity during the twentieth century. Although his art is associated with several movements, Chagall is commonly grouped in with the German Expressionists. Much of his early work was credited with synthesizing visual elements of Cubism, Symbolism and Fauvism.
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Social Realism
Social Realism
Social Realism refers to a style of figurative art with social concerns - generally left-wing. Inspired in part by nineteenth-century Realism, it emerged in various forms in the twentieth century. Political radicalism prompted its emergence in 1930s America, while distaste for abstract art encouraged many in Europe to maintain the style into the 1950s.

Modern Art Information Social Realism
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Alfred H. Barr, Jr. was an American art historian, collector, and the first director of The Museum of Modern Art. Barr was very influential in MoMA's early years, arranging seminal exhibitions of works by Van Gogh, Léger, the Post-Impressionists and the Cubists.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Lyubov Popova
Lyubov Popova
Lyubov Popova was an eminent Russian avant-garde artist, painter, and designer. Her work was important for several modern styles, including Cubism, Suprematism, and Constructivism.

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Alexander Rodchenko
Alexander Rodchenko
Aleksander Rodchenko was a Russian artist, sculptor, photographer, and graphic designer. Concerned with the need for analytical-documentary photo series, he often shot his subjects from odd angles - usually high above or below - to shock the viewer and to postpone recognition. He was one of the founders of Constructivism and Russian design; he was married to the artist Varvara Stepanova.
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The Reaper
The Reaper

Title: The Reaper (1912-13)

Artwork Description & Analysis: In The Reaper, Malevich explored the human figure through a pictorial vocabulary reminiscent of the work of the French Cubist Fernand Leger. The body and the dress of the peasant are rendered in conical and cylindrical forms adopted by Malevich from the Cubist school. The flat and vibrant palette of the painting derive from Post-Impressionism and later modernists, indicating Malevich's exposure to the dominating artistic styles of his time. The peasant theme, part of the more general modernist attraction to the "primitive" is reinterpreted from the traditional folk motif, known as Lubok, which was in vogue in popular prints and textile designs within the Russian avant-garde milieu. While still clearly figurative, this composition anticipates the move toward abstraction by the employment of abbreviated and stylized forms.


Oil on canvas - The Fine Arts Museum, Nizhnij Novgorod, Russia

Woman With Pails: Dynamic Arrangement
Woman With Pails: Dynamic Arrangement

Title: Woman With Pails: Dynamic Arrangement (1912-13)

Artwork Description & Analysis: In this composition, also derived from Fernand Leger (through Paul Cezanne, who believed that all forms in nature could be reduced to the sphere, cylinder, and cone), Malevich moved more decisively toward abstraction by dissecting the figure and picture plane into a variety of interlocking geometric shapes. The figure is still identifiable, as are the pails that she carries; Malevich has not yet abandoned representation entirely. The general palette is comprised of cool colors dominated by blues and grays, though the accents of red, yellow, and ochre add to the visual dynamic of the composition, thus bringing us closer to the feeling that Malevich intended to communicate as indicated by the title. The few identifiably figurative elements, such as the figure's hand, seem to be lost inside the whirlpool of completely abstracted forms that structure the canvas.


Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Black Square
Black Square

Title: Black Square (c. 1915)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Now badly cracked, the iconic Black Square was shown by Malevich in the 0.10 exhibition in Petrograd in 1915. This piece epitomized the theoretical principles of Suprematism developed by Malevich in his 1915 essay From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting. Although earlier Malevich had been influenced by Cubism, he believed that the Cubists had not taken abstraction far enough. Thus, here the purely abstract shape of the black square (painted before the white background) is the single pictorial element in the composition. Even though the painting seems simple, there are such subtleties as brushstrokes, fingerprints, and colors visible underneath the cracked black layer of paint. If nothing else, one can distinguish the visual weight of the black square, the sense of an "image" against a background, and the tension around the edges of the square. But according to Malevich, the perception of such forms should always be free of logic and reason, for the absolute truth can only be realized through pure feeling. For the artist, the square represented feelings, and the white, nothingness. Additionally, Malevich saw the black square as a kind of godlike presence, an icon -- or even the godlike quality in himself. In fact, Black Square was to become the new holy image for non-representational art. Even at the exhibition it was hung in the corner where an Orthodox icon would traditionally be placed in the Russian home.


Oil on canvas - Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Airplane Flying
Airplane Flying

Title: Airplane Flying (1915)

Artwork Description & Analysis: As early as 1914, Malevich had become interested in the possibilities of flight (as had the Futurists) and the idea that the airplane might be a symbol for the awakening of the soul surrounded by the freedom of the infinite. Malevich was also interested in aerial photographs of landscapes, although he later backed away from this source of inspiration, feeling that it led him too far from his vision of a totally abstract art. However, at the time, in Airplane Flying Malevich was able to further explore the pictorial potential of pure abstraction. The rectangular and cubic shapes are arranged in a solid, architectonic composition. The yellow contrasts starkly with the black, while the red and blue lines add dynamic visual accents to the canvas. The whiteness of the background remains unobtrusive but contrasting, and has infused the interplay of colorful shapes with its energy. Malevich believed that emotional engagement was required from the viewer in order to appreciate the composition, which constituted one of the key principles of his theory of Suprematism. Indeed, Malevich wrote about expressing the feeling of the "sensation of flight, metallic sounds..." and other technological advances of the modern age. His abstract painting was meant to convey the concept (abstract idea) of the plane flying in space.


Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

White on White
White on White

Title: White on White (1917-18)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Malevich repeatedly referred to "the white" as a representation of the transcendent state reached through Suprematism. White was the artist's symbol for the concept of the infinite as the white square dissolves its material being into the slightly warmer white of the infinite surrounding. This painting can be seen as the final, complete stage of his "transformation in the zero of form," since form has almost literally been reduced to nothing. The pure white of the canvas has negated any sense of traditional perspective, leaving the viewer to contemplate its "infinite" space. The slight change in tonality, however, distinguishes the abstract shape from the background of the canvas, and encourages close viewing The picture is thus bled of color, the pure white making it easier to recognize the signs of the artist's work in the rich paint texture of the white square, texture being one of the basic qualities of painting as the Suprematists saw it. Painted some time after the Russian Revolution of 1917, one might read the work as an expression of Malevich's hopes for the creation of a new world under Communism, a world that might lead to spiritual, as well as material, freedom.


Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Self-Portrait
Self-Portrait

Title: Self-Portrait (1933)

Artwork Description & Analysis: In the late years of his life, Malevich returned to exploring the more conservative themes of his earlier work such as peasants and portraits. In fact, Malevich was forced to abandon his modernist style under Joseph Stalin in the 1930s. The artist's Suprematist goal of achieving a "blissful sense of liberating non-objectivity" did not square with the prescribed Social Realist style that was being dictated at the time. In the work pictured here, Malevich paints himself as a Renaissance artist, seriously posed in red and black against a neutral background, his gesture a reflection of that of the artist Albrecht Durer in his renowned Self-Portrait (1500). Here, the unity of the mind and the hand of the artist, highlighted on the central axis, bears a slightly different meaning: his hand is open and willing, but suspended, as his mind broods over the closing down of artistic freedom under Stalin's rule. And yet, the artist has "signed" the painting with his own black square in the lower right corner.


Oil on canvas - Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Reaper

The Reaper, 1912-13, The Fine Arts Museum, Nizhnij Novgorod, Russia
Oil on canvas

In The Reaper, Malevich explored the human figure through a pictorial vocabulary reminiscent of the work of the French Cubist Fernand Leger. The body and the dress of the peasant are rendered in conical and cylindrical forms adopted by Malevich from the Cubist school. The flat and vibrant palette of the painting derive from Post-Impressionism and later modernists, indicating Malevich's exposure to the dominating artistic styles of his time. The peasant theme, part of the more general modernist attraction to the "primitive" is reinterpreted from the traditional folk motif, known as Lubok, which was in vogue in popular prints and textile designs within the Russian avant-garde milieu. While still clearly figurative, this composition anticipates the move toward abstraction by the employment of abbreviated and stylized forms.
Woman With Pails: Dynamic Arrangement

Woman With Pails: Dynamic Arrangement, 1912-13, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Oil on canvas

In this composition, also derived from Fernand Leger (through Paul Cezanne, who believed that all forms in nature could be reduced to the sphere, cylinder, and cone), Malevich moved more decisively toward abstraction by dissecting the figure and picture plane into a variety of interlocking geometric shapes. The figure is still identifiable, as are the pails that she carries; Malevich has not yet abandoned representation entirely. The general palette is comprised of cool colors dominated by blues and grays, though the accents of red, yellow, and ochre add to the visual dynamic of the composition, thus bringing us closer to the feeling that Malevich intended to communicate as indicated by the title. The few identifiably figurative elements, such as the figure's hand, seem to be lost inside the whirlpool of completely abstracted forms that structure the canvas.
Black Square

Black Square, c. 1915, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Oil on canvas

Now badly cracked, the iconic Black Square was shown by Malevich in the 0.10 exhibition in Petrograd in 1915. This piece epitomized the theoretical principles of Suprematism developed by Malevich in his 1915 essay From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting. Although earlier Malevich had been influenced by Cubism, he believed that the Cubists had not taken abstraction far enough. Thus, here the purely abstract shape of the black square (painted before the white background) is the single pictorial element in the composition. Even though the painting seems simple, there are such subtleties as brushstrokes, fingerprints, and colors visible underneath the cracked black layer of paint. If nothing else, one can distinguish the visual weight of the black square, the sense of an "image" against a background, and the tension around the edges of the square. But according to Malevich, the perception of such forms should always be free of logic and reason, for the absolute truth can only be realized through pure feeling. For the artist, the square represented feelings, and the white, nothingness. Additionally, Malevich saw the black square as a kind of godlike presence, an icon -- or even the godlike quality in himself. In fact, Black Square was to become the new holy image for non-representational art. Even at the exhibition it was hung in the corner where an Orthodox icon would traditionally be placed in the Russian home.
Airplane Flying

Airplane Flying, 1915, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Oil on canvas

As early as 1914, Malevich had become interested in the possibilities of flight (as had the Futurists) and the idea that the airplane might be a symbol for the awakening of the soul surrounded by the freedom of the infinite. Malevich was also interested in aerial photographs of landscapes, although he later backed away from this source of inspiration, feeling that it led him too far from his vision of a totally abstract art. However, at the time, in Airplane Flying Malevich was able to further explore the pictorial potential of pure abstraction. The rectangular and cubic shapes are arranged in a solid, architectonic composition. The yellow contrasts starkly with the black, while the red and blue lines add dynamic visual accents to the canvas. The whiteness of the background remains unobtrusive but contrasting, and has infused the interplay of colorful shapes with its energy. Malevich believed that emotional engagement was required from the viewer in order to appreciate the composition, which constituted one of the key principles of his theory of Suprematism. Indeed, Malevich wrote about expressing the feeling of the "sensation of flight, metallic sounds..." and other technological advances of the modern age. His abstract painting was meant to convey the concept (abstract idea) of the plane flying in space.
White on White

White on White, 1917-18, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Oil on canvas

Malevich repeatedly referred to "the white" as a representation of the transcendent state reached through Suprematism. White was the artist's symbol for the concept of the infinite as the white square dissolves its material being into the slightly warmer white of the infinite surrounding. This painting can be seen as the final, complete stage of his "transformation in the zero of form," since form has almost literally been reduced to nothing. The pure white of the canvas has negated any sense of traditional perspective, leaving the viewer to contemplate its "infinite" space. The slight change in tonality, however, distinguishes the abstract shape from the background of the canvas, and encourages close viewing The picture is thus bled of color, the pure white making it easier to recognize the signs of the artist's work in the rich paint texture of the white square, texture being one of the basic qualities of painting as the Suprematists saw it. Painted some time after the Russian Revolution of 1917, one might read the work as an expression of Malevich's hopes for the creation of a new world under Communism, a world that might lead to spiritual, as well as material, freedom.
Self-Portrait

Self-Portrait, 1933, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Oil on canvas

In the late years of his life, Malevich returned to exploring the more conservative themes of his earlier work such as peasants and portraits. In fact, Malevich was forced to abandon his modernist style under Joseph Stalin in the 1930s. The artist's Suprematist goal of achieving a "blissful sense of liberating non-objectivity" did not square with the prescribed Social Realist style that was being dictated at the time. In the work pictured here, Malevich paints himself as a Renaissance artist, seriously posed in red and black against a neutral background, his gesture a reflection of that of the artist Albrecht Durer in his renowned Self-Portrait (1500). Here, the unity of the mind and the hand of the artist, highlighted on the central axis, bears a slightly different meaning: his hand is open and willing, but suspended, as his mind broods over the closing down of artistic freedom under Stalin's rule. And yet, the artist has "signed" the painting with his own black square in the lower right corner.
Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.