Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich

Russian Painter, Sculptor, and Stage Designer

Born: February 26, 1879 - near Kiev, Ukraine
Died: May 15, 1935 - Leningrad, Soviet Union
"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."
1 of 8
Kazimir Malevich Signature
"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."
2 of 8
Kazimir Malevich Signature
"Feeling is the determining factor ... and thus art arrives at non-objective representation through Suprematism."
3 of 8
Kazimir Malevich Signature
"No more 'likenesses of reality,' no idealistic images, nothing but a desert!"
4 of 8
Kazimir Malevich Signature
"Suprematism is the rediscovery of pure art which, in the course of time, had become obscured by the accumulation of "things"."
5 of 8
Kazimir Malevich Signature
"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."
6 of 8
Kazimir Malevich Signature
"I have transformed myself in the zero of form and fished myself out of the rubbishy slough of Academic Art. I have destroyed the circle of the horizon and escaped from the circle of objects, the horizon-ring that has imprisoned the artist and the forms from nature. The square is not a subconscious form. It is the creation of intuitive reason. The face of the new art. The square is the living, royal infant. It is the first step of pure creation in art."
7 of 8
Kazimir Malevich Signature
"Instead of red, black (zero color); instead of a face, a hollow recess (zero lines); instead of an icon - that is, instead of a window into the heavens, into the light, into eternal life - gloom, a cellar, a trapdoor into the underworld, eternal darkness."
8 of 8
Writer Tatyana Tolstaya on the Black Square placed in corner of gallery

Summary of Kazimir Malevich

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.


  • 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.

Biography of Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich Photo

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.

Important Art by Kazimir Malevich

Progression of Art
The Reaper (1912-13)

The Reaper

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 (1912-13)

Woman With Pails: Dynamic Arrangement

In this composition, also derived from Fernand Leger (through Paul Cézanne, 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 (c. 1915)
c. 1915

Black Square

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 (1915)

Airplane Flying

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 (1917-18)

White on White

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 - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Self-Portrait (1933)


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 Dürer 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

Similar Art

Influences and Connections

Useful Resources on Kazimir Malevich

video clips

Related Artists

Related Movements & Topics

Do more

Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Kazimir Malevich Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
First published on 05 Jun 2014. Updated and modified regularly
[Accessed ]