Progression of Art
Study for Decor of Victory Over the Sun
Malevich collaborated with Alexei Kruchenykh and Mikhail Matiushin on the decor for the Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun (1913). This sketch for the backdrop of Act 2, Scene 5, foreshadows the development of Suprematism in its use of a geometric motif, though it doesn't prefigure any particular Suprematist piece. Without the use of color or shading, the square moves beyond a sense of Cubist space with its confrontational flatness. The black and white in this composition, which can signify presence from absence (creation), hints again at the birth of Malevich's new movement. The opera was a particularly appropriate place for the debut of Malevich's ideas, since the Futurist movement that inspired it was also important in shaping Suprematism. Just as Futurism aimed at a total renewal of Russian culture, so Suprematism claimed to supersede all art movements that had gone before it. Malevich's designs for the opera marked a major break with theatrical convention, since they were neither decorative nor did they illustrate a scene such as a landscape or a room. Their strange darkness also chimed with Mikhail Matiushin's belief that the opera was about "Victory, over the old accepted concept of the beautiful sun."
Pencil on paper - State Theatre Museum, St. Petersburg
Once described as Malevich's "living, royal infant," the Black Square has been seen as a major landmark in the history of abstract art, a point of both beginning and ending. Malevich would paint four versions of it between 1915 and the early 1930s, and it is said that the last version was carried behind his coffin during his funeral. Pared down from a design he painted for the Victory Over the Sun (1913), this first version depicts a purely black square against a thin border of white, further obscuring any sense of normal space or perspective. At the 0.10 exhibition in 1915, Malevich emphasized its status by hanging it across the corner of a room, emulating the Russian tradition for the placement of religious icons.
Oil on canvas - Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Suprematist Painting, Eight Red Rectangles
The three levels of Suprematism were described by Malevich as black, colored and white. Eight Red Rectangles is an example of the second, more dynamic phase, in which primary colors began to be used. The composition is somewhat ambiguous, since while on the one hand the rectangles can be read as floating in space, as if they were suspended on the wall, they can also be read as objects seen from above. Malevich appears to have read them in the latter way, since at one time he was fascinated by aerial photography. Indeed he later criticized this more dynamic phase of his Suprematist movement as 'aerial Suprematism,' since its compositions tended to echo pictures of the earth taken from the skies, and in this sense departed from his ambitions for a totally abstract, non-objective art. The uneven spacing and slight tilt of the juxtaposed shapes in Eight Red Rectangles, as well as the subtly different tones of red, infuse the composition with energy, allowing Malevich to experiment with his concept of "infinite" space.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York
Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge
This lithograph is one of El Lissitzky's most well-known works from his Suprematist period. It uses shape, positioning and color in keeping with the movement's principles, especially the "color" phase of the movement. The use of lettering and the pointillist shading, however, shows the evolution of his personal style. More interestingly, the poster reveals propagandistic intentions in its representation of the struggle between the revolutionary "reds" and the conservative "whites" in Russia. El Lissitzky described his own brand of Suprematism as Prounism, a derivation of 'proekt Unovisa' ('project for Unovis'), Unovis being the group that Malevich formed in Vitebsk in 1919, and which drew Lissitzky into the fold of the Suprematists.
Stedelijk Van Abbe-Museum, Eindhoven, Netherlands - Stedelijk Van Abbe-Museum, Eindhoven, Netherlands
Color Painting (Non-Objective Composition)
Rozanova was one of the first to apply her own personal interpretation to Suprematism. Her interest in fabrics led her to concentrate on textural effects, occasionally straying from the primary palette to use softer, more feminine colors. A fine colorist, Rozanova's ability to employ delicate tonal contrasts was a prelude to the style of Mark Rothko, as shown in the composition of Color Painting.
Oil on canvas - State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
White Square on White
Malevich repeatedly referred to "the white" as a representation of the transcendent state reached through Suprematism. 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 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 White Square on White 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