Russian Painter, Sculptor, and Stage Designer
near Kiev, Ukraine
Leningrad, Soviet Union
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Kazimir Malevich
- Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism (2003)Our PickBy Nina Gurianova, Jean-Claude Marcade, Tatyana Mikhienko, Yevgenia Petrova, Vasilii Rakitin, Kazimir Malevich, Matthew Drutt
- Kazimir Malevich and the Art of GeometryBy John Milner
- Kazimir Malevich, 1878-1935By John E. Bowlt
- Kazimir Malevich: The Climax of DisclosureBy Rainer Crone, David Moos
- Kazimir Malevich in the State Russian MuseumBy Yevgenia Petrova
- The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of SuprematismOur PickBy Kazimir Malevich
- Kazimir Malevich: Black and WhiteBy Kazimir Malevich
- Malevich IV: The Artist, Infinity, Suprematism: Unpublished Writings 1913-33By Kazimir Malevich, Xenia Hoffman, Troels Andersen
- Kazimir Malevich: The Man Who Liberated PaintingBy Frances Spalding / The Guardian / July 4, 2014
- Becoming Revolutionary: On Kazimir MalevichBy Boris Groys / e-flux / September 2013
- The Prophet: Malevich's RevolutionOur PickBy Peter Schjeldahl / The New Yorker / June 2, 2003
- Malevich's Search for a New RealityBy Michael Brenson / The New York Times / September 17, 1990
- Art, Revolution, and Kazimir MalevichOur PickBy Hilton Kramer / The New Criterion / September 1990