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The Art Story Homepage Movements, Styles, and Tendencies Suprematism Art Works

Suprematism Artworks

Suprematism Collage

Started: 1913

Ended: Late 1920s

Artworks and Artists of Suprematism

The below artworks are the most important in Suprematism - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Suprematism. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Study for Decor of Victory Over the Sun (1913)

Study for Decor of Victory Over the Sun (1913)

By: Kazimir Malevich

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."

Black Square (c. 1915)

Black Square (c. 1915)

By: Kazimir Malevich

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.

Suprematist Painting, Eight Red Rectangles (1915)

Suprematist Painting, Eight Red Rectangles (1915)

By: Kazimir Malevich

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.

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919-20)

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919-20)

By: El Lissitzky

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.

Color Painting (Non-Objective Composition) (1917)

Color Painting (Non-Objective Composition) (1917)

By: Olga Rozanova

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.

White Square on White (1917-18)

White Square on White (1917-18)

By: Kazimir Malevich

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.

Related Movements and Major Works

Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color (1921)

Movement: Constructivism (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Alexander Rodchenko (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Traditionally, color is used in art to describe the appearance of a particular object, or else to lend associations (the blue traditionally used to depict the Virgin Mary's robes in Renaissance paintings carried symbolic meanings). But Rodchenko's triptych focuses only on the material character of color, and it is considered the first artwork to do so. Here, red, blue, and yellow are used neither to describe an object nor to elicit certain associations; instead they are presented almost as a palette from which the artist can work. This is typical of the Constructivist attitude to materials, which was focused not on transforming them into art but on utilizing their properties in the most honest and effective ways possible. The triptych might be read as a rejection of the mysticism that seemed to tinge some work by Rodchenko's Suprematist contemporary, Kazimir Malevich. Rodchenko wrote of it, in 1921, "I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue, yellow. I affirmed: this is the end of painting. These are the primary colors. Every plane is a discrete plane and there will be no more representation."

Homage to the Square: Dissolving/Vanishing (1951)

Movement: Bauhaus (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Josef Albers (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This canvas, one of hundreds created as part of Albers's vast Homage to the Square project, contains several squares, declining in size and oriented toward the lower edge of the pictorial frame. The red of the central square is, perhaps, only apparently red, as the viewer's perception of it is influenced by the hues of the outer squares: an example of what the artist called "the interaction of color". As Albers put it in his influential 1963 book of that name, "[i]f one says 'Red' (the name of a color) and there are 50 people listening, it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different." Due to the interaction of the color and the placement of squares within squares, the image can also paradoxically appear to both advance and recede, subverting the two-dimensional pictorial plane.

Josef Albers, born in Westphalia, Germany in 1888, initially enrolled to study at the Bauhaus in 1920, having previously worked as an art teacher. In 1923, Gropius asked him to take over teaching of the intermediary werklehre course focused on functional techniques, and Albers continued to work at the school until its closure, following it from Weimar to Dessau to Berlin. In 1933 he emigrated to America, where he became the director of Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He described Homage to the Square, which was made up of over a thousand paintings, as a set of "platters to serve color." He began the series in 1949, when he already was sixty-two years old, and continued to work on it until his death in 1976, by which point it had become the culminating achievement of his career.

Through his work at Black Mountain and subsequently at Yale, Albers was hugely responsible for the transferal of its creative principles to North America in the decades following the school's closure. Through his work at those two institutions, and through monumental late works such as Homage to the Square, Albers influenced a whole swath of late-twentieth-century art-movements, including Op Art, Conceptual Art, Color-Field Painting, Hard-edged Geometric Abstraction, and Minimalism, as well as artists such as Bridget Riley, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Frank Stella, and Robert Rauschenberg.


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