Feel the Square
‘’The supremacy of pure feeling’’ says Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, is the meaning of Suprematism, the art movement. In a Platonesque manner, he calls objectivity meaningless and turns to pure feeling. Disregarding the materialized art, he calls forth non-objective art that could speak to anyone. To Malevich, Suprematism is ‘’the rediscovery of pure art.’’
The Revolution Brings Out the Revolutionary
Malevich, born in 1879, lived in a tumultuous period in Russian history. In the years leading up to the October Revolution, which affected every aspect of life and art, Malevich was involved with the artistic side of the movement. His early figurative works show the impact of Cubo-futurism. In his Englishman in Moscow, he scatters random objects a tourist might see in Moscow through the canvas with the tourist in the background in a very futuristic manner. Woodcutter shows the figure in the most Cubo-futuristic way. Malevich, then, takes a step forward. Cubism, futurism, or any other avant-garde movement still used objectivity, but Malevich wanted to ‘’have nothing with the object’’ and believed that ‘’it can exist for itself, without things.’’
Zero Point of Painting
In 1915 Petrograd, Last Futurist Exhibition 0,10 provided a groundbreaking moment for art history. Malevich exhibited several paintings consisting of geometrical shapes on a white ground with plain colors, but the centerpiece was Black Square. It depicts nothing but a black square. It’s the ultimate purification of form and color. In his own words, this is the first expression of the non-objective feeling; the square is the feeling, and the white field is the void beyond this feeling.
It’s needless to say that Black Square, nicknamed ‘’the zero point of painting’’, created havoc in its day and changed art history. When the artist died in 1935, it was hung like a Russian icon for his funeral.
Airplane Flying, from the same exhibition, shows neither an airplane nor a flying object. It consists of weightless rectangles in various colors on a white background. And the playfully titled Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions shows no woman; just a red square; in fact, not square but a squarish shape representing a square! These minimal forms create a language everybody can understand. That’s why they insist on geometry, for it reflects science, a universal language. Geometry also defies the naturalism he’s trying to get rid of. There’re no squares in nature!
A New Language
In 1916, Malevich began to add more colors and various elements into his works and changed his static style. Suprematist Composition is an example of this approach, with overlapping geometric forms floating around like celestial objects in space. They have their universe. That is what Suprematism wants to reflect: the world of art itself, not our own. This notion reaches a peak with White on White. Here, a cool white square is on a warmer white background. It deconstructs the traditional art ‘’in the service of religion and the state.’’ No conventions, restrictions, or a designated language through which art had been speaking; just feelings. Worth noting that it was painted one year after the revolution.
The Square Remains
As the revolution changed its face, the art followed and turned into socialist realism under the new leader. Rather than ‘’feelings’’ of Suprematism or any avant-garde attitude, depicting the ideal life in the Soviets became significant. Malevich also changed his approach and returned to figurative art, but not to its conventional state. Malevich’s figurative works resounded his non-objective ones. In Boy and Running Man, we feel as if the squares had become figures. They are not mere figures or objects. They are feelings, and they are still squares. As Malevich says, the square changes and creates new forms.
Danto, A., 1997. After the End of Art. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.Drutt, M. and Malevich, K., 2003. Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism. New York: Guggenheim Museum.Fauchereau, S., 1993. Malevich. New York: Rizzoli.Lynton, N., 1980. The Story of Modern Art. New York: Cornell University.Malevich, K., 1959. The Non-Objective World. Chicago: Paul Theobald & Co.Milner, J., 1996. Kazimir Malevich and the Art of Geometry. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Figures with Sources:
Kazimir Malevich, Englishman in Moscow, 1914, oil on canvas, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.wikiart.org
Kazimir Malevich, Woodcutter, 1912-13, oil on canvas, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.wikimedia.org
The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0,10, 1915, Petrograd.blacksquare100.com
Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915, oil on linen canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.wikiart.org
Malevich’s open-casket in his self-designed Suprematist coffin beneath the Black Square, 1935blacksquare100.com
Kazimir Malevich, Airplane Flying, 1915, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York.commons.wikimedia.org
Kazimir Malevich, Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions, 1915, oil on canvas, Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg.www.wikiart.org
Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition, 1916, oil on canvas, Private collection.commons.wikimedia.org
Kazimir Malevich, White on White, 1918, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York.www.wikiart.org
Kazimir Malevich, Boy, 1928-32, oil on plywood, Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg.en.wikipedia.org
Kazimir Malevich, Running Man, 1932-33, oil on canvas, Georges Pompidou Art Centre, Paris.wikipedia.org