Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935)

Russian painter, Kasimir Malevich, is one of the pioneers of abstract art and the originator of Suprematism, a style of abstract painting based on geometric shapes, which promotes the ‘supremacy’ of ‘pure artistic feeling’ over the depiction of objects.

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Dynamischer Suprematismus...
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Malevich, in his Suprematism Manifesto, says:

‘Under Suprematism I understand the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art.  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.’

He goes on to say:

‘Hence, to the Suprematist, the appropriate means of representation is always the one which gives fullest possible expression to feeling ... and which ignores the familiar appearance of objects.’

Black and White Square 1913

Like his contemporary, Piet Mondrian, Kasimir Malevich was interested in theosophy, a mystical movement which promoted the belief that the real world was an illusion and that the actual ‘real’ world existed ‘behind’.  In other words, the ‘reality’ we should be concerned with lay beyond our physical reality.

Malevich produced his first Suprematist composition in 1913, a pencil drawing of a black square on a white background.  He explained:

‘The black square on the white field was the first form in which non-objective feeling came to be expressed.  The square = feeling, the white field = the void beyond this feeling.’

His early suprematist works consist of basic geometric shapes and are executed using a very limited range of colors.  He gradually incorporated more shapes, colors and depth into his suprematist work and his output was prolific between 1913 and 1919. 

The End of Suprematism and its Legacy

1919 Malevich declared  that he had explored suprematist ideas as fully as possible and that the experiment was now over.  He went on to embark on a teaching career and returned to highly stylised and colourful figurative painting.

Kasimir Malevich died in 1935.  His work was suppressed in Soviet Russia during the 1930s and as a painter he was little-known until the 1950s when his paintings became popular again with artists such as Ad Reinhardt and other in the Minimalist art movement.

The Artist’s Voice – Kasimir Malevich quotes

Suprematism did not bring into being a new world of feeling but, rather, an altogether new and direct form of representation of the world of feeling.
The Suprematist square and the forms proceeding out of it can be likened to the primitive marks (symbols) of aboriginal man which represented, in their combinations, not ornament but a feeling of rhythm.
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Black Circle, Kasimir Malevich
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