A decorative artist, painter, art theorist, and printmaker, Kazimir Malevich was an exponent of Abstract Expressionism, with geometric art as an area of specialization. His art was influenced by other modern art movements like Cubism, Expressionism, and Surrealism. Through his art theories and paintings, he was able to develop his own school of thought which is referred to as the Suprematist movement, inspired by the avant-garde movement.
Under the Suprematist movement, abstract art is given a lot of importance and emphasis as a way to express philosophical meanings and forms. Malevich had established a variety of styles, but most importantly, he focused on one style that explored the potential of geometric forms such as circles, squares, and triangles. As he explores these forms he also took into consideration its relationship to each other and how it will affect the pictorial representation of his subject matter. Malevich had a lot of connections in the West, enabling him to propagate his ideas about art and painting. Therefore, he became a highly influential artist and teacher to many of his contemporaries in the US and Europe.
In stating precisely, Malevich himself thought that his own movement added a new dimension to Modern art, to its overall evolution. He says, “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.” Hence, he used abstract art as the main approach to painting because the figurative forms of the world are rather devoid of meaning, if taken as it is; a spectator will likely seek in-depth meanings and connections with a work of art if he is presented with abstract forms and ideas.
Kazimir Malevich was a major contributor to the development of modern Russian art, particularly during the post-World War I. His original philosophy of art, which is Suprematism, allowed him to give his subjects the potential to transcend over the pictorial image, and art has never been as meaningful as ever before. This is also why his art is viewed more radical than the Futurists. By characteristics, a Suprematist painting is composed of abstract forms or ideas, flat depth, and several layers of symbols, all of which should evoke mystical feelings significant to the human experience.
Aside from painting, Malevich was also a writer for having been an art theorist. He wrote his treatises on art philosophy most of which are meant to address the problems of abstract art and how it can be used as a tool for expressing and affecting emotions, to affect a sense of spiritual transformation. A few examples of Malevich’s influential paintings are as follows:
Born as Kazimiers Malewicz in February 23, 1879, Kazimir grew up to a large family of Polish descent. He was the eldest among fourteen siblings, all of whom were raised in Kiev Governorate of the former Russian Empire. His parents were Roman Catholics but fled to the Eastern Europe where Commonwealth was a form of government. They did so after the January Uprising of 1863 failed to win against the Russian conquerors. Growing up in Kiev, Ukraine, Kazimir had learned how to speak in Russian and Polish.
The Malevich’s were sugar factory stewards and at some point, the patriarch worked on a railway station as a construction worker. Unable to secure a permanent job, the family had to move from one place to another during the painter’s younger days. Kazimir grew up surrounded by sugar and beer plantations, completely absorbing the rural life which would serve as his inspiration for his early works. This could also be one reason why he was already 12 years old when he learned of painting and its potential as a lucrative career, should he work as a professional artist. As soon as he was trained how to draw, he chose peasants and domestic interiors as a subject matter.
From 1895 to 1896, Kazimir Malevich studied art in Kiev. He then moved to Kursk from 1896 to 1904 before going to Moscow, Russia to advance his art studies. There he studied at the premier School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture in the next six years of his life. In between those years, he entered the studio of Fedor Rerberg until he was ready enough to participate in local art shows.
In 1911, he joined the second exhibition of the Union of Youth in St. Petersburg. He presented an art show together with Vladimir Tatlin and a year later, the union had organized its third show which displayed the paintings by Tatlin, A. Ekster, among many others. 1912 would prove to be a productive year for Malevich for he participated in yet another art exhibition by the Donkey’s Tail in Moscow. It is said that during this period, senior artists Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova were major sources of influence for the artist. Both of whom were avant-garde painters who specialized in painting Russian folk art, which was locally termed ‘lubok’.
During the early 1920’s, Malevich’s art was focused on Cubo-Futuristic style, being the two of the most predominant art movements at the time. He attended an art show of Aristarkh Lentulov in Moscow in 1913 whose works were believed to be in comparable to those of Paul Cezanne. The avant-garde artists of this period had been keen to absorbing the Cubist principles on art so much so that they apply it into their art works. For instance, Kazimir Malevich used the Cubo-Futurist influences he absorbed by attending different exhibitions to design the stage set of Victory Over the Sun, a major opera.
In 1914, the Salon des Independants began to take notice of Malevich’s works that they had invited him to exhibit in Paris. The art show was comprised of works by Sonia Delaunay, Aleksandra Ekster, Alexander Achipenko, Vadim Meller, and Malevich himself. The Ukrainian born artist then received a commission under which he was to create illustrations alongside Pavel Filonov for the Selected Poems with Postscript by Velimir Khlebnikov. This was followed by another illustration project for the same poet, whose work was titled Roar! Gauntlets, 1908-1914.
In 1913, Kazimir Malevich befriended a number of poets and artists he met during his travels and active participation in groups for artists. He exchanged meaningful discussions with them until he was able to find a kindred spirit in Krucherykh Khlebnikov who theorized about having a “self-sufficient world”. This left a significant mark in Malevich’s mind and philosophy, which he eventually promoted through Suprematism.
Soon after the First World War Ended, Kazimir Malevich formed an art philosophy called Suprematism, in which abstract art should affect a spiritual transcendence to a spectator, to have an experience beyond the natural world. The treatises on this philosophy were published in one name: From Cubism to Suprematism (1915). From then on he began working with the followers of the said movement such as peasants and artisans from the villages of Verbovka and Skoptsi.
In 1915, he exhibited his Zero to Ten paintings, including the Black Square and the Black Cross. In this period geometric abstract art was completely unheard of, so Malevich became a pioneer of such a style. His color palette changed from time to time, from being as serious as White on White to the lighthearted and warm Yellow Parallelogram on White of 1917. He worked on a series of Suprematist paintings through the 1920’s until he settled in teaching for a while.
During the early 1920’s he accepted a teaching position at the Vitebsk Popular Art School, to which he also assumed the Director position. In 1922 he moved to Petrograd and found a teaching job at the Institute for Artistic Culture until 1927 and from 1927 to ’29 he would have taught at the Kiev State Art Institute. It was also in Petrograd where he showed his Futurist-inspired art works such as the Red Square and Black Square, although these paintings are small in size. The paintings are assigned to be the focal point of the show.
By 1930, Kazimir Malevich would become an established art professor and theorist more than a painter. He would still be teaching at the House of the Arts in Leningrad throughout 1930. During this period he would have also become a published author for writing The World as Non-Objectivity, in his attempt to lay the foundations of abstract art although this style would not be a predominant movement until the 1950’s. The book was published in 1926 and a few decades later it had been translated into English.
As soon as the Petrogard State Institute of Artistic Culture, to which Kazimir Malevich was the Director, was shut down due to a political strife, he fled to Warsaw to attend a hero’s welcome for him. There he was welcomed by his former students Katarzyna Kobro and Wladyslaw Strzeminski. The said painters were also founders of their own movement called Unism which was inspired by Malevich’s philosophy.
From Warsaw, Kazimir Malevich traveled next to Berlin and Munich of Germany to inaugurate his retrospective exhibitions which finally cemented his international fame and reputation. However, several of his paintings produced during between the 1920’s and 1930’s were left behind in the Soviet Union. He believed that the Soviet leaders would change their attitude towards modern art as soon as Vladimir Lenin or Leon Trotsky was dethroned. This assumption would prove to be correct because when Stalin assumed succeeded to rule over Russia he detested abstract art and any form of art that seemed to convey bourgeois tendencies and realities. Therefore, many of abstract paintings at the time were confiscated and the artists were banned from painting anew.
In Kazimir Malevich’s later years, he had been suffering from cancer. On May 15, 1935, he succumbed to the said illness and this sparked an outcry from his followers who had organized a rally during his funeral. The mourners were allowed to raise and wave a banner that bear the artist’s iconic black square. He was cremated and the ashes were forwarded to Nemchinovka and then interred at a field close to his dacha.