Kasimir Malevich (1879, Kyiv – 1935, Leningrad) His early work embraced elements and worked in styles of impressionism, symbolism, fauvism, and cubism; all culminated in his development of Suprematism (its manifesto written around 1915). With the October Revolution in 1917 and support from Trotskyites, Malevich was promoted to prominent teaching posts and given a number of solo exhibitions; but, by the 1930’s rise of Stalin, he was fired from his posts, his works were banned, he was imprisoned for two months in 1930, and forced, in the last five years of his life to paint only in a representational style.
Black Square (1915, oil on canvas, 79x79 cm (ca. 31.3x31.3”), Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow):
Black Square (1913/1915, oil on canvas, 79x79 cm (31.1”), Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, first shown in the “Last Futurism Exhibition 0,10” in Petrograd, later Saint Petersburg; up to four instantiations of Black Square were painted)
–First titled: Quadrangle—sides are not parallel, angles do not equal 90°: “Modernity … its life is currently quadrangular” (Malevich).
–Was painted with impressionist brushstrokes, refusal of smooth color.
–While the Impressionists saw colour as the “product of the decomposition of light,” Suprematism holds that “Colour is a creator in space.” “The artist seeking to express the entirety of his sensation of the world does not elaborate colour in form, but forms the sensation, since the sensation determines the colour and form, so that one should rather speak of the … correspondence of colour and form to sensation” (Malevich, Light & Colour).
–“The flat suspended plane of pictorial colour on the white canvas immediately gives us a strong sensation of space. I feel myself transported into a desert abyss in which one feels the creative points of the universe around one … Here (on these flat surfaces), one can obtain the current of movement itself, as if by contact with an electric wire” (Malevich, Light & Colour).
–“It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins …” and this work evokes the “experience of pure non-objectivity in the white emptiness of a liberated nothing” (Malevich).
–Suprematism’s two essential elements of the pictorial: gravity (the static) & weightlessness (the dynamic).
Space: “Suprematism … will become a new architecture: it will transfer these forms from the surface of the canvas to space” (A&S, 672).
Desert: traditional Jewish metaphor for a mystical experience was the flight from the desert. “No desire: the desert. Desire is still something deeply natural, we live off its vestiges in Europe … deserts. No monuments and no history. … a challenge to meaning and profundity, a challenge to nature and culture, an outer hyperspace, with no origin, no reference-points. No charm, no seduction in all this. … the fascination of the desert: immobility without desire. The end of aesthetics. It is not just the aesthetics of décor (of nature and architecture) that vanishes into thin air, but the aesthetics of bodies and language … the pathos and rhetoric of social relations, the dramatizations of speech, the subtle play of language, the aura of make-up and artificial gesture. … What is arresting here [in the desert] is the absence of all these things” (Jean Baudrillard, America, 133-34)
–“[My Black Square is] a naked icon without a frame … the icon of my time” (Malevich’s response to Alexandre Benois’ art criticism of Black Square, which infuriated him, prompted his rebuke: “[it] gives me the strength to go further and further into the void of the deserts, for only in this place does transfiguration exist.”)
[Icon: Greek: Eikon, likeness, image, portrait; image in a mirror, semblance, phantom image, image in a mind (Iconography: likeness + write, record, to draw; illustrations by drawings or figures); designated a black square on a funeral procession and grave.]—in orthodox homes, icons were displayed in the “beautiful corners,” hence Malevich first exhibited his Black Square hung high up between the two walls in a corner.
The remarkable art critic Peter Schjeldhal has written of this work that it is “… evoking the compact spell of the icon, as a conduit of the divine. … [it] conveys sheer, surging, untrammeled possibility …” and that Malevich “… took out bodily experience …” and so “… you don’t look at the picture so much as launch yourself into its trackless empyrean …”
–Black Square is not to be interpreted as nihilistic—condemning the critic Benois that he will “find it hard to get any warmth out of the face of a square.”
–Malevich had likely read a work by Ouspensky that quoted Lao Tzu: “The Tao is a large square without angles, a great sound that cannot be heard, a great image that has no form” (Tao Te Ching, 41).
–Malevich’s intention, according to Adolf Loos, was to merely represent “the objectless world” (Ornament & Crime, 1908).
Malevich, "Black Square" (upper corner), exhibited at the "Last Futurist Exhibition 0,10" in Petrograd, 1915