Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich

Black Square

The Black Square of Kazimir Malevich is one of the most famous creations of Russian art in the last century. The first Black Square was painted in 1915 to become the turning point in the development of Russian avant-garde. The momentous year of 1913 drew to a close. Malevich was soon destined to carve a name for himself in the history of art as the creator of a new movement in Russian painting - Suprematism. He spent the next eighteen months in his studio in Moscow, creating some thirty non-objective canvases. In these works, Malevich worked out the concept that had originally arisen, if only partially incarnated, in Victory Over the Sun.

Malevich initiated no one into what he was working on throughout 1914. He unveiled his paintings to the public in Petrograd in December 1915 at an exhibition organized by the artists of Moscow and Petrograd, symbolically entitled 0.10. Last Futurist Exhibition. Malevich published a brochure to coincide with the exhibition called From Cubism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism. The new word that he had invented for the movement, Suprematism, was intended to refer to the supremacy of the new form.

The thirty nine canvases that Malevich contributed to the 0.10 exhibition were a clear challenge to everything that had gone before in fine art. The pictures were hung close together on the walls, in two rows, following the artist's own personal preference. Previously unknown images in the forms of geometrical figures, squares and lines literally rained down on the viewer. Malevich's new symbols - circles, squares and crosses hovering on white planes on the walls - were transferred to another space and another sphere of meaning.

The work that attracted most attention was Black Square, which was accorded a special place in the exhibition space. Malevich later wrote that Suprematism could be divided into three stages, in correspondence to its three squares - black, red and white. The most prominent of the three, Black Square, was painted accurately and uniformly in a monotonous black tone, without any pastoso strokes.

Malevich's philosophy was based on all that had accumulated in the literature and art of the period and represented a complete break from everything that he had previously attempted. The result was the appearance of a new representational religion, in which the dial was wound back to the starting point - zero. Repeating the name of the exhibition at which he had launched Suprematism, Malevich established the concept of the "zero of form". As he himself wrote in From Cubism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism: "I have transformed myself in the zero of form."

The stark simplicity and open incomprehensibility of Malevich's challenge to the other forms of fine art created a storm in the art world. The pure forms and seemingly clear perception of the Black Square introduced a revolutionary new way of perceiving a painting and sowed confusion in the ranks of the old way of thinking. The artist's theoretic approach to the deciphering of his revelation was designed to confirm the new world order, which set itself the complex tasks of "recoding the world" and communication in a previously unknown cosmic tongue. Malevich later even called himself the "president of space".

Malevich's Suprematist paintings embody a clear sensation of space. The thick local colours battle amongst themselves in a state of complete plastic harmony. The white background is always pure and undiluted, lending his non-objective pictures a sense of chastity and lightness. The absence of heavy frames intensifies this sensation of lightness and flight through space. Black Square was the key painting and, as such, the subject of endless talk and controversy. Malevich's students and confederates greeted his revelation with delight and understanding and soon began creating works themselves that reflected the overwhelming influence of the master.

Black Square against white background became the symbol, the basic element in the system of the art of suprematism, the step into the new art. Black Square immediately occupied its own niche in the long and complex history of world art. Many books and articles were written about the phenomenon, confirming the unique and select nature of Black Square in the context of twentieth century art.

What is Black Square?

Black Square a a spirit of sensation which pervades everything

"When, in the year 1913, in my desperate attempt to free art from the ballast of objectivity, I took refuge in the square form and exhibited a picture which consisted of nothing more than a black square on a white field, the critics and, along with them, the public sighed, "Everything which we loved is lost. We are in a desert... Before us is nothing but a black square on a white background!"

"The square seemed incomprehensible and dangerous to the critics and the public... and this, of course, was to be expected."

"The contours of the objective world fade more and more and so it goes, step by step, until finally the world "everything we loved and by which we have lived" becomes lost to sight."

"But this desert is filled with the spirit of nonobjective sensation which pervades everything."

"But a blissful sense of liberating nonobjectivity drew me forth into the "desert," where nothing is real except feeling... and so feeling became the substance of my life."

Black Square is a feeling

"This was no "empty square" which I had exhibited but rather the feeling of nonobjectivity."

"I realized that the "thing" and the "concept" were substituted for feeling and understood the falsity of the world of will and idea."

"Suprematism is the rediscovery of pure art which, in the course of time, had become obscured by the accumulation of "things."

"But the nature and meaning of artistic creation continue to be misunderstood, as does the nature of creative work in general, because feeling, after all, is always and everywhere the one and only source of every creation."

"The emotions which are kindled in the human being are stronger than the human being himself... they must at all costs find an outlet they must take on overt form they must be communicated or put to work."

Black Square is a void

Black square on white field, carrying abstraction to its ultimate geometric simplification. Called a "dead square" and a "void" by the critics, as well as "the greatest by far among the fairground tricks of instant culture." To Malevich, however, this square symbolized a "full void," in that it showed how painting could fulfill itself unaided by any reference to a specific external reality. For him the square represented only Suprematism: "the supremacy of pure feeling" in and of itself. Malevich removes specific subject matter by shifting away from representation and mimesis and towards the purity of mathematical geometry. "The square = feeling, the white field = the void beyond this feeling."

The Black Square is not quite as simple as it looks: even by taking art to degree zero as Malevich does here, he creates a stressed reading of figure that reads two ways, either a black square on top of a white ground or a black hole surrounded by a white border. Every object has a static facade and an inner dynamic.

Black Square is God

"I search for God, I search within myself for myself. God is all-seeing, all-knowing, all powerful a future perfection of intuition as the oeumenical world of supra-reason. I search for God, I search for my face, I have already drawn its outline and I strive to incarnate myself. And my reason serves me as a path to that which is drawn by intuition." The Artist, Infinity, Suprematism.

Black Square is an icon

"The image is the final path, the image is something that bares the exit, by means of the image the further path is interrupted, everything which has paths converges toward the image, all paths lead to the image particularly if it is holy, hence I see the justification and true significance of the Orthodox corner in which the image stands, the holy image as opposed to all other images and representations of sinners... The corner symbolizes that there is no other path to perfection except for the path into the corner."

Black Square is zero of painting

Malevich proclaimed his work as the "zero" of painting, that there was no-thing other that painting presented, no positioning, no certain conventional imaging. A meta painting - more - a painting that has no opposite in representational painting, no painting to its anti-painting. For representational painting must deal with particulars of sorts, whereas 'not-painting' is a general relation englobing the rest of the universe.

Black Square is painting beyond painting

Malevich saw the square as being that work that would necessarily maintain a spiraling triad into the fourth dimension by being a painting, by negating painting, by bringing painting into a new context, painting beyond painting. Malevich hung a black square in the centre of the world of meaning.

Kazimir Malevich Art

  • Kazimir Malevich is a pioneer of geometric abstract art and Suprematism. Simplest geometric forms, void, infinity, eternity, and supremacy of pure feeling... More...
  • 105 pictures for only $25.



Art Encyclopedia A world history of art in articles.
            Kazimir Malevich
                  Suprematism. Manifesto.
                  Black Square.


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