Suprematism Essay, Research Paper
By 1915, Kazimir Malevich had invented a new, abstract visual language that he called Suprematism. The name he gave to paintings consisting of one or more colored geometric shapes on a white field. Malevich wrote of visualizing a state of feeling, of creating through abstract painting a sense of bliss and wonder. Thus, his works often contain unanchored forms that are meant to evoke sensations of floating or flying, as if to make the viewer imagine being transported to another dimension. Malevich was a Constructivist who reduced art to primordial shape and often used transparency to convey his ideas. What he wanted was a non-objective representation, “The supremacy of pure feeling.” Malevich had initially been influenced by cubism and primitive art, which were both based on nature, but his own movement of Suprematism enabled him to construct images that had no reference at all to reality. Great solid diagonals of color in Suprematism are floating free, their uncompromising sides denying them any connection with the real world. This is a pure abstract painting, the artist’s main theme being the internal movements of the personality. The theme has no precise form, and Malevich had to search it out from within the visible expression of what he felt. Malevich described Suprematism at its moment of birth as a ‘purely pictorial art’. From his point of view it represented the highest manifestation of inherent value of art. It may be wrong to approach Suprematism as painting in the ordinary, traditional sense of the word. Despite its geometric simplicity — the source is of very contemporary appeal, because it reduces what is complex to its elementary form. Suprematism embodies a fundamentally different approach to the entire concept of artistic creativity. To discover what is involved one might start with the “Black Square”, the original statement of Suprematism. Black Square is Malevich s most significant Suprematist painting. In the minds of his contemporaries this painting acquired the force of a magical formula. Within the square of the canvas is a square depicted with the expressiveness of the new art. Malevich depicted only a square, perfect in expression and in relation to its sides. Two shapes, two squares, the smaller black one set within the larger white square. The black square stands for the total absence of color, for darkness, while the white concentrates’ light within which every color existing in the world is contained. The contrast of the black square on the white represents composition at its most economical. The construction itself is elementary. Yet it does provide a focused, perception of space. The sharp counterpoint of a black surface on white to produce the effect of spatial infinity opening into unfathomable darkness is, of course, radically different from the normal method of representing space pictorially, as in an interior or a landscape for instance, by varying the dimensions of objects or using light and color to indicate depth. In his uncompromisingly flat solution Malevich makes no use whatsoever of representational aids to convey space. Yet this experimental canvas is very deliberately ‘a-perspective’. The visual effect of distance between the two surfaces in the same plane is achieved by means of the difference introduced by the black and white, light and color tonal treatment. The black square stands out sharply against its evenly light-toned background, which is perceived by the spectator as infinite space devoid of any point of reference. In Malevich’s picture this effect acquires a sort of doubly extra spatial significance. The black square’s surface exists as discrete space on a the white, except that it appears to be infinitely remote because the eye registers only blackness. The white surface is not a background here, but an equivalent representational component. This equivalence proved to be of fundamental importance for the whole future formulation of Suprematism. There is astonishing integrity in this simple composition. A more concise statement of the most generalized conception of space built into a plane is difficult to imagine. Malevich’s picture provides a kind of formula for space by means of the new method of representing space on a two-dimensional surface. As for color, Malevich himself divided the development of Suprematism into three stages: black, colored and white. The two first stages in fact coincide. A number of colorful Suprematist compositions were displayed at the ‘0-l0′ exhibition side by side with Black Square, Black circle, and Black cross. The contrasts of primary colors — red, yellow, blue and green — with whites and blacks define the color range of Malevich’s Suprematist canvases. The role of color in these works is to locate spatial structures lying at various distances from each other, and to identify the movement of shapes towards or away from the spectator. Two areas situated in the same plane, but colored with differing degrees of intensity. They appear to be at a distance from each other. The distances are measured only by the intensity and the position of the strictly defined color-areas. Physically and psychologically the perception of space is primarily linked with movement. Red, yellow and black squares, rectangles, and circles are set out on a white background along horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines, thus dividing space in definite directions and imparting to it an inner rhythmic mobility. Although there is no representation of movement as such in these pictures by Malevich, there is nevertheless an optical effect of movement in various directions along both straight and deflected ‘parallels’. The geometrical shapes are sometimes disposed along dynamic axes and occasionally stressed by black lines. In some compositions, two or three dynamic axes are combined and the artist, in order to create the effect of multi-directional layered spatial movement, uses methods of spatial representation such as foreshortening. Geometrical shapes are optically transformed, made markedly flat and elongated. Circles become elliptical, cubes and rectangles turn into slanted rhombuses, parallelograms or triangles, or even simply become straight lines. Suprematist pictures owe their power of expression neither to the flat geometrical shapes in themselves, nor to their coloring as such, but to that which arises between them as a result of their juxtaposition, a sort of mutual attraction embodied in their relative proportions, their linkage and their interaction. The spatial effect of peculiar tension within the harmony of the dynamic forces is achieved entirely by means of the interlocking contrasts between the shapes, their dimensions, their colors and the direction of their movement. By association, there arises on the plane of the picture a world of multi-dimensional, multi-layered space and motion, as might exist in an everlasting continuum of time. In some Suprematist compositions’ cases of intersection also occur, when the lower or upper horizons in the picture collide with the geometrical shapes. In other words, there is a degree of fragmentation, or some elements of the composition are isolated. Reflecting on the advances made by Suprematism in mastering space, El Lissitsky wrote in 1924: Suprematism has advanced the ultimate tip of the visual pyramid of perspective into infinity. It has broken through the ‘blue lampshade of the firmament’. For the color of space, it has taken not the single blue ray of the spectrum, but the whole unity — the white. Suprematist space may be formed not only forward from the plane but also backward in depth. If we indicate the flat surface of the picture as O, we can describe the direction in depth by — (negative) and the forward direction by + (positive), or the other way round. We see that Suprematism has swept away from the plane the illusions of two-dimensional planimetric space, the illusions of three-dimensional perspective space, and has created the ultimate illusion of irrational space, with its infinite extensibility into the background and foreground.
What is more, the structuring of space in Suprematist painting allows a mobile eye shifting from one geometrical shape or set of shapes to another. The apparent general distancing to infinity of the objects represented internal mobility to the intervals between them, so that an illusion is created whereby these objects now soar above the picture surface, now fly away somewhere far beyond it into depth, depending on the point of view adopted. As Malevich disclosed new artistic theories, Suprematism embodied a fundamental change in the concept of artistic creativity. A reaction to nature remained basic, but the ability to reproduce it mattered less. Instead, it was the artist s sensations that counted, the sensation of flight, or the sensation of wire transmission. These sensations extended the range of art in a fundamental sense, by placing within its reach a phenomenal invisible to the eye but accessible to reason and experience. Malevich called Suprematism “The New Painterly Realism” and insisted that the new style rested on real foundations. Malevich clearly strove to forge a new direction in the evolution of painting. He was familiar with the academic rules of oil painting, and on several occasions he followed these rules exactly in building up his paint layers. At the same time, he created his own system of modeling and suggesting light. Although Malevich would paint in the Suprematist style for fewer than five years, it cannot be considered just another stylistic phase in his work. The discoveries of Suprematism would mark his art for the rest of his life. The artist recognized his new work as the advent of a new era in art. The new art without objects, with penetrating sight and the sensation of a fourth dimension, very soon was described in terms of the “cosmic infinite,” the “void,” the philosophical sublime. The Suprematist style also functioned as a sign of the transformed consciousness Malevich had sought for so long to express. AIRPLANE FLYING 1915 The Airplane Flying painting is one of the Suprematist canvasses first shown at the famous 0,10 (Zero-Ten). The Last Futurist Exhibition: where Malevich introduced this new, severely abstract style of painting to the public. The exhibition, opened in Petrograd in December 1915, created a commotion because of the radical Suprematist abstractions. This early Suprematist painting clearly demonstrates the visual nature of Malevich s stylistic innovation. The series of three black elements that increase in size from right to left, followed by the three yellow rectangles progressing from left to right, refer to the relative size of the plane as it zigzags up from the earth. In this painting your view is in the air; here you see the moving plane from above. The red horizontal element establishes a reference point, a tipped horizon line, that the plane crosses as it climbs. Malevich succeeds in creating a sensation of lift and flight without any illustration of the airplane–a method he called “objectless.” The clear primary colors distance the painting from its visual inspiration, by preventing you from seeking clues to the scene through color. Suprematism was the direct result of Malevich s desire to convey a new kind of sight, to disguise or eliminate the commonly perceived object. The subject of the painting-and the very fact that Malevich has given it an explanatory title–are clear indications that Suprematism was an extension of Russian Cubo-Futurism. Malevich here is still interested in implied motion, multiple viewpoints, and in the novel experiences created by advanced technology. In many cases the experiences and images connected with flight stand behind the first Suprematist paintings. Regardless of the origins of the painting Malevich recognized Suprematism pioneering nature, and associated this new style of painting with an elaborate cosmic, “objectless” philosophy. UNTITLED 1915. In this untitled painting, which also made its debut at the historic 0,10 (Zero-Ten) exhibition, the theme of dying and of weightlessness is given considerably more scope than in the previous Airplane Flying. A plane of painted color on a white canvas imparts a strong sensation of space directly to our consciousness. It transports you into an endless emptiness, where all around you sense the feeling of being in the air. The tilted composition and upward thrust of this painting immediately communicate a sense of flight. Here we tend to read as perspective the narrowing of the large black rectangle as it angles toward the top of the canvas. There is also a kind of aerial perspective here. The small size and the absence of color in the nine elements in the upper left corner seem to give evidence that we are viewing them at a great distance as they fly away from us. Contrary to our normal expectations, the bulk of the composition is in the upper two-thirds of the work, located entirely above the very narrow horizontal line that serves as a reference. The large black trapezoid shape seems to move through space in spite of its size, and contrary to the laws of gravity, while the large white empty area beneath it emphasizes its buoyancy and weightlessness. The absence of any recognizable or “earthly” details seem to put the viewer high in the air, precisely at the level of the red square. The one element that is seen upright and on the picture plane. Below and to the right, dark-toned bars that appear to be at a distance rise toward the viewer in a series of elements that increase in size as they approach. In Untitled, Malevich has conveyed a cosmic landscape conceptually, merely through color and geometry, and without describing any particular object. UNTITLED 1916 In this small work Malevich has created a kind of giant Suprematist pinwheel. Because this early Suprematist painting is in the square format Malevich often favored, and because of the symmetry of its composition–as well as Malevich’s later attitude toward the hanging of his work. The intersection of large elements from four directions in the middle of the painting is different from the Suprematist paintings previously considered. The clustering of massive forms in an otherwise empty space creates the impression that they are attracted by some unseen force to a common point in the upper center of the canvas. The repetition in three colors of a similar shape and the point of the red triangle that pushes left set up an implied rotation around the center. Still, the large sizes and similar tones of the elements that comprise the principal structure, together with their overlapping of the smaller forms, induce us to see it as clearly in front of the smaller elements. These, as we have noted in other works, appear to float in space, but their orientations, also serve to reinforce the sensation of counterclockwise rotation. The centrality and compactness of the composition make it more self-contained than the more cosmic Suprematist paintings. For the “Second Decorative Art Exhibition” in Moscow, Malevich utilized this composition as an embroidery design for pillows that he contributed to this 1917 exhibition. BIBLIOGRAPHY Andersen, Troels. Malevich. Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1970D Andrea, Jeanne. Malevich. Los Angeles: Armand Hammer Museum of Art, 1990Douglas, Charlotte. Kazimir Malevich. New York. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994Nakov, Andrei. Avant-Garde Russe. New York: Universe Books, 1986Zhadova, Larissa. Malevich Suprematism and Revolution in Russian Art 1910 – 1930. London. Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1982