Kasimir Malevich, Russian (1878 - 1935)

Kasimir Malevich

Born near Kiev in 1878, Malevich trained at Kiev School of Art and Moscow Academy of Fine Arts where he began working in an unexceptional Post-Impressionist manner. But by 1912 he was painting peasant subjects in a massive `tubular' style similar to that of Léger as well as pictures combining the fragmentation of form of Cubism with the multiplication of the image of Futurism.

Malevich, however, was fueled with the desire `to free art from the burden of the object' and launched the Suprematist movement, which brought abstract art to a geometric simplicity more radical than anything previously seen. He claimed that he made a picture `consisting of nothing more than a black square on a white field' as early as 1913, but Suprematist paintings were first made public in Moscow in 1915 and there is often difficulty in dating his work. (There is also often difficulty in knowing which way up his paintings should be hung, photographs of early exhibitions sometimes providing conflicting evidence.)

His famous painting White on White (1918) is considered to have carried Suprematist theories to absolute conclusion. After this he seems to have realized he could go no further along this road and virtually gave up abstract painting, turning more to teaching, writing, and making three-dimensional models that were important in the growth of Constructivism.

He taught painting in Moscow (at the art school at Vitebsk, where he exerted a profound influence on Lissitzky) and Leningrad 1919-21. Then in 1926 he formalized his teachings by publishing a book, "The Nonobjective World" that defined his radical, non-objective style of Suprematism as a mode of expression in which emotion dominated all other artistic considerations.

He visited Warsaw and Berlin in 1927, accompanying an exhibition of his works and visited the Bauhaus. And in the late 1920s he returned to figurative painting, but was out of favor with a political system that now demanded Socialist Realism from its artists and he sadly, he died in poverty and oblivion at the age of 57.

However, his influence on abstract art, in the west as well as Russia, was enormous. Alongside Mondrian, Malevich is probably considered the most important pioneer of geometric abstract art.

The most complete collection of his finest work is in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

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