Artist biographies

Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) spent several years studying at the art school in Kiev; from 1904 to 1910 he also attended the art academy in Moscow. Initially his work combined elements of Russian folk painting with Symbolism, Impressionism and Fauvism. He was introduced to these French art movements, and later to Cubism, which would exert a great influence in Russia, by Russian avant-garde artists who had worked in Paris. During this period, in work comparable to that of Fernand Léger, Malevich dissected his subjects into geometric forms with a machine-like appearance. He subsequently drew his inspiration for a time from Cubist paintings and collages by Picasso and Braque.

From about 1915, however, Malevich began to produce a totally different kind of art, which he call ‘Suprematism’, from the Latin supremus (outstanding or supreme). He rejected every form of sensuality and natural representation, and endeavoured to attain ‘pure experience’ through abstract, geometric patterns alone. His famous Black Square was the ultimate product of this ambition, the definitive abstraction, the end and the new beginning of painting. At the Last Futuristic Exhibition ‘0.10’ this radical painting was displayed in the position usually occupied by icons, and provoked fierce protests.

In subsequent years Malevich eventually developed a ‘Suprematist system’ of simple geometric objects on a white ground, followed by combinations of forms and later by white-on-white compositions. After the 1917 Revolution Malevich became involved with the People's Commissariat of Englightenment (Narkompros). From 1919 he taught at the art school in Vitebsk and then at art academies in Petrograd (St Petersburg), Moscow and Kiev. In 1927 he travelled to Poland and Germany for a retrospective that would win him international recognition. Official policy towards art changed in the Soviet Union after 1928, when the Stalinist regime rejected abstraction and declared the work of Malevich and other artists to be 'decadent'. Prohibited from working in his own style and exhibiting, the artist was forced to return to painting more or less figurative representations of peasant life, constructed of elementary forms. Around 1933 he produced poised portraits, including representations of his wife and himself, that were inspired by Renaissance works.

The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings ‘0.10’. 1915. Petrograd. Photograph

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