“The world is the world, not spirit or matter.” Kazimir Malevich.
Kazimir Malevich was born in Kiev, one of six children, to Russified Poles. He developed a passion for art during his teens, largely teaching himself while living in the Ukraine. In 1904, having saved money from his job as a railroad clerk, Malevich moved to Moscow to study art full-time at the school of Fedor Rerberg. While under his tutorship, Malevich produced Symbolist, Impressionist and Art Nouveau paintings and drawings. In 1907 he first took part in the Moscow Artists’ Society’s twice yearly exhibition along with such artists as David Burliuk, Aleksander Shevchenko and Natalia Goncharova. In 1909, with a broad knowledge of Western art, there was a move in Malevich’s work towards Post-Impressionism. With the influence of contemporary French art, however, and of the Russian avant-garde, Malevich’s style developed into one of Cubo-Futurism, for example ‘The Knife Grinder’ (1912).
Malevich’s new outlook was first seen at the ‘Donkey’s Tail’ exhibition in 1912 arranged to promote Neo-Primitivist styles and subjects. His paintings, generally of peasants and urban scenes, were often brightly coloured and highly expressive, for example ‘On the Boulevard’ (1911). In 1913 Malevich met a group of artists and poets interested in taking a more philosophical and theoretical approach to art. The theory espoused by Krucherykh and Khlebnikov of the ‘self-sufficient world’ influenced Malevich enormously. The notion of ‘zaum’ was promoted, a state where experience occurs beyond the naturally perceived world. This concept and his work for the Cubo-Futurist opera ‘Victory Over The Sun’ (1913) propelled Malevich into the style of Suprematism. It was first seen at the ‘0,10’ (Zero-Ten) exhibition of 1915, and is best shown by works such as ‘Black Square’ (1915) and ‘Black Cross’ (1916-1917). Suprematism reduced abstract painting to a previously unheard of geometrical simplicity. His work at this time ranged from the austere with his ‘White on White’ series to the colourful such as in ‘Yellow Parallelogram on White’ (1917). Although Malevich only worked in this style for about five years, it is crucial to understanding his development and his work as a whole.
He produced a great deal of work during his Suprematist period and in 1919, having decided his exploration of this area was complete, he turned to teaching. In 1922 he settled in Petrograd and taught at the Institute for Artistic Culture from 1922 to 1927. In the late Twenties he took up figurative painting once more, depicting peasants in colourful and highly stylised works, for example ‘Woman with a Rake’ (1928-1932). His work, however, was in opposition to the ideology of the government at that time and Malevich fell out of favour. Nevertheless, his contribution to 20th century art is of tremendous importance. Both in his experiments with style and his theoretical writings, his influence on abstract art is beyond doubt.
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