One day in 1918, the Russian painter Kasimir Malevich reached a conceptual breakthrough that affected all the arts during the twentieth century. He dipped his brush in black and painted a square falling forward. And then he painted in white. The... [more]
One day in 1918, the Russian painter Kasimir Malevich reached a conceptual breakthrough that affected all the arts during the twentieth century. He dipped his brush in black and painted a square falling forward. And then he painted in white.
The result, "Suprematist Composition: White on White," was the first geometrically abstract painting in Western history. Malevich, who founded the Suprematism movement in 1913, wrote that "to the suprematist, the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth."
The onslaught of the modern brought with it increased secularization. Malevich, a devout Christian mystic in the best Russian sense, turned from that world. Spirituality, he felt, most truly manifests itself in the form of simple geometric shapes. A painting, like a temple, should be an abstract construction consisting of basic geometric concepts.
The simple forms of "Composition" express a feeling of floating, of the ethereal, of silent contemplation. Yet the square, at once poised yet tumbling forward, implies movement, growth, potential, even idealism. Suprematism, for the first time, turned to abstract symbols as its language of communication.
This idea profoundly affected architecture, starting specifically with the Bauhaus. The Constructivists, most notably El Lissitzky, transported his ideas across Europe. Such later painters as Mondrian, Rothko, and Barnett Newman would apply the ideas of Malevich in new forms.
It is interesting that the country altered most violently by Modernism was the same that gave us two of the founders of twentieth-century abstraction: Malevich the Geometric Abstractionist and Kandinsky the Abstract Expressionist. [show less]