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Malevich's Black Square Demystified

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich

On February 23, 1879 Kazimir Severinovich Malevich was born in Kyiv in Ukraine. He died from cancer on May 15, 1935. He was an illustrious Russian avant-garde artist. He pioneered the Suprematism technique. Kazmir studied and practiced art from a very tender age. It was at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture that Malevich undertook art. He was inspired by different styles ranging from Impressionism, Cubism to Futurism.

Kazmir Malevich

Kazmir Malevich

"I have transformed myself in the zero of form and dragged myself out of the rubbish-filled pool of Academic art."

— Kazmir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich a Russian artist painted the illustrious Black Square. The painting has achieved iconic status. The first version of the painting is said to have been completed in 1915. He painted four variations the last is thought to have been painted in the early 1930s or the late 1920s.It was first exhibited in The Last Futurist Exhibition 0,10 in 1915.

When Malevich first exhibited the Black Square, he hung the painting where the wall meets the ceiling -in Russia this referred to as the “beautiful corner,” and it is normally reserved for religious icons. He considered “Black Square” sacred: a symbol for a new, spiritual enlightenment.

Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10,” Black Square on the upper corner St Petersburg Dec 1915-Jan 1916

Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10,” Black Square on the upper corner St Petersburg Dec 1915-Jan 1916

Kazimir Malevich was a Russian artist. He painted some of his most important works in the beginning of the 20 century. He experimented with different styles during a career that spanned several decades. He completed his magnum opus between 1915 and 1918. During that time he mainly explored geometric forms (squares, triangles and circles) and their correlation within the pictorial space.

“Black Square is meant to evoke] the experience of pure non-objectivity in the white emptiness of a liberated nothing.”

— Kazmir Malevich

Russia underwent numerous drastic changes in 1915. There was dramatic upheaval as the industrial revolution brought shifts in economic and social facets. A political revolution wrought by the First World War posed a novel challenge to the monarchy of Tsar Nicholas II.

The most fascinating thing about the Black Square is that the standard methods employed in traditional painting are abandoned. The painting lacks tonal shading or even perspective. It lacks identifiable forms apart from the square itself. Color appears in its most basic form: it appears as a black square on white canvas.

The painting was deliberately meant to represent nothing. It represents a void. Numerous art curators, critics and historians consider the Black Square "zero point of painting."

Malevich held the belief that his two-dimensional form of art was a means for the mind of man to reach a celestial realm - to ascend to the fourth dimension.

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Young artists were titillated by the need to change. Simultaneously, they were becoming cognizant of novel art movements in Paris, France. In 1912, Malevich travelled to Paris and the work of Picasso and Braque infused him with exuberance. Malevich was also inspired by Futurist Filippo Marinetti. Futurism emphasized technology, speed and the violence of machines.

“… the experience of non-objectivity … the supremacy of pure feeling.”

— Kazmir Malevich

Suprematism

Malevich later employed a radical technique of non-objective painting. He referred to it as "Suprematism."He was striving for a purer form of Cubism. The term Suprematism emanates from the perception of the lofty feeling that comes from absolute abstraction.

Suprematism

Suprematism by Kazmir Malevich

Suprematism by Kazmir Malevich

He also designed costumes for the opera during this time. In 1913, in collaboration with Mikhail Matyushin, he created a piece titled Victory over the Sun. The theme of the opera was the victory of technology over nature and of modern man over the primal forces of the sun.

Victory Over the Sun

Malevich's Sketch for the stage curtain for the opera Victory Over the Sun, 1928

Malevich's Sketch for the stage curtain for the opera Victory Over the Sun, 1928

"It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins.

— Kazmir Malevich

The importance of the Black Square

The importance of the Black Square is found within the confines of the painting itself. It simplicity belies makes the painting imperative in the history of art. The Black Square is ambivalent in both its utter meaningless and its symbolism. It is represents aesthetic notion, architectural notion and geometric notion. The Black Square represents balance.

“Up until now there were no attempts at painting as such, without any attribute of real life… Painting was the aesthetic side of a thing, but never was original and an end in itself.”

— Kazmir Malevich

After the death of Malevich, the painting became dilapidated due to the appalling conditions it was kept in by the Soviet administration.

X-rays has revealed a hidden message on the Black Square. The inscription reads "Negroes battling in a cave". The Black Square is currently exhibited at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, Russia.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Uriel Kushiel

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