Suprematism, considered "the first systematic school of abstract painting in the modern movement" (Gray, 141), was developed by Kazimir Malevich in 1913 and introduced at the 1915 0-10 exhibition in St. Petersburg. Among other works, Malevich exhibited the famous Black Quadrilateral on White, conceived during his work on the opera Victory Over the Sun 3 years earlier. He wrote about the painting and about Suprematism in his treatise The Non-Objective World:

Malevich: Suprematist Composition, White on White

"When, in the year 1913, in my desperate attempt to free art from the ballast of objectivity, I took refuge in the square form and exhibited a picture which consisted of nothing more than a black square on a white field, the critics and, along with them, the public sighed, "Everything which we loved is lost. We are in a desert . . . . Before us is nothing but a black square on a white background!" . . . . Even I was gripped by a kind of timidity bordering on fear when it came to leaving "the world of will and idea," in which I had lived and worked and in the reality of which I had believed. But a blissful sense of liberating nonobjectivity drew me forth into the "desert," where nothing is real except feeling . . . and so feeling became the substance of my life. This was no "empty square" which I had exhibited but rather the feeling of nonobjectivity. . . . Suprematism is the rediscovery of pure art that, in the course of time, had become obscured by the accumulation of "things" . . . . The black square on the white field was the first form in which nonobjective feeling came to be expressed. The square = feeling, the white field = the void beyond this feeling. Yet the general public saw in the nonobjectivity of the representation the demise of art and failed to grasp the evident fact that feeling had here assumed external form. The Suprematist square and the forms proceeding out of it can be likened to the primitive marks (symbols) of aboriginal man which represented, in their combination, not ornament, but a feeling of rhythm. Suprematism did not bring into being a new world of feeling but, rather, an altogether new and direct form of representation of the world of feeling. . . . The new art of Suprematism, which has produced new forms and form relationships by giving external expression to pictorial feeling, will become a new architecture: it will transfer these forms from the surface of canvas to space. . . . Suprematism has opened up new possibilities to creative art, since by virtue of the abandonment of so-called "practical consideration, " a plastic feeling rendered on canvas can be carried over into space. The artist (the painter) is no longer bound to the canvas (the picture plane) and can transfer his compositions from canvas to space" (Chipp, 341-46).

As we can see, Malevich stresses almost endlessly that the name of the new style refers to the supremacy of pure feeling in art over art's objectivity. The simplest geometric forms -- a square, a triangle, a circle, and intersecting lines -- composed into dynamic arrangements on the flat surface of the canvas or into spatial constructions (sometimes called architectons) -- are to express the sensation of speed, flight, and rhythm. In his 1918 Suprematist Composition, White on White, a step forward from Yellow Quadrilateral on White painted a year earlier, Malevich attempted to eliminate all superfluous elements, including the color; since in 1918 he virtually gave up painting, perhaps these experiments convinced him that he had reached his goal and could not develop his Suprematist ideas any farther.

Nevertheless, Malevich's ideas were so bold and innovative that despite the initial shock and fear, Suprematism quickly became a dominant style, espoused by both the public and the other artists, especially Rozanova, Rodchenko, Kliun, and Puni. And even though in 1919 the father of Suprematism announced the movement's demise, the reality-transcending and non-objective nature of Suprematism has had a great impact on the course of modern art  [A.B., B.B., and C.B.].


© Alexander Boguslawski 1998-2005