The End of Painting?: Kazimir Malevich's Return to Figurative Painting

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The End of Painting?: Kazimir Malevich's Return to Figurative Painting
Unietis, Sam R.
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Abstractionism ( jstor )
Art exhibitions ( jstor )
Art objects ( jstor )
Avant garde ( jstor )
Canvas ( jstor )
Cubism ( jstor )
Futurism ( jstor )
Museums ( jstor )
Peasant class ( jstor )
Visual arts ( jstor )
Undergraduate Honors Thesis


Kazimir Malevich was one of the fathers of the abstract art movement,- best known for his completely abstract geometric style known as Suprematism. In 1915 when Suprematism was introduced, Malevich believed that any object depiction in art nullified it as a piece of true creation. However, by 1927 his art had shifted to include some object depiction. What is the origin of this shift? And how did Malevich justify his return to objects after his vicious denouncement of them only 12 years prior? I argue that the shift was a progression of Malevich's artistic development and a fulfillment of the philosophy he had developed in his break from painting after 1920. Art was no longer defined by objectlessness but by non-utilitarian sensations. ( en )
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Awarded Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, on May 2, 2017. Major(s): History
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College or School: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
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Advisor: Stuart Dean Finkel. Advisor Deptarment or School: History

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University of Florida
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Copyright Sam R. Unietis. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.


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The End of Painting? Sam Unietis


1 INTRODUCTION Kazimir Malevich is known throughout the world as one of the fathers of the abstract art movement credited with the creation of geometric abstraction Malevich was one of the key figures in the Russian A vant G arde of the early 20 th century a cultural movement that involved artists, poets, musicians, composers, and writers. As varied as the Avant Garde was with its different artists, styles, and movements, its primary goal was the liberation of art from the stifling confines of the old culture The irreverent attitude that many o f the A vant Gardists held can be summarized in the Futurist manifesto A S lap in the Face o f Public Taste (1912). past constricts. The Academy and Pushkin are less intelligible than hieroglyphics. Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc., etc., must be thrown ove rboard from the Ship of 1 The forms of the past were no longer appropriate for the rapidly modernizing contemporary world Art had come to a creative standstill because the preservation of classical forms and techniques had been continuously regarded as the only Malevich was one of the artists who adamantly rejected the old forms of art in order to inspire a new artistic culture. His artistic styles grew and developed with the artists of the Avant Garde : from Post Impressionism, to the Neo Primiti vism of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, to Cubo Futurism to an absurdist style Malevich called 2 and finally Malevich took abstraction a step further to develop his most famous movement: Suprematism 1 David Burliuk, Alexander Kruchenyk, et al. Slap in the Face of Public Taste in Russian Literature of the Twenties: An Anthology ed. Carl R. Proffer, et al. (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1987), 542. 2 Aleksandra Semenovna Shatskikh makes the argument in her book Black Square: Malevich and the Origin of Suprematism. (Yale University Press: New Haven, 2012.) that was first and was the link between his Cubo Futurist phase and Suprematism.


2 Malevich defined Suprematism as supremacy of pure sensation 3 It is a purely abstract and objectless style, with canvases featuring only b asic geometric forms and colors without any familiar forms found in nature. In own words from his Suprematist manifesto From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism: "Objects have vanished like smoke; to attain the new artistic culture, art advances towards creation as an end in itself and toward domin ation ov er the forms of 4 His most famous painting, Black Square (1915) (Fig. 1) became the ultimate symbol of the Suprematist movement Malevich came to be associated with the square, and he himself would come to use the square as his own personal symbo l throughout his life For Malevich, the square was a n actual living thing rather than a mere representation of an idea on a canvas, "The square is not a subconscious form. It is the creation of intuitive reason. The face of the new art. The square is a living, regal infant. The first step of pure creation in art. Before it there were naive distortions and copies of nature." 5 The square is not an imitation; it exists solely for itself and in its own world within the canvas. By making the conscious deci sion not to copy life, Malevich created what he considered a new form of life in his canvases. From Black Square Malevich continued to develop Suprematism until it reached its logical conclusion in the form of his monochrome "White on White" canvases (See Fig. 2) Once he reached the end of Suprematism, and by extension the end of painting itself, he felt that there was no point in continuing to paint Malevich turned to teaching art, writing complex theories on art and the universe, and researching new ways to understand art in art laboratories However, the artist's break from painting did not last forever. In 1927 Malevich 3 Kazimir Malevic h, The World as Objectlessness ( Basel : Kunstmuseum Basel 2014), 187. 4 Kazimir Malevich, Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painterly in Russian Art of the Avant Garde (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988), 119. 5 Ibid., 133.


3 was granted permission to leave Russia for exhibitions in Berlin and Warsaw. Malevich had gone to the West with the goal of sharing his philosophical developments from his days in the art l aboratories, but it was his art that ultimately stole the show. With the encouragement of his western audience, and a desire to finally move past the artistic block he made for h imself, Malevich finally took up the brush again in autumn of 1927. Malevich's works d one in the period from 1928 1932 have received considerably less attention than his Suprematist works. Scholarship on Malevich has only recently started to seriously loo k at these paintings in the context of the life work. These paintings, in marked contrast to his Suprematist works, feature clear objects and scenes of nature. How was Malevich inspired to paint objects again after denouncing them so viciously dur ing the height of his Suprematist phase? In this work I will outline the historiography of this question and argue that Malevich's shift was primarily the result of his nuanced philosophical views formulated in his 1920s break from painting. The shift fro m Suprematism to Figurative Suprematism was not a regression, but a progression and fulfillment of his own philosophical development. The question of why Malevich returned to figuration has garnered much debate in recent years due to the translation, compilation, and release of many previously inaccessible documents and parts of his memoirs The fall of the iro n curtain opened the door t o research on artists formerly erased by the Soviet regime. For the sake of simplicity 6 I have grouped t he scholars that deal with the t opic of return to figurative painting into three main "theories." These distinctions, drawn from my own obser vations of the literature surrounding this question include 6 For more on the complex historiography of this question see: See Marie E. Gasper Hulvat "Malevich's Post Suprematist Paintings and the Construction of History" (PhD Diss., Bryn Mawr College, 2012) which gives a thorough breakdown of the historiography of Malevich. See also "Malevich and De Chirico" and Malevich and Jose Ortega y Gasset on the 'New Art'" in Rethinking Malevich: Proceedings of Conference in Celebration of the 125 th Anniversary of the Kazimir Birth ( London: Pindar Press, 2007) for a discussion of works in the context of his contempora ry western European peers.


4 t he socio political approach, the Western influence approach, and the philosophical approach. The first approach primarily focuses on the political context surrounding Malevich's late works Th eorists in this camp primarily argue that Malevich returned to object painting as a result of state pressure to conform to Socialist Realism and was essentially a product of Malevich "selling out" to the government. These theorists argue that the return to figuration w as both a regression in Malevich's artisti c ability as well as a rejection of his own personal beliefs outlined during his Suprematist days. This theory is largely an older p henomenon, as it was primarily the product of a lack of reliable information about Malevich. One such example is Boris 1992 work The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond that declares that the Avant intolerant attitude towards the old art was a precursor to the harsh re pression of art under Totalitarianism. rigidly uncompromising ideas about art in 1915 were used by Groys to support his thesis. s expanded and inclusive ideas of art from 1927 were not mentioned in the text. Partially due to this excl usion of later philosophy and ideas thesis and others like his ha ve been discredited by prominent Malevich scholars such as Aleksandra Shatskikh 7 N evertheless the prominence of these older texts ha s caused these theories to persist despite the wealth of reliable sources available at the present. The second approach focuses on the role of Malevich's trip to the West in 1927 and the subsequent interaction and borrowing that took place between Malevich and the artists he met with. While in the West, Malevich came into direct contact with prominent artists in Germany and Poland as well as an abundance of other works that were previously inaccessible to him in the Soviet Union While in the West, he wou ld have been exposed to the contemporary art tren ds and post modernist phenomena emerging in Europe at the time. Scholars such as Charlotte 7 Aleksandra Shatskikh, of Literary in Rethinking Malevich 326. Shatskikh here directly refutes the arguments made in book.


5 Douglas point to the very obvious similarities between Giorgio de work and such as de s The Red Tower ( 1913 ) (Fig. 3) and The Red House ( 1928 30 ) (Fig. 4) 8 The final approach centers on Malevich's career during his break from painting in the 1920s. Despite what was thought for many years, writings have been almost entirely preserved, allowing for direct analysis of the own ideas. 9 This focus involves close examination of Malevich's writings to argue that Malevich's return to objectivity was a result of a new philosophical development ideas of o bjectless art as the only real art shifted to include some object depiction. The primary goal shifted from objectless canvases to expressing the concept of objectless sensation return to figuration can be explained by this shift in attitude t owards object depiction. Each of these theories interact with one another and are not mutually exc lusive as al l of the phenomena described likely had an effect on Malevich Therefore i n my discussion of Malevich's works, evidence from each of these theories outlined may be used, but I will demonstrate that the philosophical development theory is the most critical From my own research I have found that this approach has been relatively understudied in comparison to the political and Western influence theories. I will build upon the work of Adri an Barr, Charlotte Douglas, Dmitrii Sarabianov and Aleksandra Shatskikh 10 I will begin with a brief analysis of autobiography to assert the importance of his peasant upbringing on his later developments as an artist. From here, I will closely examine Malevich's philosophical works 8 See Charlotte Douglas, Kazimir Malevich, (New York: Harry N. Abram s, 1994) 116, and Charlotte Douglas, and De in Rethinking Malevich, 254 293. 9 Shatskikh, 327. 10 See Dimitrii Sarabianov, "Malevich at the time of the 'Great Break,'" in Malevich: Artist and Theoretician. ( Flammarion: Paris, 1 990) ; Douglas, Kazimir Malevich ; Adrian Barr, "From Vozbushdenie to Oshchushchenie: Theoretical Shifts, Nova Generatsiia, and the Late Paintings." in Rethinking Malevich; and Shatskikh,


6 God is Not Cast Down (1922) and especially The World as Objectlessness (1 927) to apply the philosophical arguments within these works to Malevich's later paintings. Both works exhibit a similar philosophical view, with The World as Objectlessness presenting a fuller, more developed conception of his ideas put forth in God is No t Cast Down God is Not Cast Down concisely explains Malevich's worldview in 1922. In the work's 39 pages, M alevich argues that reality is an illusion, and that humankind is stuck between the i lluso ry world of objects ( r epresented by the numerical value 1) and the true objectless reality of the universe ( r epresented by 0). The text is essentially reaction and interpretations concerning the contemporary debates of materialism versus idealism that were spreading across Europe a t the time. Humans live in the world of but their consciou sness can interact with the Thus, humans are in a state of In the words of Adrian Barr, is bound by objectness, restrained by weight, corporeality, and finitude. Yet thought the core process of humankind, is an objectless product of vozbuzhdenie ( stimulus). 11 The World as Objectlessness is a much longer work that incorporates Malevich's ideas about the evolution of art, its role in society, and the role of Suprematism. The work begins with a chapter introducing Malevich's Theory of the in painting an original scientific theory about the evolution of art forms due to the appearance of a new transf ormative element in art styles. The simple building blocks are the specific geometric shapes and color tones that make up an art movement. Through the Theory of the art can be broken down into smaller, geometric shapes that characterize the whole overall form of the p ainting. In theory the concept can be applied to any art style in any era, but Malevich specifically examined and isolated the Element s of Impressionism, Cubism, and Suprematism. Malevich 11 Adrian Barr, "From Vozbushdenie to Oshchushchenie, 207.


7 posited that t he shape of Impressionism resembles an curve, the Cubist element resembles a sickle, and the Suprematist element is the straight line. (See Fig. 5 ) The Theory of the is how Malev ich understoo d the emergence and development of new art styles. Malevich developed this theory in the early 1920s while conducting experiments and studying the artistic development of his own students. Inspired by scientific breakthroughs in the early 20 th century, specifically the identification of tuberculosis bacilli by biologist Robert Koch 12 Malevich described the process of artistic development like a bacteria infecting an organism. Malevich had very personal reasons for the interest in tuberculosis bacilli: h e had contracted the disease himself while teaching in Vitebsk (modern day Belarus). Later in his life he would encounter tuberculosis again, this time in his second wife Sofiia Rafalovich who died as a result 13 charts on the Elemen are similar in form to a petri dish or the lens of a microscope; the Element s are isolated in small white circles. T h e essentially forces artists to begin to paint in new ways, thus moving art along its natural progression towards a new A later chapter about Suprematism describes Malevich's disdain for utilitarian art very clearly a jab at the popularity and u ltimate victory of Constructivism over Suprematism in Russian art circles 14 and the role of Suprematism 12 Charlotte Douglas, Kazimir Malevich 30. 13 Ibid 31. 14 Many of own students and former Suprematists abandoned Suprematism for the practical and utilitarian Constructivism in the late 1920s. Perhaps the most famous example was El Lissitzky, who began as a Suprematist, experimented with Suprematism in his (Pro UNOVIS) works (essentially three dimensional Suprematism), and finally became a Constructivist. Many of the myths in the West surrounding Malevich can be traced to El Lissitzky. El Lissitzky was a key figure in the transmission of ideas from Russia to Germany. El Lissitzky respected Malevich, but in transmitting and translating his works for a western audience, Lissitzky commonly adapted language to be more palatable f or westerners, thus distorting the original message. own bias for Constructivism, as well as the need to step out of shadow, also bled into his discussions of Malevich with westerners. For more on El relationship with Mal evich, see va Forgcs, and Western and Linda S. Boersma, Lissitzky Van Doesburg: Suprematism and De in Rethinking Malevich 237 253and 223 236.


8 in bringing the art world to true creation. After explaining the basic tenets of Malevich's philosophy in the 1920s I will explain how his Figurative Suprematist paintings represent it. I have chosen to refer to his later paintings as "Figurative Suprematism" to emphasize the continuity between the figures in his later works and his Suprematist works. 15 The paintings I have chosen to examine directly ar e Sportsmen ( 1930 1931 ) Head of a Peasan t ( 192 9 1929 ) Head of a Peasant ( 1928 1929 ) and Woman with a Rake ( 1930 ) These works have been chosen because they feature clear subjects with a distinctly bucolic setting, I argue that they exhibit a new of the cross, and they feature a strong horizon line. I will argue that these characteristics are clearly indicative of Malevich's 1920s philosophy and are intentionally included. Section I Brief Biography: The Importance of the Pe asant Analysis of Malevich's childhood is possible due to the compilation and translation of his autobiographical notes from 1933 16 The autobiography provides important insight into how his childhood in the Ukrainian countryside permeated his life. Since the auto biography was written in 1933 it falls within the key moment where Malevich was painting his Figurative Suprematist works, and can thus reflect how he viewed his personal artistic development up until that time. However it is difficult to determine whether Malevich really felt the way he did in his early life or if his words are later reflections on his artistic career. Malevich is notorious for reinterp reting 15 Other scholars have referred to these paintings with the following ter ms: Post Suprematism, the Second Peasant Cycle, and Object Suprematism. I have chosen Figurative Suprematism to emphasize continuity with Suprematism while remaining clear about the inclusion of figures in his new art. 16 See Kazimir Malevich fro m an in Kazimir Malevich: Letters, Documents, Memoirs, Criticism. Vol. 1 (London : Tate Publishing, 2015), 17 39.


9 his own works to fit an artistic devel opment that he deems l ogical. 17 Despite this caveat the autobiography is still invaluable, because through the reflections of his early life we can gauge what Malevich's state of mind was like in the moment of 1933. Kazimir Severinovich Malevich was born in 1878 in Kiev Ukra ine to ethnically Polish parents. Throughout his childhood until he moved to Kursk at the age of seventeen Malevich always lived in rural Ukrainian factory towns. Malevich grew up in the world of nature and the world of the factory: literally stuck between the old world and modernity that permeated his life's work. Malevich began painting because of his fascination with nature and paint as a medium in and of itself. He was inspired by what he found around him: the scenes of peasant lif e in a rural U kraini an village. His childhood was f illed with the images of Orthodox Icons, peasant garments, and the bright colors, shapes, and lively patterns of folk designs. His v illage's economy was centered on agriculture and beet sugar production, and the popul ation was separated primarily into factory workers and peasant farmers. Although he was the son of a prominent factory worker, Malevich vastly preferred the peasant life over the factory. He liked the natural order of the peasants who toiled outside in the fresh air, rising to work at sunrise and stopping at sunset. 18 They were free from the whistle and long, dangerous work hours. He saw their work as cheerful and natural, and loved how the people would sing songs as they worked the fields. He was commonly bullied by the peasant children for being a son of a factory worker, but he was eventually able to assimilate with those he was enchanted by. His love of the Ukrainian countryside and peasant folk art was his first exposure to art at a time when he didn't 17 Malevich purposely backdated many of his paintings according to when he came up with the idea or when he was experim enting within a certain style. Impressionist works done in the early 1930s were purposely dated to the first decade of the 1900s, when primary style was Impressionism. The invention of Suprematism was backdated to 1913 when it was really in 1 915. Black Square has been presented as the first Suprematist canvas despite this not being the case. See in Rethinking Malevich xvi xviii. 18 Malevich, 18.


10 know what "art" was. Malevich hated the dull and droning attributes of factory life but he was fascinated by wonders of machinery. He feared them for what they could do, referrin g to them as "predatory beasts," but the whirring mechanical parts and movem ent enchanted him. 19 This fascination with movement and industrial speed would influence his experiments with Cubo Futurist works. From an early age Malevich realized that the primary difference between the factory workers and peasants was art. In his own words, "The former did not draw, they didn't know how to decorate their houses, they did not do art, as I would put it today. But all the peasants did." 20 The art of the peasants and the drone of the factory would shape him fundamentally. In Moscow Mal evich would forgo Futurism, the art of the factory, machinery and movement, in favor of inspiration from the old peasant art. Though many of his art forms were modern, they were steeped in the tradition of peasants. M alevich in 1933 clear ly continued to b elieve that his childhood had a tremendous impact on his artistic career. Throughout his whole life Malevich was free from any real formal education, thus he was isolated from the traditions of conventional learning. This helped Malevich maintain a unique way of understanding the world around him. His choppy language and sometimes confusing writing style reflected this and often led crit ics to believe he was ignorant. 21 From his perspective, the peasant mode of life was always present in hi s life and art E ven when he moved into the grand cities of his dreams, he couldn't help but yearn for the countryside. When Malevich only first beg an to paint as a youth, he painted peasant scenes and 19 Ibid ., 17. 20 Ibid ., 18 21 Shatskikh, 322. lac k of formal education also put him at odds with fellow abstract artist Vasili Kandinsky. Kandinsky was from a much more prestigious upbringing than Malevich, and held more cosmopolitan ideas about art. Despite this fundamental difference, the two artists came to similar conclusions on the nature of art. See Camilla Gray The Great Experiment: Russian Art 1863 1922 (London: Hudson and Thames, 1962), 128.


11 subjects of peasant folklore. As a child he painted horses and land scapes in t he peasant tradition, helping sm ear clay on the floors and paint the stoves. 22 His first meeting with "real artists" was when he lived in Belopole (in modern day eastern Ukraine) at the age of twelve and witnessed artists painting a fresco in a local church. He and his friend watched every brushstroke with eager eyes absolutely enraptured by the act itself 23 Soon after, Malevich would move to Kursk and become involve d with the painting scene there, forming the Kursk Society of Art Lovers with his friend Lev Kvachevsky. However happy Malevich may have been in Kursk with his friends, he was drawn a wolf to the to Moscow and St. Petersburg, there lived the real 24 For Malevich, unless one went to Moscow or St Petersburg, "no one could become an artist; he would get lost in the provinces." 25 Though he loved the countryside and enjoyed the community of artists he had found in Kursk, he knew that the major cities held the key to be coming a real artist. I n 1904, at the age of twenty six, Malevich left Kursk to seek formal ar t training in Moscow. From then until 1907, when he finally moved his mother and family to Moscow with him 26 Malevich moved seasonally from Kursk to work in the spring to Moscow to live in an artists' commune in the fall. In 1904 Malevich left Kursk as an Impressionist; Moscow would allow his art to blossom. It is likely that Malevich was acutely aware of Western artists while in Moscow through his contact with his teachers, art salons, exhibitions, and art journals that were available to Russian artists at the time. However, it was the art of icons that inspired a major stylistic shift. Exposur e to Russian icons elicited nostalgi a of his Ukrainian village: he found 22 Malevich, 20. 23 Ibid 22. mother lived with him nearly his entire life and was very supportive of artistic endeavors. Malevich valued his opinion of his works very highly. 24 Ibid ., 27. 25 Ibid 26 Douglas, Kazimir Malevich 8.


12 himself moved by the emotional creativity inherent in the icons. This moment is when he realized the link between art and peasantry. "I discerned a connection between peasant art and icons: icon painting is a form of the highest culture of peasant art." 27 The simplistic yet wholly spiritual icon inspired him and would come to influence his art throughout the rest of his career. The creative urge and inspirations of his childhood could be found in icons. "I came to understand the peasantry through the icon, understood that their faces are not those of saints but of simple people. The painter's color and attitude." 28 Icons were an art form untouched by the urban ideals of aestheticism. The icon painter paints according to their feelings and personal aesthetics. The overall composition of the icon was up to the painter, for when a church commissioned an icon it said nothing about the perspective of buildings, the relationships of scale among objects, of people to houses, mountains, and vistas, nothing about anatomy or air." 29 The icon painters were not working in the period of specific a natomy and aestheticism that had pervaded European art since the Renaissance. General representation was no longer enough in the later society: Naturalist realism or aestheticism became the required norm. With this shift, emotional creativity became enslaved by the bounds of realistic f orm. Malevich was not the only modernist painter to make these connections between icon painting and peasant art. Malevich corresponded with prominent Neo Primitivist painters Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov who were also e xplicitly interes ted in peasant art in the 1910s. Goncharova and Larionov had come to know Malevich through the Jack of Diamonds exhibitions that they all participated in. The Jack of Diamonds exhibition was first major exhibition in Moscow, and though his works received little attention, it was here that he made contact with Goncharova and Larionov for the first time. Goncharova and Larionov 27 Malevich, 27. 28 Ibid 27. 29 Ibid ., 36.


13 formally split from the Jack of Diamonds in 1912 to form the Tail group. This group focused first and foremost on the assertion of Russianness in art 30 experiment ing with Neo Primitivism a style characterized by its heavy weight, somber subjects, inspiration from icons, and simplisti c features (See Figs. 6 8 ) The Donkey's Tail arti sts viewed village art as superior to urban art. In their words, put forth in their brochure at their exhibition, "The Russian village is significantly more cultured than the city. Of course, the city is the focus of external civilization and the country's mental strength, but if we speak o f culture as a unique spiritual wealth, there is more of it in the countryside and the proof of that is that village art stands higher than urban art and has done so for two centuries." 31 Even though Malevich and his contemporaries also experimented with Cu b o Futurism and Rayism (which Goncharova and Larionov developed in 1911) their primary interest was in the peasant arts. Malevich was heavily influenced by works, and he explained that the difference between the Tail and Jack of Dia monds was that and I worked more on the peasant level. Every work of ours had a content, which although expressed in primitive form, expressed a social concern. This was the basic difference between us and the Knave of Diamonds group which wa s working in the line of C 32 As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Malevich e xperiment ed with Cubo Futurism and Neo Primitivism simultaneously His art at this time reflected the duality of his youth: he painted both icon inspired peasants laboring in the fields and people fragmented with the speed of industry. ( Fig. 9) Malevich continued to work with group during this time, contributing to the 1913 exhibition in Moscow. This 1913 exhibition featured 30 Gray, The Great Experiment 121. 31 Malevich, 34. 32 Gray, The Great Experiment 124.


14 Goncharova and Lario nov Rayist canvases, and new Cubo Futurist works. 33 It was at this time t hat Malevich was exposed to the concept of zaum or the ), a state of being that existed beyond the visible world. The concept was popularized by painters and poets Alexei Kruchenykh and Velimir (Viktor) Khlebnikov. Zaum was supposedly a level of consciousness that was only accessible to those with a highly e volved level of perception. 34 Malevich came to u nderstand zaum in art, especially in Cubism, as being a new perception of space. contemporary and friend Mikhail Matiushin explained that has raised the flag of the New Dimension, of the ne w learning about the merging of time and 35 The concept of zaum and the stylistic implications of it in art would be one of the key paths that led Malevich to Suprematism. The zaum concept of revealing the w orld beyond reality would be an essential element of later philosophy. Malevich collaborated with Matiushin and Kruchenykh in the creation of the first Cubo Fut u rist opera, Victory o ver the Sun in 1913 Malevich designed the sets and costumes for the opera, experimen ting extensively wi th the distortion of light and space. ( Fig. 10) In doing so, Malevich created a visual way of communicating the sense of zaum The essence of the opera is the over unimaginative logic, represented by the sun. By defeating the sun, humankind is liberated from the chains of rationality. The opera was written with the intent of communicating zaum, including emotional o utbursts, zaum nonsense words, wordplay, poetry, and very little narrative structure. highly geometric costume designs and lighting effects played into the transmission of zaum It was through his experimentation with zaum in Victory over the Sun that Malevich came to invent Suprematism. 33 Douglas, Kazimir Malevic h 14. 34 Ibid ,. 15. 35 Ibid 16.


15 Suprematism made its debut in December of 1915 at the The Last Futurist in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) al though none of the works were actually referred to as in the catalogue. Before the 0.10 exhibition, Malevich had insisted that his collea gues make the leap from Futurism to Suprematism, but they refused, and thus Suprematism was not formally listed in the exhibition. The 0.10 exhibition was met with scorn by the general publi c, so much so that felt bored and foolish to the point of being unable to bring themselves to report what they 36 The content of the exhibition had pushed modern art to its limit, hence the description as the Futurist T he journalists could not fathom art progressing further than t he experiments of 0.10 in their view this was end of art; a r eturn to more sensible painting landscapes and portraits might now be 37 They could not have been more wron g. It may have marked the end of Futurism and Cubism in Russia, but the exhibition was an important launch point for Suprematism and Constructivism 38 These two movements would leave a massive imprint on the Western world after the reopening of connections between the West and Russia after WWI The significance that Malevich imparted onto Suprematism can best be exemplified by how the artist chose to display his works and how he placed them within the context of art history Evoking the powerful sensations of Christian tradition, Malevich hung Black Square and other works i n the traditional By doing so he was superimposing the significa nce of the icon onto his canvases elevating them to a new religious symbol Not only was Malevich trying to elevate his style at the 0.10 exhibition, but i t was absolutely vital for Malevich to place Suprematism within the larger context of the history of art. He fundamentally believed that 36 Charlotte Douglas, Swans of Other Worlds : Kazimir Malevich and the Origins of Abstraction in Russia (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1976), 63. 37 Ibid 38 Ibid


16 Suprematism was a logical, even inevitable, development in art history. Here, in this desire to establish Suprematism within the historical framework of art history and keep himself as the founder of the style, Malevich focused on analysis of styles throughout time. The notion of placing himself within art history and explaining the development of art over time began he re. As Douglas explains, the beginning historical context was based on the assumption that external form in art gives evidence of psychic or psychological states of being and of physiological 39 This conceptualization of art as a process of internal states of being would be the precursor to his Theory of the Suprematist canvases were distinguished by their quality. (Figs. 11 12) Witnessing the marvel of airplanes and other aircraft in the Great War, Malevich had been keenly interested in flight and outer space. The and qualities of Suprematism were rooted in a deep desire to escape the object, and by extension escape the Earth. On unearthliness Malevich wrote in 1916, new painting does not belong to the Earth exclusively. The Earth has been abandoned like a house infested with termites. And in fact, in man, his consciousness, there is a striving towards space. An urge to take off from 40 Even as early as 1916 Malevich was developing the idea that man consciousness wishes to return to the cosmos, that m an must abandon the world of objects on Earth to reach the true reality of the objectless universe. The year 1917 witnessed the birth of a new Russia. The political, social, and cultural world of Rus sia had been turned on its head, and Malevich was caught right in the middle of it. Malevich like many other artists of the Avant Garde, was generally in favor of the February and October Revolution s of 1917. He had welcomed the short period of liberation that the 1905 39 Ibid 68. 40 Douglas, Kazimir Malevich 26.


17 Revolution had offered to the people of the Russian empire he was fundamentally opposed to entry into WWI and he had been in favo r of the abdication of the tsar in February 1917. While he was never a member of the Communist Party (a fact that would haunt him in the future), he nevertheless was interested in the progress the Revolution had promised. Like the political revolutionaries the artists had pushed for the destructio n of the old culture in favor of a brand new world. These artists, poets, composers, and writers were paving the way for a new culture through the arts while the Bolshevik Revolution reshuffled the political scene. Because the goal of destruction of the o ld bourgeois culture was shared between the Bolsheviks and most artists of the Avant Garde, they initially promoted one another. Political revolutionaries and modernists initially heralded the Avant experimentation as the new face for the new country. This position shifted as Bolshevik leaders such as Lenin expressed their distaste for the Avant Garde The position of the Avant Garde only worsened as political culture moved more towards high centralization, cultural repr ession, and standardization of the arts. By the early Stalinist period of the late 20s and 30s, t hose who had contributed the most to the advancement of modern culture had become enemies of the State. The artists who had so forcefully rejected the old nor ms had been br anded as In the first years after the Revolution, Malevich was elevated to prestigious positions within the art world. While enlisted in March 1917 Malevich was promoted to run the newly organized Art Section in the a rmy. 41 Later that same year, Malevich was involved in organizing art workshops and affiliated schools in Petrograd. In 1918 he was elected as a member of the Moscow Division of Narkompros (Visual Arts Section of the Commissariat of Public 41 Ibid., 24.


18 Education) 42 Also in 1918 Malevich taught at the Free Art Studios (Svomas) in Petrograd, and in 1919 he moved back to Moscow to teach at the Free Art Studios there. 43 In 1919 it was extremely difficult for Malevich to continue living in Moscow. The Russian civil war raging in the years 1917 1922 had led to massive and unpredictable inflation in the city Malevich did not even have housing within the city; he lived in a small dacha on the outskirts of Moscow in the village Nemchinovka and had to make long commutes to even get to Moscow. Food, firewood, and most importantly, paper shortages eventually pushed Malevich away from Moscow to join his protg E l Lissit z ky in Vitebsk, Belorussia (modern day Belarus). Malevich thus began teaching at the Vitebsk Studios. 44 While in Vitebsk, Malevich urged his students to experiment with different styles. He did not force them to paint in the Suprematist style but rather he administered doses of in its fourth to his students, hoping in this way to l ead them to transcend the reality of extra pictoral objects and subjects to finally attain the state of non objective consciousness that Suprematist notion so violently opposed to all ideological 45 teaching style was that of a scientific observer ra ther than a hands on instructor, instead of forc ing change, he tried to develop a within his students by observing the manner in which a student would react to a specific set of stylistic dilemma. Malevich believed t hat objectless thought, the prerequisite to true Suprematism, could not be taught it had to be developed naturally within a person. teachings focused on giving the students the tools and the theory to make that philosophical leap themselves. Students were entrance d by personality and fascinating ideas, and within only six months of arriving in Vitebsk his students had formed the UNOVIS (Affirmers of 42 Ibid 43 Ibid 26. 44 Ibid 28 29. 45 Andr i B. Nakov, after 191 in The Suprematist Straight Line: Malevich, Suetin, Chashnik, Lissitzky ( London: Annely Juda Fine Art, 1977), 17.


19 the New Art) group 46 centered upon theories. The broader curriculum soon followed suit. Malevich would later move back to Petrograd in 1922, with UNOVIS following him there. In 1923 Malevich was appointed to the position of director of the GINKhUK (Petrograd State Ins titution of Artistic Culture ) 47 While here, Malevich continued to develop his Theory of the and it was at this time that he published God is Not Cast Down. However, the work came under harsh criticism due to the increasingly hostile and influential realis t group AKhRR (Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia ). 48 Malevich was not the only one to come under criticism. In 1926 the entire GINKhUK organization was put in serious jeopardy after a scathing review by Grigory Seryi in a party newspaper Leningradskaya Pravda. Seryi described the organization as a Sponsored that showed depths to which the Leningrad objectless artists who have been painting in creative impotence for all these past years now have 49 Worse yet, Seryi decried the very exis tence of the organization and called for its immediate closure by state powers In view, it is criminal to maintain a huge, magnificent mansion so that three crazy monks can, at government expense, carry on artistic debauchery or counter revolu tionary propaganda that is not needed by 50 s attack on GINKhUK pressure d the State to act, and the organization was put under investigation soon after the publication. At the end of 1926, GINKhUK was permanently shut down. 46 Yevgenia Petrova, ed. Kazimir Malevich in the Russian Museum ( St. Petersburg: State Russian Museum and Palace Editions, 2000), 434. 47 Douglas, Kazimir Malevich 30. 48 Ibid 32. 49 Charlotte Douglas, Outline in Malevich: Artist and Theoretician ( Flammarion: Paris, 1991) 18 50 Ibid


20 During his teaching career, Malevich had repeatedly petitioned the government to grant him an exit visa to travel to the West. In 1927 this wish was finally granted. On his trip to Warsaw and Berlin he showcased nearly a hundred works and gave lectures on his theories of art. While there, Malevich bore witness to an enormous variety of artistic styles coexisting with one another. While on his way to Germany, Malevich stopped in Warsaw and came into contact with the Polish Avant Garde, giving a few talk s about his research findings at GINKhUK and hosting a small exhibition of about thirty works. The crowd of artists received Malevich very warmly, and in a letter to Matiushin he joyously wrote, dear Misha, I showed them your tables as I did my own. B oth promoted strong interest. Ah, there is a wonderful attitude here. Praise pour down like rain. But brought me back to the right path and when I return in May, tell you about everything in 51 While still abroad, Malevich submitte d his work The World as Objectlessness to be published as a Bauhaus book Bauhaus, like Constructivism, was thoroughly involved in the utilitarian arts. The fact that Bauhaus, with an artistic philosophy that was essentially the antithesis of Suprematism, allowed work to be published speaks volumes to how interesting the editors must have found his theories 52 The primary goal of trip was to spread his theories about art, especially his Theory of the that had been the primary focus of his work since the early 1920s. His audience in the West, especially in Germany took far more interest in paintings than his philosophy and they urged the artist to resu me painting. By this point philosophy had already shifted from his narrow ideas in 1915. In 1922 he wrote God Is Not Cast Down and The World as 51 Kazimir Malevich to Mikhail Matiushin, Spring, 1927, in Kazimir Malevich, 1878 1935 : Works from State Russian Museum, Leningrad; Ministry of Culture, USSR; Municipality of Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, the Netherlands ed. Wim A.L. Beeren, et al. ( Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1988 ), 168. 52 Some passages were omitted in the original publication in 1927. See Malevich, The World as Objectlessness 7.


21 Objectlessness had already been finished before he traveled abroad. The theoretical shift had taken place, but the artist had not returned to painting. The philosophical ideas that Malevich held were the primary reason for his return to painting, but this encouragement by foreign audiences may have been the final push that finally inspired Malevich to take up the brush again. Malevich left Berli n to return to Russia in June 1927, leaving his paintings in Germany to remain on exhibition. He also left behind manuscripts of The World as Objectlessness writing out a will concerning the fate of the text should he be killed or detained indefinitely while home. Clearly the fate of philosophical writings was of utmost importance. In his will Malevich writes, case of my death or permanent [the manuscripts] may be stud ied and then translated into another language; for living at this time beneath the forces of revolution, there might be strong exceptions taken to that form of the justification of art that I now have, i.e. in 53 Malevich was clearly aware of the dan gerous political position he would be returning to in the Soviet Union but this would not stop him from painting according to his own philosophy. Shortly after his return to the Soviet Union in autumn of 1927, Malevich was called upon to exhibit at a one man exhibition in 1929 Th is exhibition had Malevich in a crisis: he had left the bulk of his earlier works in the West, the State had maintained a n uneasy relationship with him in the last ten years, and the artist had rarely painted anything new after his White on White paintings. To counter this, M alevich made the decision to backdate his new paintings. By backdating his new works, Malevich could avoid political suspicion without sacrificing his artistic integrity and contributions to artistic culture. Repainting of previous works also gave Malevich the opportunity to move past his artistic block The White on White paintings as previously mentioned, had been the logical end of Supre matism, and the logical end 53 Douglas, Outline 20.


22 of p ainting itself. By repainting old works and backdating them, Malevich could have material for the exhibition and experiment without putting himself in political danger. As Malevich repainted he found himself developing a new style : Figurative Suprematism. Charlotte Douglas explains the development succinctly: 1927 and 1932, partly under the cover of false dates, Malevich was developing a unique Metaphysical style of painting that continued and expanded the philosophy of Suprematism, while at the same constit uting a response to the calamitous social upheavals of the 54 A visual example of the development of new style from his repainting can be clearly shown with three canvases: Carpenter, Dacha Dweller, and Carpenter (1928 1929) (See Figs. 13 15 ) These canvases are three different versions of the same idea: a peasant carpenter working in a yard. The first two versions are in styles Malevich previously worked in. This first Carpenter is painted with an Impressionist stroke. Dacha Dweller is similar to Neo Primitivist works with its dark colors and so called feet placement. The third version, Carpenter, presents the subject in a completely new way: the Figurative Suprematist style. The carpenter is now simplified i nto geometric shapes and sharp divisions of color. Cross shapes are prevalent in this painting, with the yellow crossroads in the background, the white cross in the window of the house, and the intersection of the mid ground with the carpenter in the cent er. As artistic career developed and took off, the peasant always remained present, even in his most abstract moments. Not every canvas depicted peasants, but I argue that peasant life is found within all of his artistic styles: from his Impr essionist landscapes that feature peasant homes and the nature surrounding them, his Neo Primitivist works that feature peasants in a style directly inspired by Icon painting, some of his Futurist costume designs for 54 Douglas, Kazimir Malevich 35.


23 Victory Over the Sun were partially ins pired by peasant clothing, and even his objectless Suprematist compositions involve the peasant, most notably his canvas Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions ( Fig. 16 ). The peasant is his focal point, Malevich's symbol of humanity. When Malevich returns to painting objects in his Figurative Suprematist period, the peasant element is now brought to the forefront. The peasant is now the harbinger of Malevich's nuanced and developed philosophy. The shift from Suprematism t o Figurative Suprematism was therefore not a regression, but a continuation and fulfillment of Malevich's philosophy and his influences. With the form of the peasant, Malevich can elicit new sensations with his abstract canvases. The massive peasants tow ering over multicolored fields and strong horizon lines become symbolic of Malevich's philosophy of humankind's interaction with r eality. The strong horizon line that is present in nearly all of these later works is the divisor between the Earth and the Un iverse, the "1" and th e The peasant figures are located in the center of these horizons, lying at the crossroads. They are nameless and usually faceless. Every peasant seems to be made up of little bits of color, no one is uniform. The peasants are thus representative of humankind as a whole a collective human experience not based on individuality. For Malevich, releasing oneself from the bounds of individuality was not something to fear, but something to embrace in order to overcome the material w orld and merge with the objectless universe. Through his art, Malevich chooses to transform his cherished peasant into the harbinger of new sensation Section II Philosophy By 1927 Malevich's ideas of art had expanded from his challenging statements made in his 1915 work From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism.


24 Malevich had previously believed that "Only when the conscious habit of seeing nature's little nooks, Madonnas, and Venuses in pictur es disappears will we witness a pure painterly work of art." 55 True creation could not involve forms found in nature. Malevich went further to discredit all objects as artistic, "Only dull and impotent artists veil their work with sincerity Art requires t ruth, not sincerity Objects have vanished like smoke: to attain the new artistic culture, art advances toward creation as an end in itself and toward domination over the forms of nature." 56 In 1915, Art 57 could only be objectless art any object depiction would automatically nullify that piece as a work of Art. In 1915, Malevich regarded C zanne Rembrandt, and Repin as worse than the primitive man for consciously choosing to veil reality in a cloud of aestheticism. In 1927, Malevich has a different view. This statement from the Suprematism section of The World as Objectlessness showcases the clear shift that has taken place: "Object depiction per se (objectness as the goal of the image) is something that has nothing in common with Art, however the use of the object in a work of Art does not preclude high artistic value." 58 Malevich still agrees that banal reproduction of nature is not Art, but his definition of true Art has expanded significantly from his definition in 1915 to include some object depiction. Objectlessness is no longer the sole factor that gives value to Art. Instead, "Sensation is the most important thing ... And thus Art comes to objectless depiction to Suprematism." 59 For Malevich in 1927, Suprematism is still the highest among the a rts, but it is not the only true form of Art. There is no s pecific "Suprematist The importance of this shift in Malevich's own words cannot be overemphasized. Rather than being defined by objectlessness, Art is now 55 Malevich, 118. 56 Ibid ., 119. 57 In my discussion of philosophy I will capitalize the word to distinguish between as according to Ma levich, and just the term 58 Malevic h, The World as Objectlessness 187. 59 Ibid


25 defined by its non utilitarian nature. All works of Art, even those that contain objects, are valuable because of their creation as pure expressions of objectless sensation. As explained by Andr i Nakov, concern for the para stylistic strata is always present in the refer ence to the subconscious and to the spatial consciousness; thus it is evidently supra 60 Style itself is irrelevant as long as sensation exists within the work of Art. Sensation is the feeling that suggests the presence of the objectless unive rs e within a piece of art. "Art" that is created for a utilitarian purpose or for political motives will not stand the test of time as there are no sensations within it Once this usefulness is stripped, it will be forgotten. "Art" like this is crea ted with a singular place and time in mind, and thus it has no universal character "Things created without the sensation of Art do not carry within them the absolute, immutable element. Such works are not kept in museums but given over to time, and if t hey do survive, they are kept only as a fact of human miscalculation. Such a thing is an object, that is, instability, ephemeralness, whereas artistic things are objectless, that is, permanent, unchanging. Yet society thinks the artist makes unnecessary th ings, but it turns out that his unnecessary thing exists for centuries and the necessary for one day." 61 In Malevich's new und erstanding of A rt, artists whom he had previously discarded can now be regarded as masters once again. As Adrian Barr explains, refers to all art that alters or deforms the reality it depicts, thus revealing a higher organizational order than the purely 62 Malevich praises artists such as Czanne for their ability to cate sensations of light, painterly form, and 63 The hyper realist works of Repin or Shish kin are still not regarded as Art for these artists give no representation of sensation within their works. These artists merely paint what they see, whereas 60 Nakov, after 1919 17 19 61 Ibid ., 197. 62 Barr, 212. 63 Ibid ., 212.


26 artists like Czanne paint the world as the ir sensations describe to them. 64 Thus the inclusion of the unknowable and unseen sensation the interaction of the objectless reality of the universe, is what defines Art for Malevich. Another aspect of Malevich philosophy is the concept of Man as the intersection of the objectless truth of the ideal universe and the illusory material world. In words, skull represents the same infinity for the movement of concepts. It is equal to the universe, for in skull is contained all that it sees in the 65 In God is Not Cast Down Malev ich uses the numerical te rms and to represent these concepts. The objectless universe, 0, is both within and outside of man. The process of thought is in itself objectless, untainted by the illusion of reality. However, pure thought is corrupted by the of ill usory reality. Man comes to understand the unseen of the universe through thought. is the process or state o f stimulus manifested in the form of real or natural action. Thus thought is not something by which one can reflect upon some manifes tation, i.e. understand, cognize, realize, know, prove, or base; no, thought is simply one of the processes of the action of an unrecognizable 66 For Malevich, the whole of human history is the striving towards the ideal reality of the objectless universe. As Adrian Barr simplifies, both constituted and restrained by physical form, by objectness, seeks ultimate unity and ultimate rest in the infinity of the 67 With this expanded philosophy in his mind, Malevich was free once again to experiment with different art styles. After reaching the logical conclusion of Suprematism with his White on White paintings, Malevich stopped painting all together. At that time any return to pa inting 64 Ibid 65 Ibid ., 207. 66 Ibid ., 208. 67 Ibid


27 would have been meaningless and essentially hypocritical with his mindset at the time. Starting in 1927 Malevich could experiment with eliciting sensation from many different art styles instead o f being locked into Suprematism. From 1928 until his d eath in 1935 Malevich produced a large number of works that varied greatly in style. The works I will be focusing on specifically are paintings done in the period of 1928 1932 that e xhibit a style that I refer to as Figurative Suprematism. This new style incorporates elements of Malevich's Suprematist phase while also depicting the peasant life he held so close to his heart. In my discussion of his Figurative Suprematist works, I will analyze the features that incorporate Malevich's new philosophy and the n contrast these works with contemporary works of official Socialist Realism to directly refute the idea that Malevich was bending to state will. As referenced in a previous paragraph, s ensation became the most important factor in determining the worth of a piece of Art. In Malevi ch's late r paintings, he attempted to draw out this invisible force through a creative use of contrasting styles and forms. In this new philosophy Malevich became less concerned with strict divis ions between styles and concerned himself more with creating s ensation through his art. Though the works feature objects, their essence is their objectless sensations elicited from the paintings. The forms of nature within his works are literally transformed through distortion of light and color into a new, objectless sensation. Color had been one of the most fundamental parts of Suprematism, responsible for creating the movement of the abstract forms. Malevich explained that is what a painter lives by, so it is the most importa nt And Suprematism is the pure painterly art of color whose independence cannot be reduced to a single color. The galloping of a horse can be transmitted with a single tone of pencil. But it is impossible to transmit the movement of red, green, or blue


28 masses with a single 68 Color is therefore the most significant component within Malevich's paintings In Figurative Suprematist works, as in his Suprematist works color plays a fundamental role in transmitting the sensations of the objectless universe. In Suprematism, the color blue and white where philosophically contrasted against each other, Suprematist canvas depicts white space and not blue. The reason is clear. Blue does not provide a true picture of 69 These color distinctions are even more important in Figurative Suprematist works. In many of these works the color white is not the color surrounding the figures, but it is the col or of the figures themselves Therefore infinity is not around or outside of man, but rather it is within own body Figures with split faces and bodies made up of different colors and hard lines have become the universal harbingers of Malevich's sensation. These bisections and juxtaposition of colors and lines within peasant figures are representative of Malevich's v iew of the duality of humankind our position as 0.5. In canvases such as Head of a Peasant and Woman with a Rake the figures are positioned directly at the center of the canvas intersecting with the strong horizon line The intersection of the subject and the horizon line create a "cross" shape similar to Suprematist crosses done earlier. This shape links the heavens and the earth, the 0 of the universe and the 1 of grounded illusory reality. This element is found in many of Malevich's works, and I arg ue that Malevich was intentionally inducing this cross shape as a new to change the world of art. The canvas Sportsmen (Fig. 1 7 ) aligns four figures in a composition reminiscent of the icon tradition. The four figures facing forward w ith their feet placed in an open first position is a clear reference to the style of icon known as the "Selected Saints" icon of 15th 16th centur y O rthodox painting. (Fig. 18 ) As scholar Charlotte Douglas has pointed out in her work Kazimir 68 Malevich, 130. 69 Petrova, Kazimir Malevich in the Russian Museum, 22.


29 Malevich, in Sp ortsmen "not only do the colors and compositional structure invoke the powerful association of icons, but the shape and stance of the athletes' feet... imitate the placement of feet in icons." 70 Malevich is eliciting historical and religious significance within his simplistic canvas, thus drawing out a new s ensation. The juxtaposition of the divinity of icons and the nullification of form of Suprematism creates a sensation that is entirely new. The figures in the painting are larger than life and tower over the small horizon line in the background. Though the title of the painting implies that these f igures are athletes, there is hardly any indication of this within the painting. They hold no s ports equipment, their clothing is a mismatched array of colors Their lack of any distinguishing features allows them to become universal representatives of humanity as a whole. The figures' hands remain empty and idle; they stand eerily still as they e xist within their own world. On the back of this canvas, Malevich wrote that this piece was "Suprematism in the form of athletes" From this, Douglas explains that "Cosmic Suprematism has here emerged from its colored rectangles and taken on human form, but its contemplation of transcendent and universal evolution still prevails." 71 In Head of a Peasant (Fig. 19 ) the canvas is filled with a large peasant's face that is divided into four quadrants with two colors: red and white. The figure's eyes are looking off into the distance somewhere beyond the viewer. The central peasant is surrounded by working peasants on either side of his face, with churches further off into different layers of the background. The horizon line clearly divides the multicolored fiel ds from the grey skies filled with airplanes. Each peasant is divided into different colors, usually with the motif of opposing corners of red and white or white and grey. The of the cross is prominent within this painting. The peas ant's dominating head spans the entire height of the canvas and 70 Douglas, Kazimir Malevich, 120. 71 Ibid


30 intersects with the foreground line where the other peasants are working. The cross shape can also be found adorning the churches in the far background and the simplistic airplanes flying abo ve. The airplanes' wings and tails are strongly reminiscent of Suprematist crosses, such as those found in Suprematism (Black Cross o n Red Oval) (Fig. 20 ) The central peasant here is located between the planes of reality. Not only is the peasant between the Earth and s ky, but he is also between the past and progress. The peasant is here on the ground with the peasants toiling in their old ways while airplanes fly above their heads, soaring ever closer towards the heavens. Malevich has consistently used airplanes as symbols of progress, most notably in his arguments in From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism "Their bodies fly in airplanes, but they cover art and life with the old robes of Neros and Titians. Hence they are unable to observe the new beaut y of our modern life. Because they live by the beauty of past ages." 72 Airplanes were also a major source of inspiration for the weightlessness of Suprematism. The peasant here is cloaked in the s ensation of old versus new, nature and technology, and the objectless sensations of the invisible universe around him. The other version of Head of a Peasant (Fig. 21 ) explicitly features the shape of the cross. A red cross divides the canvas into foreground and background. The figures seem flattened onto one pl ane, distance is distorted, with only the cross separating the foreground and background elements from each other. Other than the lack of depth between the mid ground scene of peasants on the road and the further town in the background, t he bucolic scene in the background is painted in a more natural way than many of other Figurative Suprematist works. The colors are natural, with green grass, flowers, and blue skies. This scene is placed behind the cross and the peasant; the scenes of nature are literally and figuratively 72 Malevich, Cubism 120.


31 behind him. The pensive face is completely white, symbolizing that infinity is not surrounding the peasant, but is within his own mind. The background colors, especially the blue sky, symbolize the natural, illusor y world. The eyes reflect this blue, representing the illusion of the world that our eyes perceive. The peasant in front has moved beyond the illusory reality to a new sense of enlightenment with the infinity in his mind. Like Sportsmen, this c anvas also elicits the mystical sensations of Christianity, as it is reminiscent of a type of 15 th century icon with head against a cross (Fig. 22 ) The peasant has taken on the sensation of Christ, and becomes a Suprematist symbol of the sufferi ng of peasants. Charlotte Douglas explains that see a distinctly unearthly and incorporeal peasant, who is related to the tiny flowering village in the distance as an exalted archetypal symbol of its suffering and 73 She also points out tha t the work was painted on wood, which may have been done out of sheer n ecessity, but nevertheless strengthens the association with icons. 74 Woman With a Rake (Fig. 23 ) is philosophically very similar to the first Head of a Peasant discussed It too features a towering central peasant that intersects between the earth and the sky. The Figurative Suprematist cross is also present here in the intersections between the woman's dress and her rake, and between the woman's body and the horizon li ne. The woman figure is faceless and her body is made up of many different colored segments, nearly split in half between white, and black and red. Like in Sportsmen her face is blank and bisected, representing the duality of all humankind in their strug gle to comprehend reality. The top of the figure is almost entirely above the horizon line, thus placing the woman's consciousness in her head to the heavens, where her body is planted firmly to the fields of earth below. Unlike the 73 Douglas, Kazimir Malevich 108. 74 Ibid


32 eerie Sportsmen who h old nothing, the woman here holds her rake firm, exhibiting her strength and determination. Section III Contrast with Socialist Realism From the above analysis of Figurative Suprematist paintings it is abundantly clear that these works have l ittle in common with Socialist Realism. The goal of Socialist Realism was to raise the role of the writers and artists to the status as of the human Stylistically this meant that art must portray life not as it is, but how it should be a nd will be Thus the art must convey, in a realistic style typical of the 19 th century, reality in its revolutionary development with the end goal of communist utopia. In the words of Andrei Zhdanov, who was Joseph representative at the Soviet Congress of 1934: Stalin has called our writers engineers of human souls. What does this mean? What duties does the title confer upon you? In the first place, it means knowing life so as to be able t o depict it truthfully in works of art, not to depict it in a dead, scholastic way, not simply as but to depict reality in its revolutionary development. In addition to this, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic portrayal should be combined with the ideological remolding and education of the toiling people in the spirit of socialism. 75 In simple terms, the movement can essentially be described as realistic in form, but wholly Socialist in content. The forms were similar to the hyperrealist and romantic art of the 19 th century, but imbued with the political agenda of Communist Party of the Soviet Union Socialist Realism had gained popularity with groups such as the previously mentioned AKhRR in the late 1920s, but 75 Soviet Literature The Richest in (Speech to the Soviet Congress, August 1934) Seventeen Moments in Soviet History website a ccessed April 15, 2017. http://soviethistory.m 2/writers congress/writers congress texts/zhdanov soviet literature the richest in ideas/


33 this moment in 1934 is when Socialist Realism came to be understood as the official form of art in the Soviet Union. With these definitions in mind it is clear that Malevich's Figurative Suprematism does not represent this art form Both the abstract visual style and transcendental purpose are ra dically different from Socialist Realism. The art is clearly not realistic even with the inclusion of objects, and the goal of the art is not politically motivated nor are the paintings' subjects work ing towards the ideal communist utopia. On the contrary, the somber mood of many of the peasant paintings was likely a commentary of the abysmal conditions the peasantry had suffered through as a result of collectivization, civil war, and famine. Another stark difference in art is that unlike the work of prominent Socialist Realist artists like Aleksandr Gerasimov (Fig. 24), Lenin and Stalin never appear in any of Malevich's later works. If Malevich had truly subscribed to Socialist Realism it would be unlikely for the artist to never depict the Party leaders. art also lacks the central figure of the Soviet ideology: the proletariat. Though peasants were also an important aspect of Soviet ideology, they wer e given far less prestige than the industrial workers. When peasants are depicte d in Socialist Realism, they were usually depicted as happy food bearers, not as heroic workers. This can be seen in works such as Ilya Farmer with Pumpkins. 76 (Fig. 2 5) Malevich's generally solemn and faceless peasants are clearly not in line with this depiction Malevich also openly criticized the development of the cult of Lenin in 1924, proclaiming that Marxism fatal flaw was the kernel of religious fervor that it contained. 77 He believed that the sanctification Lenin was the betrayal of the fundamental materialist notions of 76 Ilya Mashkov is an interesting counterexample to Malevich. Mashkov began as an artist of the Avant Garde, but eventually became a prominent painter of the Socialist Realist style. 77 Douglas, 14.


34 Marxism, and used this example to stress the weakness of the materialist philosophy overall 78 He also a rgued in his 1933 Autobiography again st basic tenets of Marxist aesthetics, including Len own Theory of Reflection 79 Malevich, in direct contradiction to Marxist ideology, asserts that latest trends in art are in no way a phenomenon created by conditions of everyday life o r the stability or instability of the truth of its worldview. Art came to its real truth on its own, developing in its own nature, in the painterly mentality, and the essence of that truth was the revelation of the objectless source of art and th e attitude toward the 80 Moreover, Malevich pens this opinion in his memoirs from 1933. Malevich had been arrested in 1930 after retur ning from Germany, on the accusation that he was a spy. Even after an arrest, his i deas had clearly not changed in favor of official Marxist ideolog y. After being released, Malevich even boasted about his resilience. wanted to completely destroy me. They said, away with Malevich and all of Formalism will But see, they destroy me. m still alive. not so easy to get rid of 81 It is also important to note in discrediting the state pressure theory t hat Socialist Realism was only proclaimed to be the official state sponsored form of the arts in 1934 after Zhdanov's speech a t the Soviet Writers Congress. Although t he movement's origins are in the late twenties and the state pressure d artists and writers to subscribe to this art form, a pressure that Malevich was clearly feeling at the time, other art forms were stil l allowed to exist up until 1933 when all unofficial organizations were abolished Moreover, Socialist Realism reached its height during the Great Patriotic War and the Late Stalinist period directly after. Malevich had passed away in the year 19 35 and had generally stopped painting Figurative Suprematism by 1932; 78 Konstantin Akinsha, and Lenin: Ritual, Image, and the Cube in Rethinking Malevich, 140. 79 See Malevich, 38. 80 Ibid 81 Douglas, Outline 24.


35 therefore it is highly unlikely that Malevich's return to objects in 1928 was a result of state pressure. CONCLUSION Kazimir Malevich became gravely ill in 1933. He continued to paint until he was so bed ridden that he could no longer hold a brush in his hands. He died on May 15 th 1935 at the age of 57 in Leningrad. In the last years of his life he continued to petition the Soviet government to let him leave the country to go back to the West. He was continually denied. On his deathbed the artist was surrounded by his Suprematist and Figurative Suprematist works. The artist received a state sponsored funeral at the Leningrad Union of Artists. Upon his death M alevich body was placed in a Suprematist style coffin bearing the Black Square. In accordance with his wishes, he was cremated in Moscow and his ashes buried in a field in the village Nemchinovka where he had lived in a dacha for much of his life 82 Af ter World War II, all traces of his grave were lost. A new monument was erected in 1988 featuring a white cube and black square near the original place of burial. After his death, the work was hidden in the bowels of s tate museums with little regard to its preservation. Black Square was stashed away, left to rot and be forgotten leading to the cracked surface we see today. works were hidden from the public gaze and his contributions to the world of art were erased by the Soviet government. Works that were not acquired by the s tate were kept hidden by heirs to keep them safe. Thus, after 1935 Malevich disappeared from the w orld of Russian art. The works that had been left behind in Germany faced a n uncertain fate with the rise of the Nazis and their policy of anti modernism in 82 Ibid 26.


36 art. About fifty of these works were transferred to the Stedeljik Museum in Amsterdam, where they remain to this day. Twenty one went to the Museum of Modern Art in New Yor k. 83 Malevich would not reappear in Russia until the period of glasnost in the 1980s. Kazimir Malevich was an innovator whose contributions to the world of art are still being discussed As his writings continue to be published and translated, more and more scholars and art lovers are discovering him bringing new interpretations to the study of his life and works. The twenty first century has been characterized by a redirection of Malevich studies towards a focus on the writing and philosophica l theory, as well as a renewed interest and reinterpretation of his Figurative Suprematist works. This thesis is a product of this recent reevaluation. My theory that later works are indicative of a significant philosophical shift that took plac e between the years of 1915 1927 and the central importance of the peasant in his life would not have been possible without the translations and reevaluations of his works being done at this moment in the historiography of Malevich. Placing Fig urative Suprematist works within the philosophical framework of his work is vital to understanding his mindset in the last years of his life. Fr om the beginning, Malevich had worked tirelessly to cement himself and his Suprematism within the conte xt of art history. Despite efforts of the Soviet state to erase him from its history, the enigma that surrounds art and mystifying personality has kept him relevant in history As the artist said himself, they destroy me. still ali ve. not so easy to get rid of 84 Kazimir Malevich may have died in 1935, but his memory persists; his spirit lives on and surrounds us in the objectless reality of the universe. 83 Douglas, Kazimir Malevich 46. 84 Douglas, Outline 24.


37 List of Figures: Figure 1 Black Square 1915 Figure 2 Suprematist Composition 1918 Figure 3 Giorgio de Chirico, The Red Tower 1913 Figure 4 The Red House 1932


38 Figure 5 Chart showing the Element s of three styles: The Czannist Curve, the Cubist Sickle Shaped Curve, and the Suprematist Straight Line Figure 6 Natalia Goncharova, Woodcutters 1913 Figure 7 Peasant Women in a Church 1912 Figure 8 Peasant Woman with Buckets and Child 1912 Figure 9 The Knifegrinder: Principle of Glittering 1913


39 Figure 10 Costume desi gns for Victory over the Sun 1915 Figure 11 Suprematist Composition 1915 Figure 12 Aeroplane Flying 1915


40 Figure 13 Carpenter 1928 1929 Figure 14 At the Dacha 1928 1929 Figure 15 Carpenter 1928 1929 Figure 16 Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions 1915


41 Figure 17 Sportsmen 1930 31 Figure 18 Icon, Selected Saints XVI Century


42 Figure 19 Head of a Peasant 1928 1929 Figure 20 Black Cross on Red Oval 1921


43 Figure 21 Head of a Peasant 1928 1929 Figure 22 Icon, Head of Christ XV Century


44 Figure 23 Woman with a Rake 1932


45 Figure 24 Aleksandr Gerasimov, Lenin on a Tribune 1930 Figure 25 Ilya Mashkov, Farmer with Pumpkins 1930 Image Credits: All Images unless otherwise stated are Public Domain under US Copyright Law and have been taken from in accordance with their copyright information. Figures 18 and 22 Douglas, Charlotte. Kazimir Malevich New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994. T he icon s are from the own collection. Bibliography of Works Cited: Annely Juda Fine Art. The Suprematist Straight Line: Malevich, Suetin, Chashnik, Lissitzky London: Annely Juda Fine Art, 1977 Beeren, Wim A.L., Joop M. Joosten, eds. Kazimir Malevich, 1878 1935 : Works from State Russian Museum, Leningrad; Ministry of Culture, USSR; Municipality of Amsterda m, Stedelijk Museum, the Netherlands Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1988.


46 "Breaking Free From the Earth: Kazimir Malevich 1878 1935 Vi deo. 54 minutes. Reiner Moritz Associates Ltd., 1990. Burliuk, David, Alexand er Kruchenykh, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Victor Khlebnikov. Slap in the Face of Public I n Russian Literatur e of the Twenties: An Anthology e d ited by Carl R. Proffer, Ellendea Proffer, Ronald Meyer, and Mary Ann Szporluk 542 Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1 987. Douglas, Charlotte. Kazimir Malevich. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994. Douglas, Charlotte and Christina Lodder. Rethinking Malevich: Proceedings of a Conference in Celebration of the 125th Anniversary of Kazimir Malevich's Birth London: Pindar Press 2007. Douglas, Charlotte. Swans of Other Worlds: Kazimir Malevich and the Origins of Abstraction in Russia. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press 1976. Gasper Hulvat, Marie E. "Malevich's Post Suprematist Pain tings and the Construction of History" PhD Diss Br yn Mawr College, 2012. Gray, Camilla. The Great Experiment: Russian Art 1863 1922. London: Thames and Hudson, 1962. Groys, Boris. The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond. Trans lated by Charles Rougle. Princet on: Princeton University Press, 1992 Malevich, Kazimir. The Artist, Infinity, and Suprematism: Unpublished Writings 1913 1933, edited by Troels Andersen. Trans lated by Xenia Glowacki Prus and Arnold McMillin. Copenhagen: Borgen, 1978. Malevich, Kazimir. Bog ne skinut: iskusstvo, fabrika. Vitebsk: Izd. Unovis 1922


47 Malevich, Kazimir. "From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism : The New Painterly Realism I n R ussian Art of the Avant Garde : T heory and C riticism, 1902 1934 W ith 105 Illustrations edited and translated by John E. Bowlt 116 135 New York, N.Y .: Thames and Hudson, 1988 Malevich, Kazimir. "Ot kubizma i futurizma k suprematismu Novyi zhivopisnyi realizm." Accessed April 16, 2017. http://www.k Malevich, Kazimir. The World as Objectlessness : With E ssay s by Simon Baier and Brittany Tanja Dumpelmann. Basel : Kunstmuseum Basel 2014 Michigan State University, Moments in So viet Accessed April 16 2017. Petrova, Yevgenia, e d. Kazimir Malevich in the Russian Museum. St. Petersburg: State Russian Mus eum and Palace Editions, 2000. Petrova, Yevgenia, Irina Vakar, Charlotte Douglas, et al. Malevich: Artist and Theoretician. Flammarion: Paris, 1991. Shatskikh, Aleksandra Semenovna. Black Square: Malevich and the Origin of Suprematism. Yale University Press: New Haven, 2012 Spira, Andrew. The Avant Garde Icon: Russian Avant Garde and the Icon Painting Tradition. Burlington: Lu nd Humphries, 2008. Vakar, Irina and Tatiana Mikhienko, comps. and eds. Kazimir Malevich: Letters, Documents, Memoirs, Criticism. Vols. 1 2. London: Tate Publishing, 2015


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(For OffIce Use Only) Honors Thesis Submission Form Major : ___ ___ Desig nati o n ; ____ G rad u ation Term ; __ Name:Sam Unietis U FID : 6399-7962 Additional Authors: Major:History/Russian Advisor Name: Stuart Finkel Advisor Email:sfmkel@Ufl .edu Advisor Department:History Thesis Title: The End of Painting?: Kazimir Malevich's Return to Figurative Paint ing Abstract (200 words max): Kazimir Malevich was one of the fathers of the abstract art movement,-best known for his completely abstract geometric style known as Suprematism. In 1915 when Suprematism was introduced, Malevich believed that any object depiction in art nullified it as a piece of true creation. However, by 1927 his art had shifted to include some object depiction. What is the origin of this shift? And how did Malevich justify his return to objects after his vicious denouncement of them only 12 years prior? I argue that the shift was a progression of Malevich's artistic development and a fulfillment of the philosoph y he had developed in his break from painting after 1920. Art was no longer defined by object l essness but by non-utilitarian sensations. Student SignaturelDate y /f& / /7 Thesis Advisor SignaturelDate iftrr/I?t Please indicate your preference for public access to your thesis by initialing the appropriate statement below: I grant permission to the University of Florida to list the title and abstract of this thesis i n a publicly accessible database __ I do not grant permission to the University of Florida to list the title and abstract of this thesis publicly


(For Office Use Only) Honors Thesis Submission Form Major: ______ Designation: ____ Graduat i on Term: __ Name:Sam Unietis UFID:6399-7962 Additional Authors: Major:HistorylRussian Advisor Name: Stuart Finkel Advisor Advisor Department:History Thesis Title: The End of Painting?: Kazimir Malevich's Return to Figurative Painting Abstract (200 words max): Kazimir Malevich was one of the fathers of the abstract art movement,. best known for his completely abstract geometric style known as Suprematism. In 1915 when Suprematism was introduced, Malevich believed that any object depiction in art nullified it as a piece of true creation. However, by 1927 his art had shifted to include some object depiction. What is the origin of this shift? And how did Malevichjustify his return to objects after his vicious denouncement of them only 12 years prior ? I argue that the shift was a progression of Malevich's artistic development and a fulfillment of the philosophy he had developed in his break from painting after 1920. Art was no longer defined by objectlessness but by non-utilitarian sensations. Student SignaturelDate Thesis Advisor SignaturelDate Please indicate your preference for public access to your thesis by initialing the appropriate statement below: 1 grant permission to the University of Florida to list the title and abstract of this thesis in a publicly a ccessible database. __ 1 do not grant permission to the University of Florida to list the title and abstract of this thesis publicly