Kazimir Malevich

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Malevich was born to a Polish family near Kiev in 1879. His family were Roman Catholics and had settled there after they fled their home in the Eastern Territories of the Commonwealth after the failed Polish January uprising of 1863. His native language was Polish but in public, he spoke Ukrainian. Art did not form a large part of Malevich’s early years, his family moved often, keeping to small villages away from artistic centres but these surroundings did give Malevich a good understanding and appreciation of crafts - embroidery, decorative wares – arts typically associated with peasantry at this time, and he was able to paint proficiently in the peasant style. It wasn’t until 1895 that Malevich received any formal training, when he spent a year in Kiev studying drawing and then later he studied in Moscow. By 1913 Malevich had participated in serval group exhibitions, was firmly entrenched in the new art of Cubism and Futurism (Cubo-Futurism) and was established within the Russian avant-garde artists of the time.

This new exciting style was to be put aside in 1915 for something new of Malevich’s own design. Malevich formed the artistic ideas and formed the school of Suprematism which focused on abstract forms. His ideas formed the basis of what became the discussions surrounding abstraction later. His most well-known works are the pieces which focused on pure geometric forms.

After the October Revolution in 1917 Malevich was appointed to teach at several institutions and was relatively unhindered in his practices, he wrote a book, ‘The World as Non-Obectivity’ which outlined his Suprematist theories in 1926. However, shortly after this there was an unfavourable report in a communist paper about the Petrograd State Institute of Artistic Culture, of which Malevich was director. The soviet state had already began a programme of state sponsored art which was promoting the now called Socialist Realism style. This new style was the antitheist to Malevich’s own ideas and practices, which he had promoted throughout his career. In any case he went along with the establishments ideas and was quietly tolerated in response.

In 1927 Malevich travelled to Warsaw where we met many artists from his earlier career who shared his ideal and thoughts on art. He had his first retrospective there before traveling onto Berlin and Munich. This short tour brought him great international recognition and is one or the reasons his work is so well known in the west. Sensing a further shift in attitudes Malevich arranged to leave the majority of his work abroad when he returned to Russia. He was right to do as within a few short years the establishment had turned completely against abstraction, terming it, ‘bourgeois’ art that did not fit in with the realist aesthetic that was now being promoted. As a result many of Malevich’s works were banned from display and confiscated and Malevich was also forbidden to create any similar pieces.

Malevich died at 57 on the 15th May 1935 and his ashes were buried in a grave marked with a black square. 

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