Today’s blog topic is painter Kasimir Malevich (Russian, 1878-1935) and the Suprematism painting movement of the early 20th century. Since Malevich was Russian and his works don’t often have a lot of elements I think we should have a vodka based drink with only a few ingredients. So my adult beverage to go along with this post is the Tolstoy Tang.
Here's how to make it:
2oz Russian Standard Original Vodka
1oz lemon juice
Splash of simple sugar syrup
Shake with ice and strain into a glass. Garnish with a slice of lemon on the edge of the glass.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
So I am going to have a Tolstoy Tang and discuss Malevich, Suprematism and why Red Square isn’t just a square.
Kasimir Malevich is one of my favorite painters and he is often overlooked and misunderstood. One thing that irritates me to no end when talking about modern art in general, and the Suprematism movement in particular, is the “but I could have done that” reaction. But you know what? … you didn’t! Yes, Malevich’s Suprematist compositions are mostly geometric, boldly colored shapes that appear simple on the surface but they are much more complex.
People totally didn’t get Suprematism at first. When he exhibited his first Suprematist compositions in 1915 everyone in the art world was like:
“What the f#$% is this?!" "Some squares?!"
"What is that even supposed to mean?"
Well it is a good thing art historians exist to answer such mysteries. Let's discuss that question and get to the bottom of why someone would paint a square, shall we?
The Suprematism movement was about freeing art from objectification and made the experience of painting purely about feeling. Malevich wanted to free artists from previous conventions and expectations to reveal their true creativity and potential. As Malevich says in his Manifesto of Suprematism “An artist who creates rather than imitates expresses himself; his works are not reflections of nature but, instead, new realities, which are no less significant than the realities of nature itself.” So he was basically ditching conventional artistic aesthetics, which were based on depicting recognizable objects. He was creating his own realities and artistic language. He felt that artists who merely duplicated the events of daily life lacked the capacity for new creation and were slaves to appearances. So it is like he was calling them basic bitches which is just awesome.
Malevich also believed his Suprematism art style was liberating the public and the art world from consumerism and all of the social conventions that go with it. He compared holding onto established standards of how we think art should reflect reality to acquiring more possessions. By attaching these standards and expectations that art had to depict a recognizable object from daily life it loses its true purpose and value by becoming just another object to own. So under the Suprematist theory to truly understand and enjoy art it has to be free from merely reflecting everyday life and objects.
Malevich felt that when art is bound to imitating social conventions and constructs, like religion, it loses its individuality and worth. By depicting religious or political themes art became a slave to their need to adhere to the visual vocabulary associated with them. Malevich turned how art is made on its ear and for that he deserves more credit than a comment about how your toddler could have painted a square.
So Suprematist art was really about giving the middle finger to previously held aesthetic conventions in painting. Malevich was pretty freaking rad and his Suprematism composition was way more than just a square! Next time you dismiss Malevich’s art, remember it was groundbreaking and the foundation of multiple modern art movements.
For more information I suggest reading The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism by Kasimir Malevich - (you can buy it here) He'll tell you in his own words his thoughts on art and conventional aesthetics. Also check out my Malevich gallery here.