After submitting A4 and receiving my tutor report from Robert, my BoW is in a good place as I look to conclude this module. He suggested to research Black Square (1913) by Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935). Robert first brought up Malevich back in my tutor report for A1. This was due to my use of the square crop, with its links to modernism and purity of form (see fig. 1.). This time around the recommendation was based upon the formal aspect meeting a metaphysical one. Malevich had no distinguished style prior to painting Black Square, but it was a central piece to his unveiling of the manifesto Suprematism, which is described as his “…intent to liberate painting from the shackles of mimesis and representation, to raise it to a higher state and into greater spatial freedom.” (Spalding, 2014). It is an artwork that is thought to be the Hour Zero of modern art.
In-spite of its purity of form, Black Square is imperfectly proportioned. In fact many things about its purity are questionable. The painting is dated 1913, two years before it was actually painted. This simple singular tone painting has much more to it than meets the eye. The intrigue lies less in the painting itself, but the layers of meaning that can be considered. Black Square wasn’t a pure moment of inspiration on a blank canvas, but a painting over an earlier composition. This could be considered a metaphor for censorship to a previous work, a personal frustration or anguish. Or was Malevich in need of a surface to paint in a moment of stimulation and simply had no clean canvases?
Furthermore, the way Malevich positioned the painting in the exhibition, or physical space, created a lot of controversy. Achim Borchardt-Hume, who curated a reconstruction of the original exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2014, says “…the top corner of the room usually is where you present Russian icons, something which Malevich was very well aware of.” (Tate, 2014). By simply placing the piece in a culturally relevant position he symbolised its importance. This provocation, whatever his motivations show that even a ‘neutral’ image can be politicised.
What I take from Black Square is the sheer depth of potential intrigue in a work of art. The gesture of placement, the overlaying of one work covering another, and the life and even mythology of its existence in the world, all become representative of what is, on the surface at least, a simple painting.
I find it is not uncommon when signifiant works are thrust upon you and burdened by the narrative of art history, to find a more organic inspiration from another work by an artist, in my case it is Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918). This is probably because I can appreciate a work on its own merits rather than via a historical context. It is also a non-representational painting that leaves no sense of scale, tone or depth (see fig. 2.). Although a great many of artists of that time were involved in constructivism, something Malevich opposed, retrospectively I am able to appreciate both ‘isms’ without the burden of presence.
The most obvious pictorial comparison I would see in Malevich’s work to mine is in the initial shadowgram technique I outlined within interior spaces back in A2. The imperfections in the abstractions are also relatable. The long gaze at a single point was for me a meditational exercise where I could respond to the transience of light and shadow within an image space. I guess we could conclude something similar to the metaphysical nature of Black Square. Since then my BoW has focused on the space around and in-between the abstract image, moving away from a strictly modernist approach and developing a contemporary relevance.
The difference between my work in interior spaces and the exterior is that the image space in the public realm contains a shadow of a recognisable object, particularly as my representational documentation shows the object the shadow is drawn from. In interior spaces, the play of light is a more abstract experience. In some ways the shadowgram in the interior space could also have a connection to Mark Rothko (1903–1970), another abstract painter. The longer the gaze is attached to the abstraction, the viewer can see anything and nothing.
Malevich compliments my earlier research posts on Agnes Martin and Lee Ufan who also sought to reject the representational image. He concludes for my BoW, research into a trilogy of abstract painters who span three generations of the 20th century. Between Martin’s use of the grid, Lee’s method of encounter and Malevich’s metaphysical aspect, there are potential links for me to reflect on within my own practice.
Spalding, F (2014) ‘Kazimir Malevich: the man who liberated painting’ In: The Guardian [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jul/04/kazimir-malevich-liberated-painting-tate (Accessed on 06.08.19)
Tate (no date) ‘Five Ways to Look at Malevich’s Black Square’ In: Tate [online] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/kazimir-malevich-1561/five-ways-look-malevichs-black-square (Accessed on 27.07.19).
Tate (2014) ‘Kazimir Malevich: Black Square’ In: Tate [online] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/kazimir-malevich-1561/kazimir-malevich-black-square (Accessed on 05.08.19).
List of illustrations
Figure 1. Malevich, K (1913) Black Square [Painting] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/kazimir-malevich-1561/five-ways-look-malevichs-black-square (Accessed on 17.09.18)
Figure 2. Malevich, K (1918) Suprematist Composition: White on White [Painting] At: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/80385 (Accessed on 06.08.19)