This book is essentially a theoretical and visual textbook of Suprematism, an abstract style based on simple geometric shapes against a white background that Malevich pioneered in 1915. These reductive geometries seem to be the product of extremely rational thinking, but Malevich’s writings confirm that ultimately he was seeking a strong spiritual feeling. Describing a painting he had made of a black square, he said, “The square equals feeling, the white background equals nothingness.”
Gallery label from Geo/Metric: Prints and Drawings from the Collection, June 11–August 18, 2008.
A member of the Russian Futurist group active in the early teens, Kazimir Malevich participated in numerous exhibitions, contributed to artists manifestos, designed theater sets and costumes, and collaborated with other artists, including Natalia Goncharova and Olga Rozanova, on the design and illustration of lithographed books. Between 1913 and 1930, he made more than eighty editioned works, many intended for book projects and primarily executed in lithography. Malevich’s early style drew on a variety of native sources, including the lubok (inexpensive, popular prints), folk images and icons, as well as the Western European movements of Cubism and Futurism. In 1915 he exhibited the first works of Suprematism, an abstract style of painting that he pioneered, comprised of colored geometric forms on white backgrounds.
As a supporter of the 1917 Revolution, Malevich sought ways to integrate art with utilitarian forms and practical functions through his group UNOVIS (Affirmers of the New Art). His Suprematist designs were used in applied-arts projects, and even in decorations for the streets of Vitebsk. In 1918 his design for the program of an important state-sponsored conference on peasant poverty, held on the first anniversary of the October Revolution, won first prize. Malevich’s Suprematist cover for the publication declares: “Proletarians of all Nations, Unite!”
In 1920, while Director of the Vitebsk Art Institute, Malevich created Suprematism: 34 Drawings, which essentially served as a theoretical and visual textbook of Suprematism. In addition to a hand-lettered introduction, the book contains lithographs that comprise a visual survey of basic geometric elements and ways in which they could be combined. It is thought that the printing was executed by El Lissitzky, who had earlier been appointed by Marc Chagall to head the Institute’s lithography workshop.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004.