Kasimir Malevich, founder and leading artist of the Suprematist movement, was a leader and pioneer of abstract art, and is considered one of Russia's best-known modern painters.
Kasimir Malevich was born on February 11, 1878 in Kiev, one of six children, to Russified Poles. The family moved to Parhomovka in about 1890, where young Kasimir did his schooling. He became fascinated with art and took a keen interest in watching the town peasants paint.
In 1896, the family moved to Kursk, where his father began to work in a railroad management office as a clerk. Kasimir made friends with some artists in his father’s circle of friends, and began to paint in an Impressionist style.
Working as a railroad clerk, the aspiring artist put all his efforts and money into funding a move to Moscow. From 1906, he studied in the studio of F. I. Rerberg, who helped prepare his students for the entry exams at the Moscow College. Painting in a Post-Impressionist manner, he experimented with various Modernist styles, and participated in avant-garde exhibitions such as those of the Moscow Artists’ Association. During this time, Kasimir Malevich met and married Sophia Mikhailovna Rafalovich.
In 1912, he participated in the exhibition 'Donkey's Tail' that showcased many works, including his Primitivist paintings of peasants. The same year, works such as ‘Woman with Buckets and Child’, ‘Harvester’, ‘Scythe-Man’ and ‘Head of a Peasant’ were displayed in the fifth exhibition of the Union of Youth in St. Petersburg.
Kasimir launched the Suprematism style of art in 1913 with his painting of a black square on a white ground. Painting in a pure non-objective style was aimed at freeing art from the burden of the object. A noteworthy example of this style would be the popular ‘White on White’ (1918).
‘Private of the First Division’ (1914) was one of the artist’s first attempts to convey the Russian Revolution in his Suprematic painting style. A thermometer introduces the idea of illness and war, while the soldier’s eyes and mouth have been replaced by a military cross and the number eight. It implies that the soldier has been consumed by the ideology of war.
Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Kasimir Malevich taught at the Vitebsk Popular Art School. His classes consisted of writing, and making three-dimensional models that later played an important role in the development of Constructivism. He was given a solo show at the Sixteenth State Exhibition in Moscow, which focused on Suprematism and other non-objective styles. Kasimir Malevich, together with his students at Vitebsk, formed the Suprematist art group ‘Unovis’.
Modern artists endured much criticism in 1925 when the Soviet Government began to pressure them into focusing on social-realistic scenes that would glorify the Communist revolution. Under the political pressure, Kasimir returned to figurative painting, but also managed to publish a book that explained his art entitled, ‘The Nonobjective World’.
Kasimir Malevich exhibited his works in Germany, a place more receptive to his style of art. However, his ties to German artists would later come back to haunt him as he was arrested in 1930. Disgraced and labeled a degenerate, Kasimir’s works would no longer be shown to the public. The talented artist died in poverty and oblivion on May 15, 1935, in Leningrad.