Musings on the Malevich Show at Tate Modern




Amongst Malevich’s early paintings in the Tate show there are delightful little  ink and watercolour paintings of houses, Flaneurs and boats. Known primarily for his Black Square this exhibition is a revelation.  His early work seems to be an eclectic mix of styles revealing influences of Matisse, Lautrec and other French painters, a touch of Pointillism and Bather 1911 has suggestions of the Fauves in its vibrant colours. And Fernand Leger in the The Scyther. Rooms two and three take you on a fascinating journey through cubism with Russian roots and rural subjects to Marinetti’s Futurism.  Morning in the Village after snowstorm is a lyrical soft edged face of cubism, with swirling snow drifts and a sea of houses, figures with elongated shadows on a pale ground. The drawings too are magical, lovely complex tiny cubist works in pencil on paper.  Small because apparently paper was very expensive in Russia at that time.  And so the the Black Square 2015 with its still heart-stopping white which is very beautiful, Lead White I wonder,  and its now craquelured central black square with its tiny webs of lines, wrinkles on a much loved ancient face.  Then the tumbling fat lines and straight edged shapes of the Suprematist work, still vibrant colours and occasional curves and circles.

Dynamic Suprematism 1915 or 1916 by Kazimir Malevich 1879-1935


Dynamic Suprematism / Supremus 1916 – 17, which I loved had a wonderful sense of stillness despite the slashing, destabilising diagonals and detached, leaning, falling shapes and strips.  The pale dissolution paintings in room eight, labelled the End of Painting are very beautiful, light and edge dissolving, folding in on itself and disappearing, soft-edged and fading into a state of non-existence.  Room ten contained drawing after drawing, some of them studies for paintings. In the  little cubist Horse Drawn Carriage in Motion, 1913, you can see the wheels rotating and in Suprematist Construction no. 118, 1920, the weave of the paper shows through the crayon in a way similar to the slub of the canvas showing though the whites on some of the white on white dissolving paintings.  The final paintings are poignant and have references to Renaissance painting.  The Portrait of Nicolai Punin was reminiscent of Bellini.  Signing these works with a small black square it is obvious that he was still rebelling against the need to make paintings which were not seen as decadent.  Small and symbolic in these last works his black square was destined to become both mythic iconic in its future.



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