Art History Lab

The Rise of Suprematism: Redefining Art Through Pure Abstraction

Suprematism as an Art Form: The Emergence of a New Avant-Garde Movement

In the aftermath of the First World War, the world of art experienced a momentous shift that saw the emergence of a new avant-garde art movement known as Suprematism. This new art form was characterized by a break from traditional representation in art, as artists focused on the use of pure abstraction and basic geometric forms to convey strong emotions and feelings.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the origin and development of Suprematism as an art form and explore its impact on the world of art.

Suprematism as an Art Form

Suprematism was a radical art movement that emerged in the early 20th century, developed in Russia in 1915 by Kazimir Malevich. Suprematism was characterized by the use of fundamental geometrical shapes, such as square, triangle, and circle, painted in a variety of colors.

Suprematism was also known for its radical break with traditional representational art, which prioritized the depiction of real objects and the human form. Suprematism was, above all, an art of pure abstraction.

Artists associated with this movement saw themselves as pioneers of a new kind of art that conveyed pure feeling, emotion, and sensation. They believed that the basic geometric forms were symbols of the material world’s underlying order, and their use in art helped to reveal its deeper unity and harmony.

The concept behind Suprematism was one of pure spiritual expression; the emphasis was on the creation of what Malevich deemed the “supreme realities,” free from materialism and worldly concerns. This vision was reflected in Malevich’s 1915 artwork, “Black Square,” which was intended to represent the transcendence of materiality through pure abstraction.

The Birth of a New Art Style

Suprematism was a revolutionary art form that challenged traditional artistic conventions and paved the way for a new era of modern art. That said, it was not created in isolation, but rather emerged from the fertile cultural ground of the early 20th century.

The art movement was part of a broader cultural and intellectual movement that sought to redefine society’s ideals and values in the aftermath of World War I. Many avant-garde artists at this time believed that traditional artistic forms failed to capture the world’s dynamism and complexity, leading them to explore new abstract ways of representing reality.

Suprematism had a significant impact on other art forms, including architecture, graphic design, and even fashion. It inspired designers to experiment with geometric shapes and patterns, leading to the creation of a new visual language in art.

Origin of Suprematism

Suprematism was the result of a long artistic and intellectual development, born out of a complex set of social, political, and cultural factors. It was mainly developed in Russia in the early 20th century before spreading across the world.

Malevich’s early art is distinguished by his Cubist-inspired style that was typical of the European avant-garde at the time. However, he soon began to search for something more radical, less concerned with depicting real objects and more interested in pure abstraction.

Malevich found inspiration in the Russian icon painting of the 16th and 17th centuries. The iconographies of the saints and religious events were simplified into basic geometric shapes, which inspired Malevich to use these in his own art.

He believed that by using these shapes, he could create a new kind of art that could convey pure sensation and emotion, free from the constraints of the material world.

Development in Russia

The development of Suprematism in Russia was closely linked to the country’s political revolution of 1917. The new government initially welcomed the art form, hoping to benefit from its radical nature, but eventually, they found it too abstract and purist.

Suprematist artists faced increasing hostility from the authorities, leading to censorship of their work and distorting its development. In conclusion, Suprematism remains one of the most influential art movements of the 20th century.

It was a transformative moment that redefined the possibilities of art and paved the way for a new era of modernism. By encouraging artists to break free of traditional representational techniques and experiment with new visual languages, Suprematism created a powerful legacy that continues to inspire artists across the world.

Connection to the Revolution

Suprematism not only emerged during a time of political upheaval in Russia, but it was also thought to contest rules and control in the artistic realm. The artistic movement was not aligned with any specific political ideology, but its emergence came out of a desire to express the true perception of reality beyond political propaganda.

Artists associated with Suprematism believed that true feeling and perception could be expressed through the use of pure abstraction. Suprematists’ ideas were in line with the aims of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which sought to overthrow the corrupt political and economic systems that had created widespread poverty while protecting the elites.

In the same way that the Bolsheviks aimed to remove traditional power structures, Suprematists aimed to eliminate traditional artistic conventions. Through art, they hoped to convey their feelings of liberation, spirituality, and the truthfulness of creative expression.

The art form’s focus on perception and spirituality was not only politically relevant at the time but also provided a powerful tool to promote social change, making art one of the most important vehicles for political messaging in Russia at the time.


The Suprematist movement, despite its rejection of figurative motifs and narrative content in art, was associated with a mystic-shamanic worldview. Suprematism regarded abstract art as a means of achieving a more profound experience in which the viewer could access the spiritual realm.

This mystical approach was often reflected in the works’ titles, such as “White on White” and “Black and Gray Square.”

The emotional charge of these works is deeply mystical, as it aims to reach beyond the viewer’s conscious perception and evoke deeper feelings and sensations. To the Suprematists, the essence of art was to transcend the physical world, striving to depict the underlying forces that govern it.

The mystic origins of Suprematist art suggest that the movement intended to redefine the viewer’s relationship with the world and, through art, create a new way of encountering reality.

Development and Influence of Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich, one of the pioneers of the Suprematist movement, was instrumental in developing its principles and ideology. Malevich was a prominent member of the Russian avant-garde, and his works reflected a deep interest in abstract forms and geometry that had a profound influence on Suprematism.

In 1915, Malevich introduced the term ‘Suprematism,’ which he used to describe the art he promoted, characterizing it as the supremacy of pure feeling and perception in art. He was the first to use basic geometric shapes such as squares, circles, and triangles in his works.

Malevich’s most famous work, “Black Square,” epitomized the concepts of Suprematism with its simple shape and monochrome color. The work remains one of the most iconic and influential pieces of modern art to this day.

Influence of Cubism and Futurism

Suprematism was influenced by other art movements, particularly Cubism and Futurism, which had developed in Europe in the early 20th century. Malevich, in particular, was influenced by the French painter Georges Braque’s work characterized by a fragmented and deconstructed use of form, which influenced his “Suprematist Composition: Blue Rectangle Over Red Beam.”

The influence of Cubism is visible in the fragmentation and deconstruction of form, while the influence of Futurism can be seen in the emphasis on dynamism and movement.

Suprematists blended these influences with traditional imagery, such as Russian icons, folk art, and other traditional designs, resulting in a unique style that emphasized the use of basic geometric shapes and pure abstraction. Suprematism’s impact on European avant-garde was profound, and it paved the way for other modern art movements such as Constructivism in architecture and design, leading to the creation of a new visual language in art and design.

In conclusion, Suprematism was a revolutionary art movement that emerged during a time of political, social, and cultural upheaval and sought to encourage the expression of pure emotion and feeling through abstract art. Its influence on modern art is profound and still influences modern designers, architects, and painters to this day.

Suprematism’s use of basic geometric shapes and pure abstraction broke free from traditional representational techniques, creating a powerful legacy that continues to inspire artists around the world.

Three Phases of Suprematism

Suprematism is divided into three phases: the Black, Colored, and the White period. The Black period was the first stage in the Suprematist movement, characterized by the exploration of black, monochromatic compositions that represented the antithesis of art.

During this phrase, a series of paintings are created with black geometric shapes such as the iconic “Black Square” painting. In the Colored period, artists such as Kazimir Malevich experimented with different colors’ combinations and their effects on the viewer.

Color played a significant role as the works began to feature several brightly colored geometric shapes. The White period marked a return to a more stripped-down, minimal approach to Suprematist art.

The paintings were dominated by white backgrounds and showed a more rigid adherence to the basic geometric shapes, giving the art form a more architectural quality. Suprematist painters in each of these phases pushed the boundaries of geometric forms, moving beyond the square, the circle, and the triangle to create new, innovative designs.

Political Messages in Suprematist Artworks

The Suprematist movement had strong allegiances with communist and socialist ideologies, and many artists of the time wanted to create works that communicated radical social and political ideas. The artworks act as visual propaganda, with some artists incorporating slogans, images of workers, or allusions to political revolutions.

Some of the artists associated with Suprematism included John Heartfield and El Lissitzky, who used their art as an ideological weapon. El Lissitzky used Suprematism to create works that encouraged the use of art as a political weapon.

He also invented the concept of creating works that could reach a broader audience using the latest technology, such as photomontage or photolithography. This led him to create some of the most innovative designs of the Soviet Union, including ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge,’ which illustrates the Soviet Union’s military success over its adversaries.

Despite the political support that Suprematism received from the Bolshevik Government during its early years, the political landscape changed dramatically in the 1930s. Stalin declared that realistic artworks that supported realistic descriptions of life and that highlighted class struggle will be acceptable.

This heralded the decline of Suprematist art as it diverged from the political objectives of the prevailing government.

Legacy and Influence of Suprematism

Despite its relatively short existence, Suprematism’s influence on abstract art has been substantial. The art movement transformed the way modern artists viewed the world, emphasizing geometric shapes and pure abstraction as essential creative tools.

Suprematist ideas and designs continue to influence artists today, from painters to fashion designers. Suprematism’s emphasis on pure abstraction has profoundly influenced contemporary creativity in countless ways, from design and architecture to visual arts and even music.

For example, the famous American painter Frank Stella was heavily inspired by Suprematism’s minimalist approach, reducing his canvases to basic geometric forms.

Spread of Suprematism to the West

Suprematist ideas were prolific throughout Russia and Eastern Europe, and it eventually reached the West. The Suprematist movement’s influence on modernism cannot be overstated as it heralded a new way of thinking about abstract art that inspired other modernist movements.

Suprematist ideas inspired many other modern artists, including Piet Mondrian, Joan Miro, and Robert Delaunay. The movement’s optimistic spirit and utopian idealism influenced the development of modernism, lifting the artists above the pessimism and brutality of the First World War.

Suprematist art’s use of primary colors affected the impact of art and design of the 20th century, with its influence visible in architecture, fashion, advertising, and graphic design. In conclusion, the Suprematist movement’s influence has been both profound and widespread.

Its revolutionary principles, which challenged traditional artistic conventions, remain a subject of study and inspiration to contemporary artists today. Suprematism’s focus on pure abstraction and basic geometric shapes created a new visual language in art that transformed modernism and influenced art movements beyond its short existence.

The movement’s contribution to the development of art and design in the 20th century remains significant and continues to inspire creativity today. In conclusion, Suprematism emerged as a groundbreaking avant-garde art movement in the aftermath of World War I, defying traditional representation and emphasizing pure abstraction and basic geometric forms.

It went through three distinct phases, exploring different color palettes and compositions. Suprematism’s political messages were evident, aligning with communist and socialist ideologies.

Its influence extended beyond Russia, impacting modernism and inspiring artists worldwide. Suprematism’s legacy and continued influence on abstract art, design, and architecture remain profound.

Its emphasis on pure abstraction and geometric shapes revolutionized the art world, leaving an indelible mark on the history of modern and contemporary art.

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