December 3, 2009

From Painting to Hooked Rug: Kazimir Malevich

Plane in Rotation, Called Black Circle, 1915, oil on canvas, 31 1/8 x 31 1/8 inches

Suprematist Painting: Black Rectangle, Blue Triangle, 1915, oil on canvas, 22 1/2 x 26 1/8

During the years 1915-18, Kazimir Malevich painted remarkably radical paintings, that pared down the elements of art into pure geometry. There were other painters working with non-objective painting at this time––Mondrian and Kandinsky––but they hadn't taken their work this far. Malevich's was a philosophical art, which he called Suprematism, and described as "that end and beginning where sensations are uncovered, where art emerges 'as such' ". The "as such" brings us painting that confronts us with its fact, without referring to a reality beyond paint, shape, and color.

Suprematism (Self Portrait in Two Dimensions), 1915, oil on canvas, 31 1/2 x 24 3/8 inches

Suprematist Compostion: White on White, 1918, oil on canvas, 31 1/8 x 31 1/8 inches

I remember being thrilled by Malevich's Suprematist paintings when I saw them years ago in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (the photos of the works above were taken from a catalog of a show at the Guggenheim which I didn't get to see; the catalog, Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism, is terrific.) The thing that most surprised me was their surface: they are not cold thin works; the artist's hand is very much alive in them. We feel an intellectual clarity along with a sure aesthetic sense in these fairly small paintings. It's interesting to look at them alongside the Tantric drawings I wrote about in a previous post. They seem related in their minimal use of shape, but the motivations and ends are so different. However, I have similar emotional tugs towards all these works: a feeling of expanse, and, at the same time, depth.

So of course I wanted to honor Malevich with a ruglet. I found White on White fascinating in the subtlety of color and value, so made a diptych with pale values of yellow and blue, barely differentiated, barely showing us their shapes.
(please click on the image to see this work more clearly)

Pale Pair (for Malevich), 2007, hand dyed wool on linen, 2 pieces: 12 x 12 inches each


  1. 'pale pair' is so subtle that I imagine they look very different in different light situations - angle of the light, color of it as well as intensity. so it could be interesting to see several shots using a range of ambient lighting - although it's entirely possible that a camera would prove inadequate to this task.

  2. rapp, it's basically impossible to get a true experience of viewing an object by seeing a photo, no matter how good it is, don't you think?. But here we are, sharing things we couldn't before print, before cameras, before the computer. Even though it ain't perfect, it sure is wonderful.

    In this pair I used the directional hooking to highlight the color and shape change, so although the color is subtle, the shapes are clearly marked.

  3. I'm familiar with Malevich in theory, but not that familiar in fact — so thanks for sharing these images. The black and navy combo is wonderful and the white on white. Interesting to realize they have more depth and "hand." Certainly that's the case with your two ruglets. (And I have to say that, though it was nice to have your work put out to a wider audience via The Textile Blog, I think you do a better job of verbalizing ...

  4. Thank you for such an inspiring blog. I have really enjoyed looking at your images and reading your text here in the UK. The light tube paintings make me want to get out the tubes of paint and get back to it.

  5. thanks, Linda and Clare, for your complements. As for Malevich, his work is a good illustration of the problem of understanding a painting without seeing it in person.

  6. rather than getting a 'good' picture of Pale Pair I was wondering how it behaves as an object subjected to varied light throughout the day. with a painting we have a cultural understanding that optimal light is required, but objects are somehow relieved of this obligation, they live among us, sharing our cloudy days and dusks. simply, I wondered at what point the surface texture disappears and then how does it look?

  7. ahh, I see what you mean now, rappel. A painting is more fixed as to how it is seen, while an object has less intentionality visually. We allow the object to have more ambient moods. But with the ruglets, I don't think the idea of texture would ever fully leave, even in low light, because they are like relief sculpture in a way, and the forms of the hooked loops are always evident. (at least I think so.)

    Then there's the issue of how I myself visualize the object: I photograph it in what I consider to be "good light". So I've made a decision on optimal light, meaning I've internalized how I want the piece to be seen. It would be an art project in itself, I think, to photograph a piece during the changes of light of bright day and cloudy one, dawn, evening and night. An interesting idea, and something I might try during the quiet time of winter.

  8. The rugs and Malevich remind me of the play 'Art' by Yasmina Reza which I've seen twice - about an apparently completely white canvas, and a painting, apparently completely black, by Rothko I saw at the Jewish Museum this year. The longer you stare, the more colors you see - and I wondered about the wealth of color our eyes don't detect in the dark, like sounds human ears can't hear. By the way, in the Wall Street Journal today Lance Esplund reviews a Gerhard Richter exhibition in NY; he (not I!) considers him overrated but there's a photo '25 Colors' you may enjoy, squares and rectangles but pleasing and more subtle than it appears at first. It's at the Marian Goodman Gallery until Jan 9 2010.