Kazimir Malevich | Liubov Popova | Olga Rozanova

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Kazimir Malevich 1878 - 1935

Malevich was a Soviet artist, who spent most of his career in the Soviet Union. Despite this, he was not Russian. He came from a Polish family, and most of the large Malevich clan that still survives today lives in either Poland or the Ukraine, and regards themselves as Polish. However, like his great Ukrainian contemporary Vladimir Tatlin, he did most of his work in Russian cities.

Malevich's career do not reflect a single, logical progression. He was always experimenting with new styles. These styles often had the most tenuous links with what had gone before. The styles do not "intergrade": there do not exist paintings that are intermediate between one style and another. Instead, the styles of the paintings abruptly change. This is different from a painter like Mondrian, for instance: after Mondrian discovered cubism in 1912, his entire career shows a continuously evolving style, where one painting is a logical successor to the next, pushing its insights further. Malevich was vastly more eclectic. His work can thus seem less "sincere" than Mondrian. It does not always seem to be the product of an internal compulsion, but seems more like a conscious response to an external stimulus. However, Malevich's paintings show considerable powers of invention, as well. They might not always be deeply personal, but they are the product of a lively mind.

Striped Landscapes circa 1904

The Striped Landscapes are really unusual works. I have only seen two of them, and presumably Malevich only worked in this style very briefly. They are completely different from any other style of painting known to me. They are perhaps closest to the optical experiments done by French artists, such as Impressionism, Pointillism, etc. These experiments were based on optical theories, suggesting that unusual dots or blotches of color on the canvas would meld and blend in the eye to create more interesting or more realistic images than would conventional painting. At least, that was their rationale, although one suspects the artists eventually became enamored of the approaches for the sake of the color patterns on the canvas. Malevich was apparently experimenting with something fairly related. Here it is multi-colored stripes on every surface that make up the image.

Symbolist Paintings 1907 - 1908

These often tend to be watercolors, with a strong use of drawn in or penciled line. Malevich's Self Portrait (1907) oil painting also belongs in this period. The drawing technique is similar to caricature. However, it is not used to make fun of the people in the pictures, but to quickly sketch them in and convey their personality. The paintings are full of trees, symbolically represented by curling lines and branches.

Romantic images are prominent here: the only romantic images prominent in Malevich's work. Watercolors on romantic subjects include The Wedding (c1907) and Erotic Motif (c1908). Already, the use of broad flat regions of bright primary color in The Wedding anticipates Malevich's Suprematist work to come. So too a degree does the composition: the use of many overlapping, parallel male figures suggests the parallel rectangles of the Suprematist years. However, Malevich's Symbolist paintings are full of curving lines. This is almost the direct opposite of his Suprematist work, that tended to emphasize rectangles.

One of the best of the Symbolist paintings is The Nymphs (1908). This work is almost in the tradition of fairy painting that was so popular in the Nineteenth Century. Malevich's canvases differ from many Symbolist works in that they tend to deal with happy experiences. Many of Malevich's Symbolist paintings could be interpreted as fertility symbols, for example, Woman Giving Birth (1908).

Folk Paintings 1910 - 1911

Most modern artists started out by producing work in some relatively "conventional style". For Mondrian, it was a rather subdued, realistic Dutch landscape tradition; for Matisse, it was a realistic French look at charming scenes of upper middle class life. Malevich's early work is much less conventional than either of these artists. Instead, it shows the influence of the fake Russian "folk art" that was so popular among Russian painters at the turn of the century. These tend to be paintings of peasants and folk traditions, done in a brilliant color and with considerable stylization and abstraction. There is much emphasis in these works on traditional peasant costumes. Many of the painters that went on to be set and costume designers for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes came out of this tradition, for example, and in fact many of them never left it. One can see Marc Chagall's brightly colored paintings of traditional Jewish life as also related to this tradition. The painters of this school were not "naive", although their subject matter often was. Instead, they were serious, "high" artists, self consciously producing work at what they hoped was the cutting edge of European art painting. The considerable stylization of these paintings linked them to modernist traditions. So did their brilliant, non naturalistic colors.

The school seems related to the earlier schools of painters that derived from Gauguin, such as the Nabis, the Fauves, and many early German Expressionists. Gauguin and the Nabis painted stylized pictures of peasants in Brittany that definitely anticipated those of the Russian painters. However, the shapes of the figures in the Russian paintings do not tend to share the rounded, curving lines of Gauguin and his followers.

The truncated cone pictures: Cubo-Futurism 1912 - 1913

Malevich kept on painting folk subjects, but he began treating them in a highly abstract manner, influenced by both Cubism and its Italian offshoot, Futurism. In these pictures of Malevich's, nearly everything is built up out of pure geometric shapes, typically truncated cones.

One of the last Cubo-Futurist works, and maybe the best, is The Knife Grinder. This painting shows not a fixed scene, but movement in the manner of Duchamp and some Futurists. This makes it more complex than earlier Malevich paintings. He has also developed a complex background out of abstract shapes. These too show the regularly repeating forms of the "figure in motion" portions of the painting. This is perhaps a bit odd, because one doubts that it is intended to represent anything in motion. Instead, it forms an abstract echo, using the same sort of design as the "repeated figure" parts of the painting. The background and the figure go well together - both are made up out of repeated parts - and form a pleasing visual echo. And the abstract background is beautiful in its own right. Still, this is an unusual figure of style.

Cubo-Futurism: The Portraits

Most of the Cubo-Futurist works show figures in a landscape. However, two of them are different: they are facial portraits. The faces here are modeled from the same truncated cones as the landscape studies.

Head of a Peasant Girl (1913) is especially unusual. In some ways, it belongs with the experimental "Advanced Cubist" paintings to come. Like them, it is a one time experiment using cubist ideas. But it also shares, to a degree, the truncated cone shapes of Malevich's Cubo-Futurist works, unlike the largely flat elements that make up many of the Advanced Cubist works. The truncated cone shapes here are different, however. In Malevich's Cubo-Futurist works, they seem very solid, and are modeled as 3d shapes, rounded and heavy. In Head of a Peasant Girl, the tops (cross sections) of some of the cones are missing, and one can see inside to their hollow interiors. The effect is of a series of conically rolled up sheets of paper. This approach is very similar to some of Juan Gris' paintings, such as his Still Life (1911) showing a bottle and glasses, made up of similar open conical surfaces. The modeling of light and the texture of the surfaces in Malevich also recall Gris' work. So does the way in which the cones are built piggy back on top of each other, in order to build up surfaces, instead of side by side in Malevich's Cubo-Futurist works. Malevich's painting is less mathematically regular than Gris' work, and the surface shapes built up, that of a person's face, and far more irregular and complex that Gris' bottles and glasses.

The Advanced Cubist paintings 1913 - 1914

Malevich's 1913-1914 works are all related to advanced kinds of cubism. However, hardly any two of them seem to gave the same kind of ground plan or game rules. Each seems to be built up using a different paradigm of design. Malevich seems to been in a furious period of experimentation, relentlessly trying out different ideas. The pot of his creativity was soon to boil over into Suprematism, a very different style. The paintings of these years are all quite beautiful, as well. They were Malevich's last fling with cubism, and show an imagination and creativity that reflects a man who deeply understands his medium.

An Englishman in Moscow (1914) is one of the classic paintings of this era. It is made up of a combination of a portrait of a man, together with various symbolic objects such as a candle and a fish. The objects all just float together in space. Their arrangement follows the typical arrangement of the fractured planes of a cubist composition. So at first glance, it looks typically "cubist". However, the objects in the painting are whole objects, painted with some realism, not the fractured bits and pieces of most cubist works. It is hard to say if such a painting should be called cubist or not. Malevich also includes painted words in his composition; they remind one of the newspaper headlines that Picasso often included in his collages.

Malevich could have spent his entire career turning out art works using the same approach as An Englishman in Moscow. Instead, as far as I know, this is his only work showing this basic architecture. Other artists might have turned this into an entire period, at least. I don't know what to say about this. In some ways I'm just impressed by Malevich's creativity. In other ways, one wishes he had developed these ideas still further, rather that just making a single image out of them.

Almost as unusual is Woman Before an Advertisement Column (1914). Here, almost the entire surface of the painting in a collage of rectangles. Most are oriented more or less parallel with the frame of the painting, although they are all slightly at an angle; the rigid grid structure of Mondrian and De Stijl is not present here. A few of the rectangles are tilted at 45 degrees, to give a diamond effect. The rectangles as a whole seem to be arranged in a diamond shaped composition, with individual rectangles often being arranged in step like sequences along the edge of the composition's diamond. There are a number of curves and circles as well, especially in the lower right corner, balancing a set of smaller curves in the upper left corner; the other two corners are more purely rectilinear. A white region at the center seems to be painted in a more purely cubist style, with curves and three dimensional shapes and effect. Malevich uses a wonderful color scheme of pinks, purple, beige and pale blues. The whole image is largely a kind of abstract art, although the collage still has a cubist feel to it. Advertisement columns tend to be full of rectangles plastered over their surfaces, so Malevich's rectangle collage can be considered evocative of such a column. This means the image is not entirely abstract, but instead is intended to evoke a real life object. Still, this is very close to pure abstraction. It is notable that Malevich's picture is based on rectangles, like his later Suprematist work, and not on triangles, like so much of the work of his Russian Cubist contemporaries, such as Popova.

At many stages of his career, Malevich seems to have produced quite a few drawings. The ones done in preparation for his advanced cubist works are especially interesting. Although they are early versions of oil paintings, they tend to be very different in design from the later works. The composition in them tends to be freer. The oil paintings often tend to be made up out of rectangular regions, whereas the drawings can have more triangles. The drawings tend to have more sketches of real objects in them. These sketches, and the imaginative, free form linking lines with which Malevich connects them, tend to make the drawings almost doodle like. There is a sense of spontaneity and fun to them. There is also a rich cubist imagination to them.

Also unusual is an almost abstract cubist lithograph Malevich contributed as an illustration to the publication Troe. This work is in black and white, like the drawings, and is even more free and exuberant. It is a rhapsody on triangles, with many planar surfaces in the form of triangles and quadrilaterals intersecting with each other and what look like curved sheets of paper, the unbroken scrolling kind that used to come out of computer printers. The intersecting surfaces remind one a little bit of Popova's later Architectonic Paintings, although Malevich's sharp angles and swirling intersections seem more playful and less serious that Popova's work.

Suprematism 1915 - 1920

In 1915, Malevich suddenly veered into abstraction. He called his approach Suprematism. This referred to the "supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts". Like many early abstract painters, Malevich was influenced by religious ideas. Kandinsky and Mondrian were followers of Theosophy. These abstract paintings were supposed to be pictures of spiritual states.

This approach has proved endlessly controversial. Many academic critics are Marxists, and hate religion. They have simply suppressed this whole point of view from discussions of modern art.

Suprematism only lasted six years. This made it a fairly uniform style. It is instantly recognizable, and associable with Malevich. Suprematism differed from Mondrian's style in that it did not arrange its geometric figures into a grid. Instead, they are spread out all over the canvas on a riot of different angles. Malevich's colors, while typically bright, were infinitely more varied than the primary colors used by Mondrian.

The rectangles in Suprematist compositions are often piled on one another. The effect is of a building, with different floors and wings stretching out. The sculptures Malevich did later extend this imagery, being even more building like, and in 3D. In the paintings, the rectangles move in all directions, unlike buildings, which tend to be limited by gravity, and by the practical needs of their occupants. Yet the principles are the same, and the paintings look like a series of geometric forms that extend the sort of patterns we see in buildings.

Suprematism and other Art Movements

There is a big gap between Malevich's advanced cubist work, and his abstraction. This is not true of several other modern artists. Mondrian's geometric abstract work proceeded by logical steps from his similarly geometric cubist work. Vladimir Tatlin's abstract reliefs are slightly modified abstract versions of Picasso's cubist reliefs. And Marcel Duchamp's cubist inspired paintings of bodies in motion, such as the famous Nude Descending a Staircase, are full of abstracted body parts such as legs and arms in furious accumulation. It is just a step from here to the biomorphic abstraction that he and his Dada colleagues would soon be doing.

By contrast, Malevich's Suprematist work seems to come out of nowhere. It is plainly inspired by abstract art that other artists were creating, not his or anyone else's cubist work.

Suprematism was a subset of the Russian movement that made abstract art out of purely geometric figures, such as rectangles, triangles, lines and circles. This movement also included Constructivism, which I have often loosely used as a name for the whole school. Such a geometric approach was in fact popular everywhere in Northern Europe, in a region that stretched from Belgium and Holland in the West, through Germany and Czechoslovakia, and on to Russia. This approach never became as popular in France, Spain, and other Mediterranean countries, where abstract artists tended instead to favor irregularly curving forms that recalled organic forms and the shapes of body parts. This was known as "biomorphic" abstraction, from Greek words meaning life (bio) and form (morph). English and American artists sometimes used Constructivism, but they were more frequently drawn to biomorphism. The same geographic line was generally drawn between Modernist architecture of the Bauhaus (Belgium to Russia) and Art Deco (Mediterranean and English speaking countries).

One might note that Malevich was an admirer of both Mondrian, and the Modernist school of architecture, viewing Suprematism as related to their work. Most art historians would agree!

The White on White Suprematist Paintings

Towards 1918 Malevich moved to a series of Suprematist paintings in which the forms were all white. The tilted square of White on White conveys a sense of movement. It seems to be tipping over or falling. It is inserted in the larger white rectangle of the canvas as a whole. This is Malevich's simplest possible composition in Suprematist mode: one rectangle based on top of another.

I have shown books of Malevich's art to people, and White on White (c1918) never ceases to attract attention. There is something about the painting which seems to startle and interest people. It shows up in art history books, too, the way Malevich's other work does not. This might also be because it is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and paintings there tend to be familiar to American art historians.

The two colors of white in the picture are also interesting. It is hard to tell which is a purer white, or which is "real" white. This too can make one contemplate. Malevich's later "architecture" sculptures seem to be made up of white rectilinear solids. This is similar to the white squares of White on White.

The reader can see here that I do not know what the "meaning" White on White of is. I can relate it his previous Suprematist work, seeing it as a minimalist, logical extension of their principles, the ultimate reduction of Suprematism to its simplest components. And I can see White on White as a basis of the all white Architectonics sculptures to come. But this is not to say I know the meaning of the painting in and of itself.

Some critics have scene the pure whites of this painting as representing spiritual ideals, a vision of purity.

Malevich's tombstone is of a square within a square, but it is different from White on White. The inner square is recessed in 3D, an extremely unusual effect in tombstones, and the inner square is not tilted, unlike the flat tilted square of White on White. There are several squares in prominent positions in Malevich's paintings; some critics have suggested that they are images of 4 Dimensional cubes. Malevich was deeply interested in the fourth dimension, and frequently tried to evoke it in his art.

Architectonics 1923 - 1928

These were sculptures showing imaginary buildings. They are all white, and made up out of rectilinear forms. I have seen several old photographs of them, presumably from around 1928, but no contemporary images of them in museums. One wonders if these have actually survived, or whether the photographic record is unique. The loss of the original here might be less important is a good photograph survives: the sculptures seem to be pure shape, and one suspects that computer programs could scan the photos and recreate the sculptures. Still, the photos are probably just a random sample of the works Malevich actually created in this mode.

The Belgian Georges Vantongerloo, associated with Mondrian and others in the De Stijl movement, created rectilinear sculptures during W.W.I, from 1918 on, long before Malevich. Vantongerloo's sculptures often looked much less building like than Malevich's. The Vantongerloo sculpture closest to Malevich's later work is Construction of Volume Relations (1919). It is all white, like Malevich's, and was explicitly compared to building designs by De Stijl architect J. J. P. Oud by Theo Van Doesburg when he published pictures of it in De Stijl magazine in 1920. Van Doesburg was right: this sculpture does indeed have much in common with Oud's architecture. Malevich could have gotten ideas for his work from such photographs.

Malevich's sculptures tended to have one large rectangle and many smaller rectangles moving off it, like wings and terraces of a building. Vantongerloo's solids tended to be squarer, and of a more uniform thickness throughout the sculpture. They also can have holes and hollows within them, something I have never seen in Malevich's work.

Malevich's Architecton: Alpha (1923) is very similar in style to a 3D version of a Suprematist painting. There are large rectilinear shapes, with progressively smaller rectangles built up on them in a series, just as in his paintings. The building also has a number of horizontal planes attached to it. These remind one of the horizontal flanges to come in Art Deco buildings, especially the Moderne style; these flanges often are said to look "nautical". These horizontal planes are also 3D equivalents of the line segments on Malevich's paintings. Just as the rectangles in Malevich's planes are often balanced against straight lines, giving a rich and complex composition, so are his 3D rectangular shapes embellished with thin planar surfaces.

Architecton: Alpha (1923) is low and spread out, like the styles we today associate with a suburban house, or a rather small suburban office building, the kind that might hold lawyers and accountants. Architecton: Gota (1923?) is tall, like the big office buildings and proto-skyscrapers of the Chicago school. The building is covered with columnar extensions, reminding one of the columnar facades in Art Deco skyscrapers to come. In Art Deco these are often balanced, using the "rule of three". Malevich uses an opposite effect: the biggest column is toward the left hand side, with the smaller columns nestled in its right hand corner angle. Still smaller columns can appear in its corner angle, and so on. The ever decreasing in size columns multiply in rhythmic progression. The rhythmic effect is very satisfying. These are the first recursive features I know of in Malevich's work. This sculpture is closer in style to existing architecture, and less similar to Malevich's Suprematist work. It is made up of purely rectangular regions, however, in the Suprematist style. The rectangles in the sculpture are completely varied in dimension; hardly any two are of the same height. This variety is also a trademark of Malevich's work.

A Return to Cubo-Futurism 1927 - 1929

Malevich did a few pictures in the old style of Cubo-Futurism. The backgrounds are different here, however: they tend to show more of the striped line landscapes of Malevich's later work.

Symbolic Sketches 1928 - 1930

Malevich did a large number of works, both drawings and oil paintings, in a style I have labeled Symbolic Sketches. The paintings are certainly symbolic. Many are full of crosses, shown both as a religious symbol, and as a symbol of suffering humanity. This double meaning in standard in Christianity itself: the Cross has always stood for the unmerited suffering of the innocent. In one striking sketch, Head (c1930), the cross is shown as a human face: the cross bar forms the eyes, the long downward bar the nose. This is a remarkable identification of the Cross with the human image.

These images are also sketch like. Many are simple drawings, often outlines of the sort one would find in a newspaper cartoon. The oil paintings have a sketchy look themselves. They are drawn with a few rough brush strokes, and the figures are often misshapen and contorted, both in the style of caricatures, and as images of suffering humanity. Douglas points out these works have a political meaning: many concern themselves with the suffering of peasants, then under the scourge of the Communist's forced collectivization.

Impressionism ?1930

Malevich did several works in the style of Impressionism.

Asymmetric Figures ?1930 - 1932

Malevich did a series of paintings of figures in this era. The figures are extremely schematic. They are made up of nearly abstract regions of color, and Malevich aptly linked them to his Suprematist work. The only one of these reproduced in color in Douglas' book is The Athletes, but many other are shown in a photograph of Malevich's 1932 exhibit. The figures are beautiful and healthy looking, unlike the distressed peasants of his symbolic sketches. They wear brightly colored clothes. The clothes are asymmetrically colored: they are split down the middle, like a medieval harlequin, and the left and right hand sides are colored differently. This enables Malevich to produce a rich set of color patterns. Even the heads of these figures are divided into two regions of different color. The figures themselves and their clothes are symmetric; only the colors on the two halves are different. One can find a little asymmetry in the clothes: a collar that is different on one side, for example.

Malevich varies the color schemes in one figure, so that on one side the top and pants have the same color as each other, and on the other side different colors from each other. There are several such matching combinations, each with a different pattern of clothes items involved, such as tops, shorts or pants. It is almost as if Malevich is exploring different permutations of matching. Items that match in color tend be contiguous, and hence flow from one region to the next, in Malevich's scheme.

Renaissance Portraits 1933

Impressionism was not the only academic style Malevich took up in his later years. He also did portraits in the style of the late 15th Century Renaissance. These figures tend to be shown wearing clothes with large expanses of pure color; these color patterns link them to the Asymmetrical Figures of Malevich's previous work.

Recommended Reading

Camilla Gray The Russian Experiment in Art 1863 - 1922 (1962) General history of the Russian avant-garde.

Charlotte Douglas Kazimir Malevich (1994) Richly illustrated monograph. The best single source of information on the artist.

Twentieth Century Art Museum Ludwig Cologne (1996) Illustrated catalogue with much about the Russian avant-garde.

Paul Overy De Stijl (1991) Thorough guide to the fascinating Dutch movement that pioneered modern architecture.

Sam Hunter and John Jacobus Modern Art (1992) Contains color illustrations of several works not found elsewhere.

The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890 - 1985 (1986) Exhibition catalogue about ties between mysticism and abstract art.


Liubov Popova 1889 - 1924

Liubov Popova's work went through a series of periods and styles.

Cubist Still Life Paintings 1914 - 1915

These cubist paintings tended to have bright primary colors: red, blue, green, yellow, as well as much pure white and black. This color scheme recalls such works by Marc Chagall as I and the Village (1911). The color scheme also anticipates the 1960's films of Jean-Luc Godard. The heavy use of green immediately distinguishes it from the later work of Mondrian and De Stijl, who tended to restrict themselves to blue, red and yellow, as well as black and white.

Popova's compositional schemes could be full of triangles. In The Traveler (1915), the triangles tend to be narrow, fairly isosceles, and oriented vertically, so their peak is towards the top of the canvas, and their lower edge nearer to the bottom, and fairly parallel with it. This lower edge is often a semi-circular arc. This gives the triangle the effect of a narrow cone.

The paintings are full of words, in the cubist tradition. Sometimes these are in Russian, but two of her best known paintings are full of Italian phrases, written with the standard Latin alphabet used in Western Europe.

Seated Figures 1913 - 1915

This series of paintings is also cubist in origin, but quite unconventionally so. They show a person seated in chairs. The parts of their bodies such as legs and arms are highly geometrized. Unlike the cubist still life paintings, in which everything tends to be flat and planar, in these figure studies the forms are 3D: cones, cylinders, and 3D figures with straight edges. The edges of the straight-edged shapes are not parallel to each other; they tend to be the 3D equivalents of trapezoids, not rectangles.

Looking at two different versions of the Seated Figure is a startling experience in "compare and contrast". In the first place, Popova has left most of the composition of the figure from geometric forms the same; the same is true for most of the geometric forms in the background. However, many have changed in small to large ways. It is almost like one of those "spot the differences" puzzles in which the basic topology of two pictures is identical, but in which there are many small differences. There are changes in scale; changes in position, for example of the lamp over head, and the drapes on the left; changes in treatment of shapes: a solid cylinder in the background of one becomes an open cylinder in the other.

Secondly, the modeling of nearly everything has changed. Popova uses color schemes for her light modeling. Picture #1 (now in Cologne) uses day time lighting, and many shades of brown, gold, yellow and white on the figure for modeling. Picture #2 (now in St. Petersburg), has night time, two tone modeling, and white mixed with a darker brownish gold. The modeling has been completely rethought from the ground up. It makes the figure look like it is sitting in darkness, with a bright light shining on it. All the geometry of the modeling has been re-thought through. The highlights are in the same spots, mainly, but they have subtly different geometric shapes. This change of shape seems to interest Popova as much as the over all effect of the modeling. She is a highly geometry painter, and this transformation of the geometry of the modeling is clearly fascinating to her. Since the modeling is done by pure geometry, the geometric patterns are highly visible to the viewer, and a conspicuous part of the painting's geometric composition.

Painted Reliefs 1915 - 1916

These are reliefs, but painted in such intense brilliant colors that they seem more like paintings than sculpture. The surfaces are full of rolled surfaces, either cylindrical or conical. There are also humps, where the surface goes up then down. There is little empty space: nearly every square inch of the relief seems to be covered by some curved brightly colored surface. Popova shows much variety in the radius of curvature of the relief segments: some are gently curved, others are tight cones or arcs. They are as complex in their geometry as the reliefs of Tatlin.

The reliefs tend to have much white shading. A surface on the painting will be half painted in one of Popova's favorite bright colors. The other half of the surface will be white. The effect is of a light highlight on the surface: it has both bright white and colored regions. The two gently intergrade into each other, like a traditional lighting or modeling effect in painting.

Painting schemes in the reliefs tend to cross surfaces. A straight line or curve will persist across several different surfaces. The line sometimes has the same colors moving across surfaces too; or sometimes, the line persists, but the colors on the two sides of the line vary from surface to surface that contain the line. This makes for a complex counterpointing effect: how the work is broken up into geometric relief surfaces overlaps and contrasts with how it is turned into regions of colored paint.

I do not recall these sorts of painting effects in the reliefs of Tatlin I have seen, although admittedly all too few survive. Tatlin tends to be more interested in contrasting surface textures of his objects. He tends to use plain or natural colors of his varied materials, whereas Popova tends to use the bright colors and whites of her cubist still lifes.

Architectonic Paintings 1917 - 1920

Unlike the later sculptures that Malevich referred to as "architectonic", these were paintings. They showed tilted plane segments, each one of some pure color. The segments tend to be polygons, such as quadrilaterals or pentagons. There are typically no curves; every planar segment is flat, although they are tilted in different directions. The planes intersect each other. The intersection was often shown by flanges of one plane segment sticking up past another or directly through each other. As in Popova's reliefs there is little open space: the plane segments largely fill the field of vision.

These paintings have a strong 3D quality. The effect is of a group of rectangles floating in space. The rectangles tend to overlap. They look almost like a platform that a human being could walk around on. They give an image of an architectural construction in space, one that is stable, strong, well built, and being held together by some futuristic force. There seems to be a Suprematist influence here. Popova's rectangles are much larger than Malevich's. They seem to be seen close-up, and in an overlapping way not present in Malevich. Despite this difference in geometry, the architectonic paintings look as if they are made up out of the basic materials of Suprematism, transformed.

One of the first of the architectonic paintings is somewhat different in structure. This 1917 work is not 3D: all of the regions seem to be part of a single plane, as in one of Malevich's Suprematist works. In addition, one of the polygonal regions has a curved border. The circular border is curved inward to the region, and recalls the many borders of cones in Popova's previous works.


Olga Rozanova 1886 - 1918

Olga Vladimirovna Rozanova was a Russian artist. Her name has also been transliterated as "Rosanova", with an s instead of a z.

Cubist Paintings 1913 - 1915

Like many Russian artists, Rozanova went through a cubist phase. Her pictures are composed of strong straight lines, frequently making triangles, with equally pronounced circular arcs. The straight lines and triangles are pointing in all directions; their angles often seem to be pointing at the center of the picture. It gives a strong dramatic look to the composition. The triangles all seem to be slashing lines, invading the picture from the borders, and trying to reach the center.

The circular arcs tend to be large, semicircles or greater, although they range from quarter circles to full circles. They tend to be oriented to the Northeast, upper right corner direction of the frame. Their fairly vertical orientation contrasts with those of Popova, whose semi-circles tend to have a horizontal orientation (although their are Popova paintings such as The Violin, in which the circular arcs are in all directions).

Abstract Compositions 1916

Rozanova's abstract compositions seem influenced by Malevich's Suprematism. They show flat, polygonal regions, brightly colored and floating in space. Rozanova agglutinates her rectangles and other regions, till they form large polygonal regions with jagged boundaries. The rectangles tend to decrease in size throughout their series, as in Malevich. But they do not form "nested" series as in Malevich, where one rectangle's borders are contained in a region parallel to the previous rectangle's. Instead, the rectangles move back and forth, creating jagged patterns. The size progression of the rectangles is not as drastic, either, allowing for the generation of more overlap and extension.

Collages 1916

Rozanova's hand produced book, The Universal War (1916), contains twelve abstract collages as illustrations. These involve brightly colored polygonal shapes, arranged in geometric patterns. The irregular jagged shapes recall those in Rozanova's abstract compositions. These works anticipate the much later cut-outs of Matisse.

Green Stripe 1917

Rozanova's most famous oil painting today is Untitled (Green Stripe) (1917). This striking minimalist abstraction seems related to the equally minimalist Suprematist works of Malevich. Like them, the work shows a geometrical region, in this case a rectangular green stripe, against a white background. One can see differences too: in Rozanova, the stripe runs from one border of the picture to the other, while in Malevich the geometric objects are usually embedded in the interior of the canvas. The stripe seems less hard edged that the geometric objects of Malevich, too. It seems more like a natural process, something flowing from the bottom to the top of the canvas, than a fixed object.

The shading of the color resembles Malevich too: neither the white nor the green is uniform throughout, but they undergo a series of color modifications throughout their regions, apparently due to the thickness of the paint.

The way the brightly colored stripe blends with a white region also recalls the modeling in the works of Liubov Popova.

In The Universal War (1916), Rozanova's collages experimented with a field / reverse field effect, in which a white region can be seen either as a figure or as a hole. The green stripe has a similar vibrant quality: of an object standing out greatly from its background due to color contrast. It does not have the visual ambiguity of the collages, but it is a related vision.