Kazimir Malevich

By: Patrick Cates
February 23, 2011

Self-Portrait, 1912

When, as a young man, I discovered Yves Klein, my eyes, brain, and world turned upside-down. Here was a smartly dressed French judo expert baffling people with his conceptual follies and prodding the cattle of the art world from one batty opening event to another. But what most bewitched me were his blue monochromes. I found it intoxicatingly outrageous that, in the stuffy early ’60s, someone could fill a canvas with a single color and get taken seriously. And yet these paintings weren’t just shocking; they were profound and beautiful. Then I pondered: Was Yves Klein the first to conceive of the monochrome? Some pre-Internet art-tome thumbing led me to KAZIMIR MALEVICH (1879-1935) and I was stunned. Under the banner of Suprematism, a movement that distilled a simple grammar of geometry from Cubo-Futurism, this precocious Ukrainian laid the foundations for one-color purity as early as 1913 with his quasi-monochrome Black Square on a White Field. And in 1918 he gave us the truly monochrome monument for which I will always honor him: Suprematist Composition: White on White. Even now, a century later, I hear people express their discomfort when they see monochrome paintings. What must the world have thought back then? In a recently revolutionized Russia, Malevich had the balls to pull off another revolution.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Terence Fisher.

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