Suprematism was a search for art’s barest essentials, a sort of “how un-art can a work of art get”, the “zero degree” of art.
“Only with the disappearance of a habit of mind which sees in pictures little corners of nature, madonnas and shameless Venuses, shall we witness a work of pure, living art.”. – Kazimir Malevich
“In the year 1913 (1), trying desperately to free art from the dead weight of the real world, I took refuge in the form of a square.” – Kazimir Malevich, The Non-Objective World.
Kazimir Malevich, White on White. 1918
Supematism was an attempt to do away with the old and create something new, and the square was the perfect representation of the “supremacy of pure sensation or perception in the pictorial arts”, for Malevich, like many of his contemporaries, believed that the external, “visible” world could no longer serve as the basis for art. As he wrote in 1915, “ […] nothing is real except sensation…the sensation of non-objectivity.”
“Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself.”
— Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard
“Abstract art—painting and sculpture that makes no direct, immediately discernible reference to recognizable objects—was born of an alliance of modernist aesthetics and the occult doctrines of theosophy in the second decade of the twentieth century. Its first masterworks were produced by Vasily Kandinsky in Germany, Piet Mondrian in the Netherlands, and Kazimir Malevich in Russia. Yet no sooner was this new artistic convention established as an influence on the European avant-garde than it was quickly appropriated by still another mode of thought—utopianism—which similarly rejected commonly held conceptions of ‘reality’ in the name of a visionary ideal. This utopian ideal, while no less mystical in some respects than that of theosophy, nonetheless differed from it in locating the realm of future perfection in the material world. Toward the material world utopian ideology adopted an attitude as radical—and, in fact, as otherworldly—as any to be found in occult doctrine, but it did not question the existence of the material world. Its goal was to change it—to eliminate its imperfections in order to establish an ideal harmony, at once social and spiritual, in every sphere of earthly human endeavor.” — Abstraction & Utopia by Hilton Kramer, in The New Criterion, September 1997.
Hilma af Klint (October 26, 1862 – October 21, 1944) was a Swedish artist and mystic whose paintings were amongst the first abstract art. A considerable body of her abstract work predates the first purely abstract compositions by Kandinsky. She belonged to a group called “The Five”, a circle of women who shared her belief in the importance of trying to make contact with the so-called ‘High Masters’ – often by way of séances. Her paintings, which sometimes resemble diagrams, were a visual representation of complex spiritual ideas.
Sequence of process for producing one of twelve shades per color.
It seems the notion of abstraction, at least in name, implies (ie: whatever is abstracted) is something other than what is presented as abstract, but is it not in fact precisely what it presents itself as being?
For hundreds of years artists have transferred compositions onto canvas with the aid of a grid. Even Leonardo Da Vinci and Albrecht Durer were known to ‘square up’ preparatory drawings for this purpose.