With its focus on geometrical shapes and forms, the art movement known as Suprematism was founded by the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich around the year 1913. Yet the term as applied to Abstract Art also refers to the supremacy of artistic feeling and not merely the depiction of objects. Pure feeling is the heart of the Suprematism ethic and Malevich expounded upon it in his work From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: the New Realism in Painting. Malevich’s movement is often associated with art of the early Soviet Union which was particularly open to his concepts and new visions for art direction.

Art historians suggest that Malevich began moving toward his new aesthetic after working on operatic sets and costumes. In fact, his ideas began to take shape as he worked on the backdrops of various St. Petersburg operas. One such presentation was a backdrop that depicted a large square divided diagonally into black and white sections. By 1915 he created one of his most celebrated works, a painted black square atop a white canvas. The work is simply titled “Black Square” and is one of the most recognizable works of Suprematism. This work has been extremely influential as well as controversial.

Because of the era in which it was created–the era of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, “Black Square” has sometimes been viewed as a work of Nihilism and may be viewed as anti-Western. In fact, it was seen as anti-tradition as well. For the Soviets who were concerned about the influence of outside forces like European tradition and religion, the work symbolized a break from those elements. On the other hand, Malevich himself argued that the work was meant to convey the idea of zero-form. That is, he simply wanted to demonstrate a break from conventional art and the creation of new modes of picture or image-based language.

Malevich led a group of Suprematists who thrived in the early years of the Soviet era when new ideas were embraced. Other artists associated with the movement include Aleksandra Ester, Ilya Chashnik, Olga Rozanova, and Nina Genke-Meller. Like many avant-garde artists, however, the Suprematists were eyed with suspicion and largely criticized during the Stalin years. While Suprematists are associated with early twentieth-century Russia, they had a strong impact on the rest of the art world which was also experimenting with new forms and new ideas during that period and many were breaking from the old conventions as well.