Kazimir Malevich’s ‘Aeroplane Flying’ is an example of the first extremity of abstract art in Europe. Malevich and his contemporary Russian cohort, Wassily Kandinsky, is largely derived from the idea that Cubo-Futurism can be taken one step further, devolving everything down to its most basic geometric origins, and yet still make a viewer feel the painting as keenly (or perhaps even more keenly) than if they were to look at something that was actually representative of real life. Malevich’s ‘Aeroplane Flying’ is perhaps the best, most quintessential, example of his artistic grammar. The very title of the piece ‘aeroplane flying’ not only tells us what the intended representation of the painting is, but it also mimics the very devolution-to-origin in word syntax as it does in visual content. ‘Aeroplane Flying’ is redundant as aeroplanes are clearly fly, as there is no background to suggest otherwise. That the word is ‘aeroplane’ instead of ‘airplane’ also brings a diction-like fragmentation to the item.
The colors in ‘Aeroplane Flying’ are as basic as they can be ‘ white, black, yellow, red, and blue. Considering these are the primary colors, even the color palette is devolved to basic roots. There is absolutely no idealized vision here of an actual airplane, and yet, observing the painting, one conjures thoughts of flight, dynamism, and movement, merely by the intersecting arrangement of these rectangular shapes. By their elongation and their protraction, an observer somehow feels excitation and a lack of inertia. The arrangement of shapes in the composition further indicates that there is some type of ‘order’ to this chaos, as the shapes do not overlap in the same 2D space. The red rectangle, crossing behind the yellow, suggests that there is ‘depth’ to this object, whatever we are seeing, has density and weight. This image has a sort of beauty to it that goes beyond mere exclamations of ‘truth in portrayal’ or ’emotion in subject matter.’ Malevich manages to pull from his audience a bodily reaction to something that is not at all connected to familiar images in their brain. What he shows us is complete fragmentation, only vague impressions, and yet we react to it. It is a fascinating study into the limits and non-limits of human psychology.
Malevich first presented his radical new mode of painting in the LAST FUTURIST EXHIBITION OF PAINTINGS in Petrograd in the Russian Empire. He called his new style ‘Suprematism’ because he held it as a purer, superior mode of art than anything else. Malevich stated that ‘I transformed myself in the zero of form, I destroyed the ring of the horizon and escaped from the circle of things, from the horizon-ring that confines the artist and forms of nature.’ Here, Malevich is clearly stating that he has managed to separate himself from the boundaries that the mode of art has been confined to ever since its inception; that his art is no longer boxed by needs that other art has, and that therefore, it is boundless and as free as any painting can possible be. That is not to say that Malevich did not have any formalist concerns in regards to this piece. Clearly, the painting is still highly competent and precise. The shapes are sharp and pointed and the colors are dense and thick. There is no leakage, there is nothing to suggest a lack of attention to detail in this work. Yet, Malevich’s concerns did lie more steadily towards ‘Feeling.’ Suprematism is the ‘supremacy of pure artistic feeling’ over the inferiority of mere presentation.
Suprematism, for Malevich, was a direct response and opposition to the Constructivist art movement, which saw art as being necessary for utilitarian purposes. This meant that art should have functional purpose and functional organization. Malevich championed the idea of ‘non-objectivity,’ or the lack of ‘subjectivity’ towards anything, and the elevation of ‘feeling’ above all else. Art is not something that should have purpose forced upon it, but something that might give purpose on its own accord. Malevich strongly believed that man should not be placed at the center of the universe, and therefore all things that are about man and associated with man should take a backseat. The artist should be both the originator and the transmitter. (Markov)
When asked about his inspirational origins for the movement, Malevich pointed to the Futurist Opera of his fellow Russian Aleksei Kruchenykh, for which he did the set design. The blackcloth of the play was made up of mere black and white triangles, and realizing the limitlessness that this sort of backdrop provided, Malevich realized that devolving to basic forms can create ‘new beginnings’ and have artists look at things in a completely new way, like children. (Drutt) This, of course, is not coincidentally reflective of the state of politics in Russia at the time, where the Tsarist regime was in constant threat of being overturned by new ideas ‘ where the old order of things was being challenged and flipped on its end. Indeed, it wasn’t long after these Russian art movements that Bolshevism was rearing its head, and new world order was being put into place. Malevich was never politically oriented himself but the atmosphere of the times markedly influenced the art around him and thereby the art being produced by the Russian Futurists and the Russian Constructivists. Though Suprematism is seen as a response to these two movements, and actually opposes them aggressively, it is quite difficult to tell art produced by the movements apart. El Lissitzky’s art, for example, can easily be seen as having a direct relationship to Suprematism, though, in reality, Malevich would have disdained his art.
‘Aeroplane Flying’ was perhaps Malevich’s most recognizable painting because it was one of the few that he actually gave a representational title for. As his work progressed, Malevich refused to name his paintings by anything more than number, further distancing himself from the confines of subject matter, presentation, content, and form. (Drutt)
- Drutt, Matthew, and Kazimir Severinovich Malevich. Kazimir Malevich. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2003. Print.
- Malevich, Kazimir Severinovich, and Jeanne D’Andrea. Kazimir Malevich, 1878-1935. Los Angeles, Calif.: Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of Washington Press, 1990. Print.
- Markov, Vladimir. Russian Futurism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. Print.