MALEVICH PAINTS – THE SEEING EYE

Patricia Railing

malevich paints cover

With a grant from Artists Books and Writings, Inc. New York
352 pp 138 col 80 mono illus.
Published  1 September 2013 Hardback £48
ISBN 978-0-946311-21-7

 

This is the first study to investigate the sources of the creative processes in the painting of Kazimir Malevich, from Neo-Primitivism to Suprematism, 1911-1920. These sources are found in 19th century scientific investigations into optics, especially those of Hermann von Helmholtz, the artist adapting the laws of optical light and colour and the laws of optical structures of seeing in space and in depth to his painting. Malevich’s creative processes culminated in his non-objective canvases, Suprematism, between 1915 and 1920, the painting of pure seeing.

This study merited Patricia Railing with the award of Diplôme national de docteur en philosophie / National Diploma of Doctor in Philosophy, “Très honorable avec félicitations du jury” / Very Honourable with Congratulations of the Jury” (With Distinction), University of Paris 1 – Sorbonne, in March 2013.

REVIEW

The Burlington Magazine, London, by Peter Stupples

“Patricia Railing’s study focuses on the crucial painting period of Malevich’s career, the years 1911-20, when what became known as “Suprematism” emerged from the frantic years of Malevich’s experimentation with Neo-Primitivism, Cubo-Futurism and Alogism…. Malevich Paints is based upon the thesis that Malevich may have used Hermann von Helmholtz’s Treatise On Physiological Optics, in particular volume III, “The Theory of the Perceptions of Vision” (1867), to guide the creative process towards and within Suprematism (1915-20)…. Malevich, in his quest for “realism”, Railing argues, wanted his paintings to mirror the mechanics of the eye, to depict the “pure” sensation of light, colour and movement on the retina, and to anchor his Suprematist images on the flat plane at the centre of our retinal field of view – Helmholtz’s field of fixation. Railing goes further than this and claims that Malevich also made use of Helmholtz’s “Visual Globe” that shows the field of human vision with the flat point of fixation moving away to the edges of the visual circle, gradually distorting the material we see, both curving and stretching space. She relates the structure of Malevich’s “primal”/ “most reductive” Suprematist works to specific parts of Helmholtz’s “Visual Globe” (pp. 200-02), and suggests that Malevich shifted from figurative painting to the non-objective images of Suprematism because “he was depicting ‘looking’ as seeing. From the science of seeing Malevich created an art of seeing…. It was the principles provided by the scientific laws which, transformed by an artist, allowed them to become principles of drawing and painting”. (p. 21)…. His keywords are invariably multivalent, changing their field of meaning over time and contexts: for example, “bespredmetnost” – non-objectivity, which Railing correctly states can mean, not so much the absence of a figured subject, but the depiction of what is present to the retina – colour, light, qualities of visual sensation, rather than the mental image our brain makes of this sensation – an object in space…. What is new in Railing’s book is her account of the way Malevich set about constructing the means to think visually outside a world of objects, to render possible a “new perception of the world”.”