To be known as an iconic piece of art suggests an image that is full of detail, rich in colour and timeless in its imagery and form. One does not assume though that a simply painted black square on a white painted background could be iconic, however Four Squares a variant on Malevich’s Black Square is.
Four Squares currently displayed in the Hermitage Museum St Petersburg was painted by Kazimir Malevich in 1915 and is one of four variants on the 1913 masterpiece, Black Square.
In its essence, Four Squares is a geometric image that is simply four individually painted squares on canvas painted in oil in two different colours, black and white.
The limited use of a colour palette by Malevich allowed the viewer to primarily focus upon the form and colour of the painting. The colours are diagonally placed. However, when viewing Four Squares it is hard to decide what it is that the viewer is looking at.
Psychologically in the real world the mind needs to find meaning in what it is looking at to allow it to process the external stimuli more efficiently and when this does not happen conflicts can be created.
Black square does create this conflict, however there is no right way to view Four Squares and therefore Black Square is a turning point in abstract art and fuelled the Suprematism movement by challenging the previous movements of cubism and futurism.
Black Square is truly abstract and is the flagship piece of art to represent the Suprematism movement. The Suprematism movement of art represents going back to the zero point of art, where art is freed from the constraints of the real world going even further than that of futurism and cubism movements that were dominant at the time.
When art is viewed, the mind tries to place the real world into the art to allow the viewer to fully understand and to make sense of what they are viewing. However, Black Square is the zero point of art in terms of non-objective creation. Black Square represents the first time that a painting was created that was not intended to represent anything in the real world allowing it to be free of the constraints of the real world and to challenge the viewer.
Black Square and it’s variant Four Squares are not only viewed as iconic images now. After Malevich created these images they were considered iconic at the time.
What may seem like clever marketing now was bold and daring in Russia, where it was first exhibited. Malevich insisted that the image be hung in the position in the gallery where a religious image would traditionally be hung, suggesting that the square was spiritual or and a special image.
This is a long way from its origins as a stage curtain. Four Square is also an opportunity and inspiration of artists to explore the world and not have to rely on the tricks and grounded principles and techniques of art which has created uninspiring works of art.