Invisible Face and/in Black Square: Strategy of Self-expression and Identity of Malevich’s Suprematism

  • Abstract:

    The self-acclaimed originality of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century was largely based on the rebellion against the visual tradition and the creation of the new “ism”. As a classic genre of painting and the stubborn carrier of the figurative art, portraiture naturally suffered from the strong impact of avant-garde’s radical ideology. Rosalind Krauss notes that the “grids” paradigm that emerged since Cubism has acted as an anti-narrative, anti-historical model of the avant-garde thus ended the possibilities of plastic arts imitating the real world. Malevich’s Suprematism has pushed the abstract exploration of the avant-garde to the extreme and the pure. The function of depicting the figure’s face in traditional portraiture completely failed here, focusing instead on the expression of the mysterious, transcendent and accessible metaphysical thoughts. From Portrait of Matiushin (1913) to Self Portrait: Color Masses in Two Dimensions (1915), the erasure of the face in portraiture played an important role in the maturation of the Suprematist identity and the “Black Square” modality, forming the intertextuality and dialogue with other Suprematist paintings in the same period, both formally and conceptually. This article aims to clarify the evolutionary process of “replacing iconic face with black square” by Malevich, as well as to explore the philosophical, religious and scientific synthetically motivations behind this phenomenon, namely how the fourth dimension and theosophy, doctrines that were extremely popular in avant-garde circle then, influenced on Malevich’s strategy of self-expression and identity. At the same time, this article will also attempt to give some response and development on Krauss’ “myth of originality” from the perspective of “faceless portraiture”.