26 September 2014
Letter to Malevitch
I first met you during a slide show in a gloomy lecture theatre as an art student at the University of Cape Town. Those lectures were pretty early in the morning so if I wasn't always that awake, when you came up, forgive me.
Also, a slide of a painting of a black square is a little ho hum, I think you might agree. Last week, we met properly, eyeball to canvas, at the Tate Modern and I saw I had misjudged your work entirely.
I remembered that you were a Russian artist who painted a black square on a canvas and then a white cross on a white canvas and that was a Big Thing at the time, which was somewhere in the tumultuous context of the peasant revolts, of Stalin and Russia in the 1930s.
(History isn't my strong point Kazimir, so that's roughly about right I hope.)
It was a surprise, on meeting your work at the Tate Modern again, to discover that you also painted portraits of your dad and later your mum. Tender, naturalistic portraits. And wooden bungalows, peasants in the fields. Homages to cubism, to futurism in rich, deep colour. Not the sort of thing I saw you as doing at all when we first met.
I had no idea that you were so into colour. Richly glowing hues, shimmering like icon paintings sometimes.
The chalky limestone-white backgrounds of your abstract work, the deep almost black plums, yellows both sunny and dirty. Red squares talking to black squares, pinks. Soft greys. I found the language of Suprematism to be surprisingly lyrical.
The Black Square and all the critical engagement where you were finding a new place for art, was but the half of it, I see that now.
As a painter, you also paid your dues as a master of colour, space, and the dance of shapes both abstract and figurative.You brought your heart into painting as much as your head, and as such it was a pleasure to get to know you better.