Gustav Klutsis, revolutionary propagandist (1895-1938)

Gustavs Klucis — also known as Gustav Klutsis, the Russian spelling of his name — was one of the pioneers of Soviet agitprop graphic design, particularly prominent for his revolutionary use of the medium of photomontage to create political posters, book designs, newspaper and magazine illustrations. He was born in the small village of Ruen in Latvia. He studied art in Riga from 1913 to 1915, and later in Petrograd from 1915 to 1917. He then continued his education at SVOMAS-VKhUTEMAS in Moscow. It was there that he met Valentina Kulagina, his future wife and a prominent poster/book designer herself.

As a student, Klucis worked with Tatlin, Malevich, Lissitzky, and other representatives of the new artistic order in the new state. In his early works he was particularly preoccupied with the problems of representation of three-dimensional space and spatial construction. In 1919 he created his first photocollage Dynamic City, where photography was used as an element of construction and illustration. In 1920 Klucis joined the Communist party; his works around this time sought to transform the logic of political thought and propaganda into Suprematist form, often using documentary images of Lenin, Trotsky, and eventually Stalin in his radical poster designs.

After graduating from VKhUTEMAS, Klucis started teaching and working in a variety of experimental media. He became an active member of INKhUK and a militant champion of Constructivism. Klucis advocated the rejection of painting and was actively involved in making production art [proizvodstvennoe iskusstvo], such as multimedia agitprop kiosks to be installed on the streets of Moscow, integrating radio-orators, film screens, and newsprint displays. Two such structures were constructed for the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in November 1922 and subsequently enjoyed great popularity as their plans were published and models exhibited. Through these constructions Klucis developed his own individual method of combining slogans and functional structures built around simple geometrical figures — this method would later lie at the core of his works on paper as well.

Klucis’ first photomontage designs for books and magazine covers were published in 1923, around the same time that Rodchenko was experimenting with the medium in the magazine LEF and the publication of Mayakovsky’s poem Pro Eto. Klucis recognized that the “fixed reality” of photography offered endless possibilities for a new form of propaganda art that was accessible and effective. He acquired his own camera in 1924 which enabled him to incorporate his own photographs in the collages. Thanks to Klucis, Rodchenko and Sergei Senkin, by late 1924, the use of photomontage in publication of books and illustrations had been consolidated.

Continue reading

Louis Lozowick, communist lithographer (1892-1973)

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A few years back the excellent art and architecture website SOCKS Studio made a post featuring
“The diesel era lithographs of Louis Lozowick, 1920s-1940s.” They included some of his biographical details along with examples of his work. I would like to expand briefly on Lozowick’s role in disseminating principles of the Soviet avant-garde as well as his political involvement in American communism during the interwar period.

Lozowick was a Russian-Jewish émigré who spent the majority of his life in the United States. Born in 1892 outside Kiev, then part of the Ukrainian province in the Russian Empire, Lozowick fled the pogroms that followed the 1905 Revolution by moving to New York in 1906. He continued his training as an artist and worked as an illustrator until the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, whereupon he renewed his commitment to Marxist politics.

561a3ec445ca4e06d65d30c8efb13cc1Louis Lozowick, Modern Russian Art

Frequently contributing to such periodicals as Broom and Transition, Lozowick later helped found the journal New Masses in 1926. One year after the infamous trial of the Italian immigrants Sacco and Vanzetti, Lozowick designed a very constructivist cover to commemorate their martyrdom. Prior to that, he’d already begun a series of lithographs portraying major American industrial cities in bold, angular contrasts. Each painting was given simply the name of the city portrayed as its title — New YorkChicagoPittsburghCleveland, Detroit, etc. — and were widely reprinted.

Sometimes he would paint versions of these stylized cityscapes. His choice of colors was sometimes reminiscent of other artists in the Precisionist movement, as it came to be called, as well as European and Soviet artists. Compare, for example, his piece Cleveland (1927) with the Industrial Scene (1930) rendered by his fellow precisionist painter Miklos Suba. Or else view Lozowick’s Red Circle (1924) alongside Victor Servranckx’s Factory (1922). Max Thalmann’s woodcut of a Manhattan cross-street from 1925, a narrow valley flanked by towering skyscrapers on either side, presages Lozowick’s Bulloch Hall ten years later. Likewise, though left uncolored, Lozowick’s Corner of a Steel Mill resembles a colorful fantasy by Iakov Chernikhov. During a trip to Kyrgyzstan, Lozowick depicted the construction underway in Soviet Central Asia in a manner akin to his depictions of industrialism in the US. The similarities are everywhere striking.

After the atrocities of Nazi Germany became known in 1945, Lozowick joined many of his peers in reluctantly supporting Zionism. Heartbroken by the loss of so many of his friends and relatives, he donated to various charities for Israel. For this, he would be listed in a pamphlet circulated by the virulently anticommunist and antisemitic Senator Jack Tenney, The Zionist Network. Lozowick’s memoirs were gathered and posthumously published as Survivor from a Dead Age. If anyone has a copy and would like to scan and upload it, I’d be very grateful.

Below you can read “A Note on Modern Russian Art,” written by Lozowick for Broom in 1923. You can also scroll through a gallery of his lithographs by clicking on any of the icons that follow.

A note on modern Russian art

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It is well the devil can quote Scripture: we know thereby the character of Satan, even if we are in the dark as to Holy Writ. St. Paul of Aix, St. Apollinarius of Paris, Revelation, Apocrypha and other books in the Bible of modern art have been quoted so copiously and interpreted so liberally by the modern Russian artists, in their fight against orthodoxy, that their own identity is never left in doubt.

The advent of the Soviets resulted in a heightened productivity among modern Russian artists. Whatever state patronage of the arts may be worth in general, it is undeniable that in Russia the Soviets gave a great impetus to artistic effort by inaugurating a program of reform on a scale hardly paralleled in any other modern State. They abolished the old Imperial Academy, organized a Free College of Artists in its place, opened new free art schools, established Museums of modern art (Museums of Artistic Culture) organized popular lectures and traveling exhibitions, supported the artists, bought their works, employed them in staging popular revolutionary festivals, issued new art publications — in a word did everything to encourage the growth of art and to bring it nearer to the masses. Continue reading

The Stenberg brothers and the art of Soviet movie posters

Alma Law: Let’s begin, if you’re agreeable, simply with some biographical information.

Vladimir Stenberg: My father was born in Sweden in the town of Norrkoping and he finished the Academy in Stockholm with a gold medal. Then he was invited to come here to Moscow to do some kind of work. At that time [1896] there was an exhibition in Yuzovka — now it’s called Donetsk — so there in Yuzovka my father worked on an exhibition. Later at the Nizhninovgorod fair he did some kind of work. In Moscow he met my mother. They married and had three children.1

My father lived and worked in Moscow and I wanted to enter a technical school. I was very fond of technology, mechanics, and so forth.2 But conditions were such that I had to enter Stroganov, the art school. My father worked as a painter, and from the time I was six years of age, we had pencils, brushes, and the like in our hands. We began to draw very early. Well, like children, they see their father drawing, and so we drew too. And here’s what’s interesting about our father. When we were going to school, we would bring home our drawings at the end of the year. My brother, Georgii, and I would play a trick and switch some of the drawings. But my father always knew. We would sit together and draw figures. Everything. And it seemed to us that we had everything the same. But nevertheless our father would still distinguish the hand of one son’s work from the other’s.

When we had to do perspective, to study all that, we told the teacher that our father was an artist and he had taught us a little. The teacher gave us a test assignment and we did it. He said, “That isn’t the way it’s done. The plan should be at the bottom, and at the top, the representation of that perspective.” But our father had another method: the plan on top and underneath the representation. Because when you’re working, it’s more convenient to have at the bottom what is most important. Therefore we had it the other way around. When the teacher asked, “Why do you do it that way?” we answered, “Our father taught us that way.” “Well, of course,” he said, “with foreigners, they have things the other way around.” Continue reading

Il’ia Chashnik, revolutionary suprematist (1902-1929)

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Il’ia Grigorievich Chashnik was born to an unremarkable Jewish family in Lyucite, Latvia on June 20, 1902. He spent most of his childhood in Vitebsk, leaving school at the age of eleven to work in a small watchmaking workshop.

From 1917 to 1919, Chashnik studied art with the local artist Iurii (Yehuda) Pen before moving to Moscow in 1919 to attend the newly-opened VKhUTEMAS [Higher State Art and Technical Studios]. Just a few months later, however, he transferred to the Vitebsk Art Institute in order to study under the Russian-Jewish folk painter and avant-gardist Marc Chagall. Soon he became enamored of the work of Kazimir Malevich, the mastermind of Suprematism. Malevich also happened to teach at the Institute, before receiving a promotion and taking it over during the winter of 1919-1920. El Lissitzky also mentored Chashnik briefly before departing to Western Europe.

Once his apprenticeship under Malevich began, Chashnik’s paintings underwent a radical change. Chashnik cultivated his own distinctive style within the Suprematist idiom, developing Malevich’s ideas of abstraction and non-figuration to produce floating geometric shapes with crossing planes. While Malevich composed white-on-white paintings wrapped in fragile stillness and simplicity, Chashnik moved toward more dynamic pieces where black was the predominant element.

David Walsh of the World Socialist Website described the young painter’s unique talents with considerable eloquence in a review he wrote of The Great Utopia exhibition of 1993, which featured some of Chashnik’s work. Walsh wrote:

Chashnik’s The Seventh Dimension: Suprematist and his Color Lines in Vertical Motion demonstrate an enormous talent. His Cosmos — Red Circle on Black Surface (1925), for example, is an extraordinary work. A giant red circle (sun, planet) hovers in blackness (sky, atmosphere). Under it on the painting’s surface floats a Suprematist-like structure (space station), lines and rectangles arranged horizontally across a central bar. The Suprematist craft — delicate, outweighed, pale in color — is seemingly directed toward the gigantic, perfect red sphere. The enormity of the task, the terrifying emptiness of the universe, the flimsiness of the vessel, are clear to the viewer.

Along with some other talented students of Malevich’s class — Nikolai Suetin, Vera Ermolaeva, and Lev Iudin — Chashnik participated in the organization of the group POSNOVIS [Followers of the New Art], later renamed UNOVIS [Affirmers of the New Art], contributing to all of its exhibitions. He became particularly close with Suetin, a friendship and creative partnership that would endure until the former’s untimely passing in 1929.

Even further, while still in Vitebsk, Chashnik helped Malevich draft the syllabus for the Department of Architecture and Technology at Vitebsk in 1921. There he explained:

The constructions of Suprematism are blueprints for the building and assembling of forms of utilitarian organisms.Consequently, any Suprematist project is Suprematism extended into functionality. The Department of Architecture and Technology is the builder of new forms of utilitarian Suprematism; as it develops, it is changing into a huge workshop-laboratory, not with the pathetic little workbenches and paints in departments of painting, but with electric machines for casting, with all kinds of apparatuses, with the technological wealth of magnetic forces. [This department works] in concert with astronomers, engineers, and mechanics to attain a single Suprematism, to build organisms of Suprematism — a new form of economics in the utilitarian system of modernity.

When local authorities forced UNOVIS out of Vitebsk in 1922, Chashnik, Suetin, Ermolaeva, and Iudin followed Malevich to join the GINKhUK in Petrograd. Throughout the Petrograd/Leningrad period, Chashnik spent his days exploring possible applications of Suprematist art to everyday life.

Creative product photography, catalog and web-site photography Creative product photography, catalog and web-site photography Architektonisches Projekt, 1926-1927. Bewegung der Farbe, 1921-1922. Suprematistische Komposition, 1922-1923 Continue reading

Victory over the sun (1913)

  • Two Futurist Strongmen
  • Nero and Caligula
  • A Time Traveller
  • A Malevolent
  • A Willbeite Machine Gun
  • A Fightpicker
  • Belligerent Soldiers
  • Sportsmen
  • Chorus
  • Pallbearers
  • A Telephone Talker
  • Eight Sun Carriers
  • The Motley Eye
  • The New
  • The Cowardly
  • A Reader
  • A Fat Man
  • An Old-timer
  • An Attentive Worker
  • A Young Man
  • An Aviator

Aleksei Kruchenykh (1886-1968) was a noted poet of the Russian Silver Age of literature. A radical even within the Russian Futurist movement, his best known works are the poem “Dyr bul shstyl” and the opera Victory over the Sun, with sets by Kazimir Malevich and music by Mikhail Matiushin. He was co-signatory, with Vladimir Mayakovsky, David Burliuk, and Velimir Khlebnikov, of “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste.” He is considered the father of zaum, or transrational writing.

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FIRST ACTION

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Scene one

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White with black: walls white, floor black.

(TWO FUTURIST STRONGMEN rip the curtain.)

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THE FIRST

All’s well that begins well!
And ends?

THE SECOND

There will be no end!
We astound the universe

THE FIRST

We arm the world [1] against ourselves
Organize the slaughter of scarecrows
How much blood
How many sabers
And bodies for cannons!
We inundate the mountains!

(They sing.)

Fat beauties
We’ve locked up in a house
Let the drunkards there
A variety walk start naked
We have no songs
Recompense of sighs
That beguile the slime
Of rotten naiads!

(FIRST STRONGMAN slowly exits.)

SECOND STRONGMAN

Sun you bore the passions
And scorched them with flaming beam
We’ll yank a dusty coverlet over you
Lock you up in a concrete house!

(NERO and CALIGULA appear in one person: he has only one left arm, raised and bent at right angles.)

N. AND C. (menacingly)

K’youllen sewern der*
Travelled light
Past Thursday
Fry rip what I left half-baked.

Continue reading

Architectural compositions by Iakov Chernikhov, 1924-1931

Iakov Chernikhov, composition (1920s), 30 x 23,8cm Iakov Chernikhov, architectural fantasy 1929, 30 x 24 cm Iakov Chernikhov, experimental composition from Foundations of Contemporary architecture 1920-1928, watercolor and india ink on paper 29,9 x 23,8cm

Iakov Georgievich Chernikhov was one of the most outstandingly original artists of a period which produced many great talents. He was born on December 17, 1889 in the Ukrainian provincial town of Pavlograd, and studied first at Odessa College of Art, from which he graduated in 1914, and then at Petrograd’s famous Imperial Art Academy, now the Russian Academy of Art. Here he studied painting and education before switching to the architectural faculty in 1916. One year later, Chernikhov completed his teacher training and his degree thesis on methods of teaching drawing. He was called up for military service in 1916, but managed to continue studying, working, and teaching, though he was unable to resume his studies at the architectural faculty of VKhUTEMAS [the Higher Art and Technical Studios, previously the Academy of Art] until 1922. By the time he completed his degree in 1925, he had gained many years’ experience of educational theory and practice.

From 1927 to 1936 he worked for various architectural firms, designing and building a large number of projects. Until his death in May 1951, Chernikhov also continued to teach a wide variety of graphic arts subjects, including representational geometry and construction drawing. He became a professor in 1934, and was granted tenure the following year. By the standards of his time, he was simply a successful and fulfilled architect. His publications earned him a favorable reputation among his colleagues between 1927 and 1933, but after the Stalinist era his name disappeared from the scene. Only now, many decades after his death, are some of his books and examples of his wide-ranging graphic art being republished, and the magnitude of his unique creative genius becoming more widely recognized. Chernikhov’s first book, The Art of Graphic Representation, was published in 1927 by the Leningrad Academy of Arts. It was a textbook for the drawing course which he had devised but, despite its title, its purpose was not to teach readers how to draw. Even in Chernikhov’s time, the title had an old-fashioned ring to it, but he wrote the book with much more modern aims in mind. It is about graphic, spatial, and abstract compositions, and seeks to encourage students to use lines, planes, and solid to express beauty and movement without depicting anything known or recognizable, experimenting with all the boundless possibilities open to them. This thin volume is actually an extract from Chernikhov’s wide-ranging work. It was aimed at young secondary school and university students with no training in (or experience of) drawing or painting, and was ambitious in its aims. Publications like this were very unusual, since for the previous fifteen years, modern art had been used to express slogans, manifestoes, and statements of principle.

Chernikhov second from the right, Odessa 1910 Iakov Chernikhov standing in center in Odessa, 1910s Chernikhov at a construction site, 1928

Pedagogy

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Few of the leading figures in modern art were teachers, but as a passionate educationalist, Chernikhov regarded his books primarily as textbooks, and his superb graphics simply as illustrations. He used his exceptional talents in the service of education and, unlike many other gifted and famous artists and architects, did not prescribe specific styles or techniques, instead focusing on such down-to-earth subjects as the use of materials or ways of depicting form and space. The importance of the imagination to Chernikhov is apparent in the title of the first chapter: “Fantasy and Object.” The Art of Graphic Representation is primarily a way of depicting imaginary spaces, something at which he excelled, and his drive toward systematization compelled him to share this knowledge with others. To his mind, the ability to sketch and draw were essential, but the most important thing was imagination. Chernikhov’s work, which even his harshest critics freely admitted was unique, provides impressive evidence of the dominance of the imaginary over the factual and representational. Continue reading

Ivan Kudriashev’s interplanetary-dynamic abstractions (1917-1928)

Cosmism and
communism
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Click images
to enlarge
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Biographical notes

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Born
Kaluga, 1896; died Moscow, 1972.

From 1913 to 1917 Kudriashev attended the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, and from 1918 to 1919 studied with Kazimir Malevich at the SVOMAS [Free State Art Studios]; there he met Ivan Kliun, Antoine Pevsner, and Naum Gabo. From 1918 on, under the influence of the ideas of the space scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovskii (conveyed to Kudriashev by his father, a carpenter who made rockets and other devices for Tsiolkovskii), he turned to the problems of cosmic abstract painting, as filtered through Suprematism. After the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary seizure of power in October 1917, Kudriashev worked for about a year on propaganda designs for automobiles to celebrate the first anniversary of the Revolution.

Ivan Kudriashev, photographer unknown (1940s)

In 1919, he was sent to Orenburg to establish the SVOMAS. That same year Kudriashev participated in the city’s inaugural State Exhibition, showing sketches for the mural of the First Soviet Theater along with other abstract works. Over the next year he worked on the interior to the Summer Red Army Theater and organized a branch of the UNOVIS group in Orenburg.

Kudriashev arrived in Smolensk in 1921, while serving as the supervisor of a train for the evacuation of starving children. There he met Katarzyna Kobro and Wladyslaw Strzeminski, two Polish followers of Malevich. Later on Kudriashev returned to Moscow, and from late 1921 onward worked as a designer. In 1922 he sent work to the “Erste russische Kunstausstellung” (First Russian Art Exhibition) at the Galerie van Diemen in Berlin. Between 1925 to 1928 his abstract works were displayed at the first, second, and fourth OST exhibitions.

After 1928, Kudriashev stopped exhibiting in the Soviet Union.

Early works.

Planets

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Ivan Kudriashev is one of the lesser-known painters of the Soviet avant-garde. Not for lack of talent, however. Brilliant, brooding, and celestially driven, Kudriashev was often given to interstellar flights of the imagination. He dreamed of nighttime passages between the Earth and other planets. This of course reflected the gravitational pull of Tsiolkovskii’s cosmism, which always held extraterrestrial ambitions.

Many of his darker paintings from the 1920s convey this sense of cosmic loneliness — that of a solitary mind launched and set adrift in a cold vessel, wandering through the black expanse of space. Kudriashev’s career was brief, but blazed a path fed by rocket-fuel. Continue reading

Bauhaus color

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Here are some hard-to-find color renderings by Bauhaus students (Herbert Bayer, Farkas Molnár, Joost Schmidt, Peter Keler), with text by Tadeusz Peiper.
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At the Bauhaus

Tadeusz Peiper
(1927)

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Bauhaus, the one in Dessau. So, off to Dessau. Three hours by passenger train from Berlin. We’re already there by 5 p.m. Even the feet on the stairs in the hallway of the station make it clear we’re in the provinces. But not in the Prussian provinces. Prussian towns differ only in the size of their population, not in their essence. There is almost no trace of Berlin left here. We are in the capital of the duchy of Anhalt. Small one- and two-story houses, almost like those in the Szweska district of Cracow or in the Elektoralna district in Warsaw. Around the city tall red smokestacks shoot up. We are in one of central Germany’s coal-mining centers.

A café. Frankfurters. Malevich has three cups of tea. Call Kandinsky, not home. Stop in front of every lighted store window. Sighs of longing from Malevich at overcoats, tablecloths, and suitcases. We pretend to purchase a bed. Call Kandinsky, still not home. Back into the street. Damned rain.

No time to lose. Call Gropius, the director of the Bauhaus. We go into a cafe. I call. He’s home! He is very pleased, offers us to let us spend the night at his home, drives up to the cafe in the director’s car. A noble face, veiled in fatigue, hardened by truth.

We are at his place. Entry hall. A wall that consists of a thin, sandy cloth curtain behind which stands — as we will see the following day — the dining room, which is directly connected to the kitchen, with a sliding window between the two. Continue reading

Bury me beneath the Black Square

The Suprematist funeral
of Kazimir Malevich

Untitled.
Image: Malevich’s funeral procession,
his coffin carried by Suetin and others (1935)

untitled2

On the death of Kazimir Malevich
……………………………...………(1935)

Daniil Kharms

Ripping the stream of memory,
You look around and your face is pride-stricken.
Your name is — Kazimir.
The sun of your salvation wanes and you look at it.
Beauty has supposedly torn apart your earth’s mountains,
No area can frame your figure.
Give me those eyes of yours! I’ll throw open a window in my head!
Man, why have you stricken your face with pride?
Your life is only a fly and your desire is succulent food.
No glow comes from the sun of your salvation.
Thunder will lay low the helmet of your head.

Daniil Kharms, aburdist Soviet poet

Daniil Kharms, aburdist Soviet poet

Pe — is the inkpot of your words.
Trr — is your desire.
Agalthon — is your skinny memory.
Hey, Kazimir! Where’s your desk?
Looks as if it’s not here, and your desire is — Trr.
Hey, Kazimir! Where’s your friend?
She is also gone, and your memory’s inkpot is — Pe.

Eight years have crackled away in those ears of yours.
Fifty minutes have beat away in that heart of yours.
Ten times has the river flowed before you.
The inkpot of your desire Trr and Pe has ended.
“Imagine that!” you say, and your memory is — Agalthon.
There you stand, pushing apart smoke with your hands supposedly.
The pride-stricken expression on that face of yours wanes,
And your memory and your desire Trr disappear.

May 17, 1935
Translated by
Ilya Bernstein Continue reading

Tea, anyone? Nikolai Suetin’s ceramic Suprematism, 1922-1928

Untitled.
IMAGE: Nikolai Suetin,
Suprematist teasets
(Moscow, 1925-1926)
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Along with Il’ia Chashnik, Nikolai Suetin was Kazimir Malevich‘s most devoted disciple.  He first came under the great master’s tutelage during his studies at the Vitebsk School of Art in 1918, where he also trained with the renowned artist Jean Pougny.  Though a skilled painter, designer, and ceramicist in his own right, Suetin spent much of his time promoting Malevich’s body of work and keeping a photographic record of his life.  Unlike his mentor, Suetin never theorized his work in so self-conscious a fashion.  In 1924, however, he recorded a brief artistic creed in staccato verse, disavowing every attempt to systematize his work:

neither non-objectivity
nor object
what?
“X,” I reply
it signifies the sum of my painterly thought
in the world, and hence
the answer to the question
of modernity…
No system binds me, as I am unsystematic.
A reasonably logical premise can demonstrate any system, but I am alogical and therefore overcome the systems of cubism, futurism, and suprematism.”

ни беспредметность
ни предмет.
что?
я отвечаю X (икс)
это значит сумма моей живописной мысли
на мир и значит
ответ на вопрос осязания
современности «…»
Никакая система не связывает меня, ибо я бессистемен «…»
Разумно логической предпосылкой можно доказать всякую систему, но я алогичен и потому преодолеваю системы кубизма, футуризма и супрематизма «…»

While Suetin authored numerous remarkable works, perhaps his most striking pieces came in the form of Suprematist plateware commemorating the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917.  These were made over the course of the 1920s, especially from 1922-1928.  Included in this post are several very high-resolution photographs of these works.  Enjoy!

Nikolai Suetin’s Suprematist plateware