Red Squares in Space

By Sean Michael Nelson

Damian Moppett’s print Red Studio Squares, part of the recent Not Photographs exhibit at Satellite, is just one of many instances of the red square in visual art. Another is the cover of seminal New Wave band Talking Heads’ first album, Talking Heads: 77. Informed by notions of the death of painting at the time, many artists and art students, members of the band among them, took an interest in conceptual art. Designed by guitarist/vocalist David Byrne with assistance from keyboardist Jerry Harrison, the cover of Talking Heads: 77 features the album’s title in gold on a solid red background, reflecting the band’s preference for the minimal-conceptual.

Almost 60 years before ideas about the death of painting informed Talking Heads: 77’s cover, Russian artist Kazimir Malevich was moving towards an end-of-painting-as-we-know-it through his “discovery” of Suprematism. Starting with Black Square (1915), Malevich found that often the dynamics and relationship of one rectangle to another were enough to sustain a picture. The black square on a white surface was a sort of blank slate on which to write a new pictorial language—one capable of expressing feeling unimpeded by the constraints of objectivity and representation (in Malevich’s words, “the square=feeling, the white field=the void beyond this feeling”). Over several years Malevich added additional shapes and colours to the Suprematist vocabulary, the first colour being red, as depicted in Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Two-Dimensional Peasant Woman (1915)—“painterly realism” being Malevich’s term for “painting constituting its own objective.”

Malevich’s ultimate objective was to reach towards the infinite, and Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918), a painting of a white square at an acute angle on a white field, does just this. The painting points toward a future consciousness, toward endlessness, all colour merging into one: white. It should come as no surprise that science, in particular aeronautics, fascinated Malevich and informed Suprematism, as it also strives for the beyond. It’s for this reason that Malevich’s Suprematist works evoke a sense of weightlessness and floating in space. How fitting, then, that in 2007 astronomers publicized their finding of a Suprematist form in space, the Red Square Nebula, located 5000 light years from Earth.

Red Studio Squares, in a sense, makes the circle (the second Suprematist shape) complete, bringing the free-floating squares back from outer space and into/onto the place where it began in the first place: the artist’s studio.

Not Photographs will be exhibiting until Saturday, August 27.

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