Unism – style-manifesto: essence, history, features in painting

Landscape 1948. Unism
Landscape 1948

Unism is an avant-garde style, the key principles of which are the homogeneity of elements and the rejection of the “plurality of forms”. According to the theory of unism, for the harmonious unity of the image, the creator had to achieve an ideal connection between color, geometry and rhythm. Everything that interferes with this harmony must be removed from the picture. The concept of unism was developed by Polish artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski. This creative method has not gained widespread acceptance, but it is an interesting and perhaps underestimated branch of the avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s.

Unism refers to abstract and non-objective painting, although among the works in this manner there are exceptions – for example, “Lodz Landscape” (1932). On the other hand, the apotheosis of the style was the paintings, the image on which resembles an ornament or even wallpaper, wall decoration with a repeating motive. And this, surprisingly, is quite consistent with the unic concept, since Strzheminski promoted functionality in art, bringing together the concepts of the history of painting and interior design.

Unism. Sea landscape, July 2, 1934
Sea landscape, July 2, 1934

Unism arose on the basis of Suprematism and developed the ideas of Kazimir Malevich, whose student was the author of the concept, Vladislav Strzheminsky. Some art critics consider this style as an offshoot of Suprematism, while others consider it a completely independent artistic phenomenon.

Features of unism

The features of unism were determined by his idea, the desire for laboratory purity of art. The characteristic features of this style are:

  • “Organic” compositional unity. Vladislav Strzheminsky opposed the “mechanical conglomerate” of various objects, which he saw in the paintings of other painters, with the maximum homogeneity of elements. Hence – the interconnection of the palette, background, lines, forms and their subordination to a single rhythm that unites the work.
  • Forms are reduced to one geometric dominant and a repeating motive.
  • Lack of color contrasts and dynamic tension.
  • Rhythm. Art critics note the “vibrating” character of the lines and the “pulsating” rhythm in the unique paintings. By the way, Strzeminski’s paintings inspired the Polish composer Zygmunt Krauze to create a number of musical compositions.
  • The use of repetitive motives, which in “Unic compositions” (1934) become maximally monotonous.
Unism. Unist Composition 1931
Unist Composition 1931

Drawing parallels with other artistic movements, it should be noted:

  • consistency and mathematical calculation, bringing the unic approach closer to constructivism;
  • common with the purists support of the golden section and the desire for the “purity” of artistic constructions;
  • a certain affinity to the minimalist neoplasticism of the group “De Stijl” (Pieter Mondriaan).

But unism is softer and even more lyrical. This is noticeable in the cycle “Architectural Compositions”, where strict and laconic geometry is softened by smooth lines and general rhythm. In other things – for example, landscapes and the series of “Unic compositions”, fluidity becomes dominant.

Andrzej Pronashko, Monk, 1917
Andrzej Pronashko, Monk, 1917
History of unism and major works

The history of unism is inextricably linked with the personality of its creator – artist and theorist Vladislav Strzheminsky. He was a student of Kazimir Malevich and highly appreciated his work, therefore the roots of the unic manner go deep into the Suprematist soil.

In the 1930s, the unic palette changed: multicolor disappeared from it, which was replaced by light monotony. Thus, the rejection of the “plurality of forms” was transformed into the rejection of the “plurality” of colors.

A Sketch 1941
A Sketch 1941
Among the most famous works in a unic manner are the following Strzeminski series:
  • “Architectural Compositions”, which promotes a logical approach to painting.
  • The most abstract “Unichesky Compositions”, where the key features of the style reached their apotheosis – they can be considered a program cycle.
  • Lyrical seascapes and cityscapes, the most famous of which are ód.
Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VII, 1913
Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VII, 1913

The style did not find wide distribution, although Strzeminsky’s students worked in it. Now interest in humility is very high in Poland and Belarus, where its founder lived and worked. At the same time, unism, like Malevich’s Suprematism, is included in the orbit of the Russian avant-garde – a phenomenon that has gone beyond the national framework and influenced the development of all modern art.

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