Malevich’s Black Square has a certain classical beauty about it. Although black, it doesn’t seem to reference any dark subject matter. It is more about aesthetics; the result of an aesthetic journey by Malevich to take out all trace of the object in painting and leave only “pure feeling”.
Running Man is a different story. The object has returned to Malevich’s painting and “feeling” is there in spades. It is truly a scary painting. The painted head is hardly a description of the object at all and has to be one of its most original forms. The feeling of panic and loss of reason is very strong.
There is a suggestion the running man is tethered to a Christian cross and a sword stands symbolically between a white house and a red house, adding a reference to conflict and specifically to Russia. Malevich even has the cross and sword looking similar in shape and visually connecting in the painting. The hand painted blue near the sword and houses may be a suggestion of no longer fighting, or impotence. For me, this is an aesthetic impulse (of pure feeling).
This painting was done not long before Malevich’s death in 1935. By then the Soviet Union had been created and life was rapidly becoming scary for those not conforming, and Malevich was losing the argument for his more contemporary ideas about art.
In 1927, Malevich had been allowed to travel to Poland and Germany where he lectured and exhibited a large collection of paintings. When he returned to Russia, he left behind lecture material manuscripts, and the paintings remained on exhibition. Leaving this work in Germany was probably intentional on his part; the manuscripts definitely so, because he actually wrote out a will concerning them before he left Germany. Most telling of all, in this will he writes “In case of my death or permanent imprisonment,”. So Malevich was clearly feeling very anxious about his position in Soviet Russia.