Nikolai Kasak (1917–1994) fits comfortably into the aesthetics of the international geometric avant-garde of the early twentieth century. An artist of Belarusian descent, Kasak began his formal training in the 1930′s in Warsaw, continuing on to Vienna, then Rome. He was originally trained in the academic style of late nineteenth century Realism, until the artist encountered abstract art for the first time in 1945. The artists of De Stijl, Russian Constructivism, and Supremetism had vast influence on Kasak, prompting him to shift his focus from a primarily figure-based aesthetic to pure abstraction. Concentration of form, formulaic compositions, and solid color shapes became the significant structural element in his painting. Upon immigrating to the United States post-World War II, Kasak had the opportunity to exchange creative ideas with other Eastern-European and Russian émigré circles, formulating and fine-tuning his artistic ideology.
Concurrently with his technical development, Kasak wrote a number of theoretical essays regarding the importance of positive and negative space in his compositions. Two major works entitled, Physical Art – Action of Positive and Negative, and From Action to Dynamic Silence: The Art of Nikolai Kasak, deal with “his preoccupation with nothingnessthe concept of void in both formal and symbolic terms. His work demonstrates the relationships between discs and squares and incorporates dichotomies between movement and light, space and matter, positive and negative antinomies.” 1
The entirety of Kasak’s approach is based on both rational and non-rational polarities, which supply a tension between the physical aspects (i.e. isolated color forms and geometric structures) and the conceptual implications of his work. In the Kasak’s own words, “the work of art is an independent and active reality in itself, that is a fully invented physical organism, and not a description, imitation, or deformation of anything.” 2
1 Myroslava Mudrak, “The Russian Review,” Vol.53, No. 3, pages 435-6.
2 Nikolai Kasak and John E. Bowlt, “From Action to Dynamic Silence: The Art of Nikolai Kasak,” Institute of Modern Russian Culture, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1991, page 15.