Known as Survage, he studied piano and at the same time acquired a business degree as he was scheduled to assume control of the family piano business. At the age of twenty-two he was attacked by a serious illness and turned toward painting. He studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.
He allied himself with the Russian avant garde and became a friend of Alexander Archipenko. In 1909 he settled in Paris and for a brief period of time attended Matisse’s school. He presented his first work in Paris in 1911 at the Salon d’ Automne, after being urged to do so by Archipenko.
In 1912 he moved on to Cubism, the same year as Mondrian and Diego Rivera. He produced abstract compositions using thinned ink under the title Colored Rhythm; its aim was to animate in precisely the same way as the cinema, giving a feeling of color and motion in space, thus creating “symphonies of color”, as the images followed one another. Several of these works were exhibited at the Salon d’ Automne in 1914 and the Salon des Independants in 1914. Apollinaire published laudatory articles about him and offered his support to this painter who landed a contract with the film production company Gaumont and designed one of the first abstract films, entitled Rytheme Colore. But the outbreak of war frustrated his plans.
He made costumes and sets for the Ballet Russe and his acquaintance with masson brought him into contact with surrealism.
The study of Byzantine art in his homeland influenced him in his later works, both in regard to the organization of his large decorative compositions and in the framing of the characteristic figures in his work. His subjects illustrate dramatic themes, composing ballets in strictly structured geometrical spaces.
In 1963 he became a member of the Legion of Honor.