Paul Klee

Paul Klee

Swiss Painter

Born: December 18, 1879 - Munchenbuchsee, Switzerland
Died: June 29, 1940 - Locarno, Switzerland
"Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible."
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Paul Klee Signature
"All art is a memory of age-old things, dark things, whose fragments live on in the artist."
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Paul Klee Signature
"You leave the here and now and instead cross over to a yonder that can be total affirmation, Abstraction. The cool romanticism of this style without pathos is unheard of. The more terrible this world (like today's, for example), the more abstract our art, whereas a happy world produces art from the here and now."
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Paul Klee Signature
"There are indeed very early forms of art around more likely to be found in ethnological museums or at home in the nursery (laugh not, dear reader), for children can paint like this as well. This is by no means a scathing criticism of the efforts of the very young - there is a great deal of positive wisdom in this circumstance. The more helpless these children are, the more instructive their art, for even at this stage there is corruption - when children start to absorb, or even imitate, developed works of art."
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Paul Klee Signature
"Formerly we used to represent things visible on earth, things we either liked to look at or would have liked to see. Today we reveal the reality that is behind visible things, thus expressing the belief that the visible world is merely an isolated case in relation to the universe and that there are other, more latent realities..."
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Paul Klee Signature

Summary of Paul Klee

Paul Klee, a Swiss-born painter, printmaker and draughtsman of German nationality, was originally associated with the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, and subsequently taught at the Bauhaus, the widely influential German art school of the interwar period. Klee's diverse body of work cannot, however, be categorized according to any single artistic movement, or "school." His paintings, which are at times fantastic, childlike, or otherwise witty, served as an inspiration to the New York School, as well as many other artists of the 20th century.

Accomplishments

  • Klee was fundamentally a transcendentalist who believed that the material world was only one among many realities open to human awareness. His use of design, pattern, color, and miniature sign systems all speak to his efforts to employ art as a window onto that philosophical principle.
  • Klee was a musician for most of his life, often practicing the violin as a warm-up for painting. He naturally saw analogies between music and visual art, such as in the transient nature of musical performance and the time-based processes of painting, or in the expressive power of color as being akin to that of musical sonority. In his lectures at the Bauhaus, Klee even compared the visual rhythm in drawings to the structural, percussive rhythms of a musical composition by the master of counterpoint, Johann Sebastian Bach.
  • Klee challenged traditional boundaries separating writing and visual art by exploring a new expressive, and largely abstract or poetic language of pictorial symbols and signs. Arrows, letters, musical notation, ancient hieroglyphs, or a few black lines standing in for a person or object frequently appear in his work, while rarely demanding a specific reading.
  • Klee greatly admired the art of children, who seemed to create free of models or previous examples. In his own work he often strove to achieve a similar untutored simplicity, often by employing intense colors inspired by an early trip to North Africa, and by line drawing in the unstudied manner of an everyday craftsman.
  • Klee constantly experimented with artistic techniques and the expressive power of color, in the process often breaking traditional or "academic" rules of painting in oils on canvas. Klee also applied paint in unusual ways, such as spraying and stamping during his years at the Bauhaus. Keeping his work within the realm of the "ordinary," Klee also painted on a variety of everyday materials, such as burlap, cardboard panel, and muslin.

Biography of Paul Klee

Detail of <i>Hammamet With Mosque</i> (1914) by Paul Klee

When the Swiss-born Paul Klee visited Tunisia in 1914, he was looking in part for his "oriental" roots. The walls of the city of Kairouan so impressed him that standing in front of them, he famously said, "color possesses me..the color and I are one." Shortening his visit, he quickly returned to Europe to paint the works for which he became celebrated.



Progression of Art

Winged Hero (Der Held mit dem Flugel) (1905)
1905

Winged Hero (Der Held mit dem Flugel)

Klee was first a draughtsman before becoming a painter. The etchings in his early series, Inventions, demonstrate Klee's ability to manipulate line and tonal value to create a figure with strange and grotesque limbs. An artist's inscription in the bottom right corner of the picture explains the underlying concept: "Because this man was born with one wing, he believed he could fly. His attempts, of course, have only resulted in crashes and a broken left arm and leg." The strange creature could very well represent a kind of self-portrait of the typical progressive artist at the turn of the 20th century, perpetually pursuing his full potential while repeatedly struggling against public incomprehension or apathy.

Etching with drypoint on zinc - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Hammamet with Its Mosque (1914)
1914

Hammamet with Its Mosque

The bright light of Tunisia inspired Klee to create pictures of colorful watercolor washes. The upper half of the painting is representational, while the composition of the lower half follows Robert Delaunay's proposal to use color and its contrasts to expressive purposes- here a juxtaposition of red and green patches in the manner of a folk textile, or other such popular craft tradition. Klee suggests that color, shape, and the faintest suggestion of a subject are enough to powerfully re-create in the eye of the viewer the actual feeling of repose that the artist experienced in the original landscape.

Watercolor and pencil on paper - Berggruen Klee Collection, New York

Affected Place [<i>Betroffener Ort</i>] (1922)
1922

Affected Place [Betroffener Ort]

Created in Klee's early Bauhaus years, this piece shows a scene of ambiguous signs and symbols over a background of modulated purples and oranges. The various strips of color hint at a horizon, their horizontal emphasis counteracted only by the boldly painted arrow, which abruptly suggests something as ordinary as a road sign. Like the many gradations of color, the arrow generates movement, compelling the viewer's eye to the center of the picture. The influence on Klee of Cubist still lifes, such as those of Picasso and Braque, is clearly apparent: Klee suggests a motif painted from nature while also cancelling it, as though to remind us that this is no window but a kind of abstract sign system.

Ink, pencil, and watercolor on paper; top and bottom strips with watercolor and ink, mounted on cardboard - Zentrum Paul Klee, Berne

The Twittering Machine [<i>Die Zwitschermaschine</i>] (1922)
1922

The Twittering Machine [Die Zwitschermaschine]

The title alludes to a kind of child's toy or domestic ornament, four mechanical birds resting on a hand crank, ready to sing when the crank is turned. In their still state, they give an intimidating impression, their gaping, menacing beaks the only sign that these are birds in the first place. Dadaist and proto-Surrealist fantasy and a sense of alarm in the face of the most ordinary item of every life is underlying this little, otherwise playful inscription. Klee used an innovative technique to create this mixed-media piece: he drew on top of a sheet of paper that had been first covered in black oil pigment, which resulted in the blurred lines and black marks of the background.

Oil transfer and watercolor on paper, framed in watercolor and ink, on cardboard - Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mr. John D. Rockefeller Jr. Purchase Fund

Highway and Byways [<i>Hauptweg und Nebenwege</i>] (1928)
1928

Highway and Byways [Hauptweg und Nebenwege]

Klee visited Egypt in 1928, inspired by the North African country to create brightly colored abstract works. Yet, like many of his others, this painting is not quite fully divorced from its real world subject. Narrow blue rectangles at the top of the canvas suggest the sky, while uneven rectangles and trapezoids create paths leading one's eye from the bottom of the page to the elevated horizon. Broad trapezoids painted pale hues are arranged down the center of the canvas to suggest a main road. Thus Klee manipulates color, shape, and line to create a sense of real-world depth and movement.

Oil on canvas on canvas stretcher - Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Death and Fire (1940)
1940

Death and Fire

The German word for death, Tod, makes up the features of the white face in the center of the picture, so powerfully, yet simply reminiscent of a human or an animal skull. "Tod" may be found again in the "T" shape of the figure's raised arm, the golden orb in its hand, and the D shape of its face. Perhaps a minimally described man walks toward Death, or perhaps towards the glowing sun held in Death's hand. The image juxtaposes the cold white with the warm reds and yellows, perhaps symbolic, like a kind of cave painting, of the creation of man and the image of his sad mortality. Inspired by Klee's interest in hieroglyphics, Death and Fire suggests that abstraction and representation have been mutually accommodating, or otherwise complementary means of expression, since time immemorial.

Oil and colored paste on burlap - Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern


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Paul Klee
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Friends & Personal Connections
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Content compiled and written by Julia Brucker

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Paul Klee Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Julia Brucker
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Oct 2011. Updated and modified regularly
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