Progression of Art
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
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 [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 [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 [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
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