Supposedly labeled as a ‘dreamy and remote’ figure who took inspiration from nature and generally the world that surrounded him, Paul Klee was mostly shaped by his civil upheavals leading to some politically charged work, which was inevitable, given the historical events which he endured.
His works, displayed at the Tate Modern’s current EY exhibition, showcases his vulnerability as well as creative resilience in the face of warfare, revolution and eventual illness; however his whimsy and childlike curiosity are perfectly displayed here as you’re meandered through his dreamlike world.
A German watercolourist, painter and fantastic etcher, Klee’s influences from fellow contemporaries are clearly seen here; Matisse and Picasso in his earlier work as well as Rothko and Miró in his later years.
The exhibit follows his life in chorological order and begins with the artist’s breakthrough during the First World War, when he first developed his individual abstract patchworks of colour that later became characteristic of his ‘magic square’ paintings. Here his works are his clear response to cubism with an obvious nod to Picasso as well as subject matter still rooted in the visual world such as in ‘Harmony in Blue – Orange’ and ‘Group of Houses’ where his colour schemes stem from his trip to Tunisia.
‘Landscape With Flags’ also shows him toying between experience and imagination, which would become more evident, especially in the face of political turmoil. As wartime loomed, Klee begins using theatrical curtains opening dramatic stages such as that portrayed in ‘Remembrance sheet of a conception’; one of his more disturbing pieces featuring a head hovering, robotic figure and foetus. Here Klee was utilising theatricality as a way of dealing with war.
But, despite troubled times Klee never abandoned the natural world and his particular fascination with fish is beautifully portrayed in ‘Fish Magic’ perfectly captivating the mysterious yet hypnotic world of an aquarium.
Even in the face of death, Klee felt invigorated and in defiance of his illness was visibly productive in the remaining years of his life as seen in final room named ‘Twilight. Rich harbour’ shows his Miró-esque and childlike qualities whereas ‘Forest Witches’ and ‘Earth Witches’ show the threat he also felt during his final years.
Klee’s works are, as the exhibits curator Matthew Gale expresses, ‘presented in a symphony of yellow, blue and red, which create an inexplicable impression of joy, of music and of freedom’. But you will definitely need two visits in order to fully give this entrancing collection of paintings the attention it warrants.
The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee – Making Visible is open until Sunday 9 March at:
Image: Paul Klee, Fire at Full Moon, 1933. Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany