One of the highlights of my short trip to London was the Paul Klee retrospective at the Tate Modern which runs until 9th March 2014.
I’ve always loved Klee’s work but didn’t know much about his life and hadn’t previously seen an exhibition devoted to his work. Displayed in chronological order, it gives a fascinating insight into one of the towering geniuses of 20th century art.
In an entry in his diary from 1914 Klee wrote “color and I are one” yet it is evident that draftsmanship came first. In his class at the Bauhaus he instructed students that “drawing is taking a line for walk“.
The gallery’s audio commentary emphasises Klee’s “iinfallible logic” and “structural rigor” which contrasts with the emotional power and imaginative flow of his art.
Klee recognised humankind’s potential for liberty yet was not blind to the fact that hurdles had to be overcome to unlock the creative floodgates : “half-winged, half imprisoned – this is man”, he wrote.
His intuition was balanced by his capacity for precise research. The orderly side of his personality is reflected in the meticulous log book he kept listing every one of his works and the detailed theoretical notes that are the basis of his Pedagogical Sketchbook.
Although he worked in a quiet, methodical manner, it’s not hard to see why the fantastical realisations of the world depicted in paintings like Fish Magic (1925) and A Young Lady’s Adventure (1902) were so admired by surrealist artists.
While none of his work can be described as overtly political, his abstract act was viewed as degenerate by the Nazi party who closed down the Bauhaus school on the grounds that the art produced was demeaning to Germany’s classical tradition.
Klee was quick to see the threat of Hitler and took refuge in Switzerland in the 1930s. He remained prolific right up to the end of his life.
The range of his work is striking, including experiments with pointillism, spray painting and the harmony of his so called ‘magic squares’.
Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms painted in 1920 stands out as one of the show’s highlights.
It is obvious that I was not alone in being so impressed by this work – the image used for the exhibition poster and as you exit through the gift shop you find it reproduced on coasters, bookmarks, pens and tea towels.
In the gallery, on the coffee table or in the kitchen, Klee’s art is destined to live on.