Monday, 2 December 2013

Paul Klee: Making Visible

Vase of pink roses ©Heather James
I made this drawing in response to visiting the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern titled Making Visible. The quiet simplicity of his art made a big impression on me and I wanted to try and capture some of that without actually copying any of his work. This was the third image I made during this exercise and the previous two images had different subject matter.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) was born near Bern in Switzerland to a German father and a Swiss mother, was given German nationality and lived through turbulent times during his whole life. He was brought up in a musical household and as a young man became a professional violinist. Paul Klee certainly packed a lot into his life which was relatively short but the periods that most interest me are his early life and the 10 year period when he was teaching at the Bauhaus.

His route to studying art was far from straight forward and included being rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Instead of throwing in the towel he studied at a private drawing school and then later on embarked on a six month tour of Italy with his sculptor friend Hermann Haller. On returning to live with his parents in Bern he spent the next four years studying art and experimenting in order to develop his own artistic identity meanwhile supporting himself as an orchestral violinist. It strikes me he must have had a burning desire to explore his interior life as an artist if he was prepared to go to these lengths.

My view from the sofa when I work in the sitting room
In 1906 he married Lily Stumpf and they moved to a small apartment where he had to work in the kitchen or the sitting room since he didn't have a studio. There would be other periods in his life when he also had to work from home and the constraints this must have imposed on him (and his family) didn't seem to affect his output or the quality of his work.

My apologies for skipping the next 15 years including Klee's service in WWI. We meet Klee in 1921 as he joins the faculty of the Bauhaus school.He begins teaching on the preliminary course and in the bookbinding workshop. Then he is appointed master in the metal workshop and following that the stained glass workshop. Several years later he takes on the textile composition class as well as teaching painting classes. I'm impressed by the range of techniques he could turn his hand to as well as teach. Maybe if he was alive now he'd be designing websites, making art installations and films.

Sadly Klee was diagnosed in 1935 with scleroderma, an incurable degenerative illness which meant he was unable to work. In time his strength improved and he was able to paint again at a steady pace. The final gallery (of 17) in this exhibition has about eight works in it which he produced during the last couple of years of his life. I found these to be among the most moving pieces in the exhibition as I felt drawn, as if by a magnet, into their quiet, colourful interiors where I could have stayed for hours.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Heather. This was so interesting, inspiring, moving -- to hear about another dedicated artist. At the age of about 13 I took an elocution exam during which I was handed a postcard and told to tell a story about it. It was an abstract painting by Paul Klee that my logical mind could make no sense of but somehow my tongue let loose and I rattled off some flurry of imagination. I had never heard of Klee before that moment. I also love how you made a painting based on the inner feeling that came up for you from the exhibition. It's a beautiful painting and I am happy to see it as I begin my office day. sending love, Marta

Heather James said...

Ah! So your writer's mind was already well engaged at an early age. Interesting to see how one artist can affect different people in different ways. I hope you earned a good mark in your elocution exam.