- Paul Klee
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Paul Klee

"To define the present in isolation is to kill it."

Seldom is an artist gifted in only one of the fine arts. Most of us have had to make choices to some degree in terms of which area of art we would like to concentrate upon. A few of us have tried to master more than one and some have even had some success at it. In my own case, I like to write as much as to paint, though I find painting quite a great deal more profitable. This doesn't necessarily mean I like it more than writing or that I am any better at it than writing. In one particular case, I know of, a retired, 80-year-old architect has become quite adept at watercolour. Several years ago I trained a woman in drawing portraits. She became quite good, but gave it up for creating gourmet foods. For others it is art and music. That was the choice that faced Swiss artist, Paul Klee.

He chose painting over music. Born in 1879, he spent most of his life working in Germany. He taught for several years at Walter Gropius' Bauhaus until it was forced by Hitler to close in 1933. At that time, many of its avant-garde staff fled to the West. Gropius came to this country, Kandinsky went to France, and Klee fled to his homeland, Switzerland. Klee's work is hard to categorise. As befits an artist working in a kind of interim period in the history of twentieth century painting, his work is never completely abstract, but by the same token, never very representational either. Even in one of his most abstract works, Diana in the Autumn Wind, painted in 1934, we see what is obviously a female figure, dominated by his very linear style and superb use of colour, though in this case his palette is considerably lighter than usual.

An earlier work, entitled The Golden Fish, painted in 1926, is much more typical. His work is seldom very large, usually about three square feet, There is a childlike, crayon-resist appearance to this work with a predominantly black ground, decorated with aquatic elements in deep blues while his goldfish is an almost florescent yellow tinged with reds. Other fish are depicted in shades of violet and purples. It's a strikingly beautiful painting if for no other reason than its exciting colours. But it is Klee's devotion to lines that give it a sort of delicate, exquisite elegance that is so easy to love. Toward the end of his life, as he came down with a lengthy, painfully debilitating disease (probably some form of cancer), his work became much darker, more profound, more macabre, with his lines becoming heavier but softer, his colours deeper, warmer, and richer. His Death and Fire, painted just before he died in 1940, mimics the slow dying of Europe he saw all around him. Its highly abstracted skull seems resigned to the horror and torture both he and the rest of the world knew all too well.

contributed by Lane, Jim

12 November 1998

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