Paul Klee, a Man of Color and Symbols by Alice Barnett
Paul Klee was a poet-writer, a musician, a philosopher, and deep and precise thinker, a sensitive observer, an innovator and a great individual standing out in the history of modem art. All his experiences he brought into his art. Unlike Picasso, Klee never exploited his own sensations immediately. He allowed them to mature slowly within himself. You can see this as the years go by in his paintings.
Klee was born in 1879 near Bern Switzerland. His father Hans was a music teacher and his mother Ida Marie was a pianist. Growing up, it was said Klee was unintentionally reserved and lived in a world apart. Attending private school for his general and art education gave him a good foundation, but it was his travels to Italy and Northern Africa that you see in his art. In 1928, Klee was compelled to see Egypt where he encountered deeper and greater impressions than on any other of his many travels.
Klee said, "Color and I are one. I am a painter." Tonality and color, light for his tone, more light for his color concern him in his watercolors, which are of growing interest. He was continuously striving toward achievement of perfect balance.
Color and primitive symbols became a major part in his paintings. The term "primitive art" is often used as a convenient catchall for the non-European traditions of black African art, the art of the South Seas, and the Pre-Columbian art of the Americas, but also including the art of the "higher civilizations" of South America, the Aztec, Mayan and Inca. "Primitive" for the Blaue Reiter group, which Klee was a member, meant primary, basic, essential, and was applied to almost any work created outside the Renaissance tradition. After joining, Blaue Reiter group, Klee was sensitive to the charge of primitivism in his own work. Certain methods are common: additive composition, scale adjusted to hierarchical or emotional importance rather than optical considerations, and such aspects of the two-dimensional mode as the use of a ground line and vertical perspective.
|In The Niesen, 1915, Klee uses his love of color and ties it to a vivid memory of his trip to Tunisia. The little squares in this painting are from the influence of the Cubism of Picasso. But it is the first time using the Arab-inspired symbols, which became popular with Klee. They included the star, the crescent of Islam and the pine tree, which somehow transplanted from its European habitat to the dunes of North Africa. Then the pyramid shape in the middle finishes the Egyptian influence.|
|Also in With the Eagle, 1918, Klee uses these same symbols but add a few new ones, such as: the eye of overpowering authority, the moon, oddly shaped plants, and the colors of sand and oasis, yellow and green. This painting was from his red period and with the yellow and green gives a very earthy feel.|
In She Howls and We Play, 1928, beasts are represented with internal organs and "lines of life" as in many prehistoric Scandinavian rock engravings and similar markings which appear on the pottery of the Zuni, who draw a line from the mouth of an animal to a sign representing the heart. Something like this within the body of the howling animal is a maze of lines connected to her tongue.
But also Klee attempts to recapture the simple attitudes of childhood. The line drawings give you the basic image but still are very abstract, in not exactly giving all the information to recognize all the figures in the painting.
|It was not Klee's intention to appear childish; he was in search for the clarity of "pure elementary representation" in which he found the drawings of "helpless" children so "instructive". It was not Klee's aim to make pictures that looked like children drew them. He once said that he could not teach his son Felix anything about drawing because it is the child in us that see the basics of the figures.|
In the allegory Cat and Bird, 1928, the prey appears trapped within the hunter's mind. Using a simple two-dimensional method of distinguishing inside from outside that had been used for millennia in many types of primitive drawing, Klee went beyond the depiction of physical phenomena - the internal organs of an animal or a beast with its swallowed prey - and created the visual equivalent of mental states. Klee places a moon to balance the cat's eyes and nose and placed the bird on the forehead of the cat; with this he has lent an air of oriental mystery to the composition. The cat was Klee's favorite animal; he did not consciously intend to portray a cat. He merely painted lines, circles and shades of color and found the cat had entered the picture.
I enjoyed researching Klee for this small project, but in starting I found I still have much to learn from his drawings. I love the simple use of color and lines. I found many paintings without the symbols that were very beautiful with only a few lines to represent a complex subject. Angry Woman, which I did not copy to put with my paper, still stands out in my mind for representing the feeling in the face, yet there were just curved lines. No circles or ovals, only a continuous line. I found that fascinating.
Paul Klee and Primitive Art by James Smith Pierce, 1976, Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Paul Klee: Oils, Watercolors, Gouaches, Drawings, Prints from the James Gilvarry Collection, 1967
Klee: A Study of his life and work by Gualtieri Di San Lazaro, 1957, Fernand Hazan, Paris, Frederick A Praeger, Inc., Publishers