Monday, 30 December 2013

Taking the imagination for a walk

Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms
The Tate Modern’s exhibition on Paul Klee: Making Visible might not quite be exhaustive, but exhausting it most certainly is.

Laid out in 17 rooms – some large, some small with only four or five pictures – it takes a serious investment of time to visit.

As a neighbour of ours, having visited with his partner, who is herself an artist, commented with a note of weariness: “There are a lot of paintings”.

A great deal of Klee’s work is also on small canvases, so require you to get up close and use a little more attention.

By the time we reached the final rooms, visitors were scurrying past us having clearly had enough.

Battle Scene from the Comic-Fantastic Opera 'The Seafarer'
That being said, it’s an exhibition that offers plenty of rewards – not least in providing such an extensive selection of his work, from 1912 to his premature death in 1940.

In the later part of that career, Klee – a Swiss German – was among the many artists who were damned by the Nazis as ‘degenerate’.

Yet for all Hitler’s hatred of anything beyond the most traditional painting, Klee’s work has a timeless quality that can make it feel as ancient as it is modern, and most definitely has something of folk art about it.

Blue Night
There is a playfulness on occasion and an apparently naïve joy about some of the works that is reminiscent of Chagall.

Yet there’s also plenty here to illustrate Klee’s seriousness – not least in his explorations of colour.

The gradation paintings are themselves fascinating and very beautiful and however muted some of his palette may appear to be, there is a depth of colour here that is vibrant and has great warmth.

Fish Magic
The experimentation extends beyond colour to the media used, including what was painted on, how it was primed – and also how the works are displayed.

In some cases, Klee made his own mounts and frames, thus ensuring that the works take on a sense of having greater dimension and of being artistic objects rather than simply being flat pictures.

Personally, I was coming to Klee with little more than a spot of book-learned knowledge, but found myself drawn in to some of the works in particular.

Walpurgis Night
Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms from
1920 is the exhibition poster piece, and this apparently simple oil painting of geometric blocks of colour, dotted with trees, is a perfect example of the attraction.

Perhaps it’s the Christmassyness of the green and red, but getting lost in it conjures, for me, a sense of a northern winter: of dark, starry nights and snowy terrain and forests.

But this sort of thing was a repeat theme.

In Walpurgis Night, a gouache from 1935, the faces of creatures and witches look out from behind the moody blue wood.

Here we are again – into the realm of the forest in the German psyche. It has a thrilling, slightly scary feel about it, and a sense of fairy tales, something that comes through in a number of works.

Bewitched-Petrified (watercolour on plywood, 1934) is another with the sense of folk/fairy tales and the forest.

Fish Magic (oil and watercolour on canvas, 1925) is one of the larger pieces, and seems to have an inner glow, as though it’s partly stained glass, lit from behind.

Blue Night (1937) is a lovely, soothing use of colour and shape – no matter how apparently loosely sketched the latter is in this instance.

It’s also a good illustration of what I mentioned earlier about media. In this case, it’s a “pastel on cotton on coloured paste on burlap; original frame”.

The Path into the Blue
The Path into the Blue (1934) appealed too: again, it’s a simplicity that allows the imagination full rein.

Oh, and it’s got a blue moon in it, which had The Other Half rolling his eyes as I (quietly) burst into the opening refrain of Manchester City’s anthem.

Of the more abstract works, I also liked The Invention (watercolour on cotton on plywood, 1934) and, quite differently, The Other Half particularly liked Still Life with Crucifers (oil on linen on cardboard, 1925).

Still life with Crucifers
Of the fantastical and the fairy tale, Battle Scene from the Comic-Fantastic Opera ‘The Seafarer’ (oil, graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper, bordered with watercolour, ink and gouache on cardboard, 1923) has it by the bucketload.

Comedy (watercolour and oil transfer drawing on paper, 1921) is just one more example of many with a playful and yet strange quality about it.

It was Klee himself who said that drawing was “taking a line for a walk”.

The Tate’s exhibition, which is on until March, offers a pefect opportunity to take the eyes for a walk and let the imagination run wild.

Just dont expect to see it in anything less than an hour and a half.

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