Sunday, 15 December 2013

ART SUNDAY - PAUL KLEE

“Colour possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour: Colour and I are one. I am a painter.” - Paul Klee
 

Paul Klee was born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland, on December 18, 1879. Klee participated in and was influenced by a range of artistic movements, including surrealism, cubism and expressionism. He taught art in Germany until 1933, when the National Socialists declared his work indecent. The Klee family fled to Switzerland, where Paul Klee died on June 29, 1940.
 

Klee was the son of a music teacher and was a talented violinist, receiving an invitation to play with the Bern Music Association at age 11. As a teenager, Klee’s attention turned from music to the visual arts. In 1898, he began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. By 1905, he had developed signature techniques, including drawing with a needle on a blackened pane of glass. Between 1903 and 1905, he completed a set of etchings called “Inventions” that would be his first exhibited works.
 

In 1906, Klee married Bavarian pianist Lily Stumpf. The couple had a son, Felix Paul. Klee’s artwork progressed slowly for the next five years. In 1910, he had his first solo exhibition in Bern, which subsequently travelled to three Swiss cities. In January 1911, Klee met art critic Alfred Kubin, who introduced him to artists and critics. That winter, Klee joined the editorial team of the journal “Der Blaue Reiter”, co-founded by Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky. He began working on colour experiments in watercolours and landscapes, including the painting “In the Quarry”.
 

Klee’s artistic breakthrough came in 1914, after a trip to Tunisia. Inspired by the light in Tunis, Klee began to delve into abstract art. Returning to Munich, Klee painted his first pure abstract, In the Style of Kairouan, composed of coloured rectangles and circles. Klee’s work evolved during World War I, particularly following the deaths of his friends Auguste Macke and Franz Marc. Klee created several pen-and-ink lithographs, including “Death for the Idea”, in reaction to this loss. In 1916, he joined the German army, painting camouflage on airplanes (sic!) and working as a clerk.
 

By 1917, art critics began to classify Klee as one of the best young German artists. A three-year contract with dealer Hans Goltz brought exposure as well as commercial success. Klee taught at the Bauhaus from 1921 to 1931, alongside his friend Kandinsky. In 1923, Kandinsky and Klee formed the Blue Four with two other artists, Alexej von Jawlensky and Lyonel Feininger, and toured the United States to lecture and exhibit work. Klee had his first exhibits in Paris around this time, finding favour with the French surrealists.
 

Klee began teaching at Dusseldorf Academy in 1931. Two years later, he was fired under Nazi rule. The Klee family moved to Switzerland in late 1933. Klee was at the peak of his creative output during this tumultuous period. He produced nearly 500 works in a single year and created “Ad Parnassum”, widely considered to be his masterpiece.
 

Mount Parnassus, also Parnassos (Greek: Παρνασσός), is a mountain of limestone in central Greece that towers above Delphi, north of the Gulf of Corinth, and offers scenic views of the surrounding olive groves and countryside. According to Greek mythology, this mountain was sacred to Apollo and the Corycian nymphs, and the home of the Muses. The mountain was also favoured by the Dorians. There is a theory that Parna- derived from the same root as the word in Luwian meaning House.  The name “Parnassus” in literature typically refers to its distinction as the home of poetry, literature, and learning; the Montparnasse area in Paris, France, for example, bears its name from the many literature students who recited poetry in the streets, who as a result nicknamed it “(le) Mont Parnasse”.
 

Klee’s “To Parnassus” of 1932 makes allusions to this metaphor, with the mountain being seen as a the lofty peak of artistic endeavour. The mountain figures prominently in the painting, and the arched structure resembling a gate invites the viewer to venture inside the “house of art”, which the whole composition resembles. The subdivision of the painting plane in many multicoloured “pixels” predates the digital age, of course, and always reminds me of the wings of butterflies…

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