The OCA Sketchbook Facebook group arranged a group trip to see the Klee EY exhibition at Tate Modern.The group included people studying Drawing, Painting, Mixed Media, Textiles, Printmaking and History of Art and we all found much to interest us. The exhibition starts with a timeline of Klee’s life which really informed the works that followed. His early work was detailed and fanciful, and largely expressed through etching. He was frustrated about his lack of progress as an artist through his early life when he was essentially a house husband looking after he young son. He had a breakthrough in 1914 following a visit to Tunisia, when he seems to have been struck, as if by a blow, by light and colour. He was 35. From now on he produced the art which is now so recognisably his, with colour piled on colour and shapes jostling each other to fill the support.
One of the fascinating exhibits is the ledger where Klee numbered and listed every work. The numbers can be seen written over ruled lines at the bottom of his works at this time. He was massively prolific and clearly dedicated to moving his work forward continuously.
I don’t want to write a biography or repeat the whole timeline here. This interesting point is that Klee constantly analysed and absorbed the art with which he came into contact, and recycled ideas and technical approaches in a way that produced unique and original art, often from simple materials. Tunisia was one quantum leap, his appointment to the staff of the Bauhaus in 1921 was another. Here he came into contact with a wide range of crafts and in particular with Kandinsky. He presented lectures on art theory and colour mixing. The influence of all of this is played out in his experiments with ideas such as oil transfer and colour gradations.
His art never stood still. He worked in oil, pastel, gouche, watercolour, on canvas, paper, cardboard. He used washes, tessellation, spray, oil drawing transfer, scraffito. One of my favourite pieces in the exhibition is:
This has a lovely range of blues, greens and yellows, which might be dull without a counterpoint of a complimentary colour, but aren’t. At first sight it may appear abstract but we can see doors, windows, the perspective of walls at right angles and, of course, roofs.
He was dismissed from teaching in Germany in 1933 under Nazi influence, and moved to Switzerland. His late works return to a degree of realism. He fell ill in 1937 and died in 1940 just before being granted Swiss nationality, in spite of having been born there (but to a German father).
Ideas to take into my own practice:
- volume of work propels achievement
- do exercises on simplifying a subject more and more
- use of watercolour – not ‘precious’
- don’t get hung up on suitability of supports
- let myself just enjoy colour for its own sake
- constantly experiment, assimilate and progress
- draw on the ideas of others around me.