Who was Paul Klee?
Swiss artist Paul Klee, known for paintings of simple figures of suspended fish, moon faces, eyes, arrows and colorful quilts, marked the history of art, due to his extensive production in the various innovative artistic movements of the 20th century. From German Expressionism through Dadaism to Abstractionism, this artist was part of the greatest movements that changed the course of modern art, as they radically broke with the art tradition of faithful representation of objects and the real world. His abstract compositions, filled with symbols that embody spiritual content and the subconscious, have influenced artists from Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí to Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell. Learn more in this article about one of the first artists to contribute to the currently known art form of Abstractionism.
In the Style of Kairouan, 1914
Paul Klee was born in 1879 in Switzerland, where he studied drawing and painting. In 1911, he became involved with the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Knight), founded by Vasily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. We can see the influence of this group, the cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and the abstract color planes of Robert Delaunay in their works. In 1914, he visited Tunisia, a land that awakened his sense of color and showed him the path to abstraction. About this trip the artist stated: "Color has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it, I know that it has hold of me forever... Color and I are one. I am a painter."
When he returned, he painted his first purely abstract work, In the Style of Kairouan (1914), composed of colored rectangles and some circles. The colored rectangle has become a building block that can be associated with a musical note, combined with other colored blocks that create a color harmony like a musical composition. Thus, Paul Klee's specific color selection emulates a musical key.
Static-Dynamic Gradation, 1923
From 1915 onwards he began to express the most diverse subjects extracted from his imagination with abstract shapes and cheerful symbols. The themes are diverse and reveal his humor and inclination towards the fantastic. Always concerned with the touch of words, titles played an important role in his works, establishing the perspective from which Paul Klee wanted the works to be seen, whether ironic, poetic, irreverent, expressionless or melancholy.
Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor, 1923
In 1920, he was invited by Walter Gropius to be a professor at the Bauhaus, a school of architecture and industrial design. Almost half of Paul Klee's approximately 10,000 works (mostly small-scale watercolors and drawings on paper) were produced during the ten years he taught at the Bauhaus. The themes are diverse, from his concern with the relationship of colors, as seen in Static-Dynamic Gradation, to his fantasies, in Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor. From 1931 to 1933 he was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf. When the National Socialists declared his art "degenerate" in 1933, Paul Klee returned to Switzerland. Personal difficulties and the growing seriousness of the political situation in Europe are reflected in the somber tone of his works. The lines turn into black bars, the shapes have a larger scale and the colors are simple, as can be seen in the painting Comedians Handbill and Angel Applicant.
Angel Applicant, 1939
Paul Klee always maintained an experimentalist stance but with his own language, with practically monochromatic or highly polychromatic canvases, geometric shapes, as well as letters, numbers, arrows, figures of animals and people in an abstract way. He is considered one of the main and most versatile modern artists of the 20th century, with a production that incorporated several movements: Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism and Astractionism.
Handbill Comedians, 1938