Sunday, 23 February 2014

Paul Klee - 'Making Visible' at the Tate Modern

I went to see the Paul Klee exhibition, 'Making Visible', at the Tate Modern a couple of weeks ago and was mightily impressed. It's a large exhibition taking over 17 rooms. I didn't know what to say about the exhibition and still don't but I thought I'd share some of his paintings anyway.

This is a big exhibition, not just in terms of importance but also in the sheer number of works on display. His paintings are all quite small so there are lots on the walls of the various rooms used for the exhibition and it was joy to find room after room filled with his marvellous paintings. He was master of colour and shape, of composition, of knowing how to evoke a response from putting carefully placed daubs of colour on paper to elevate the spirit or give us a glimpse into another world.

There is a tranquility and spirituality about Mr Klee's paintings, the way he places colours and shapes together to create a meditation that can draw you in. It would be nice to have the peace and quiet to just stare at some of his paintings and sink into them. What is it about putting this shade of red beside that shade of green that just works? That says, 'trust me, I am good for you' and you can disappear into the colours forever.  I'd love to see where I end up.

Mr Klee painted all sorts of pictures, from flowers in a garden and fishes in a fish tank or pond to the top of a hill that includes all the kind of things that you might find on the top of a hill. A moon or two, a sun, a cross, a reflection of a castle, o yes, it's all there to see and to imagine. I like the primitive mountain shapes that make up the colourful border to the painting that bring a bit of fun to the painting. What else do you see?

Although many of the paintings in the exhibition are abstract, every now and then there's a figurative painting of a prehistoric couple or a future man or a witch in a forest.

I like the 'Forest Witches' painted in earthy, woody colours and textures, splitting them up into their constituent parts and displaying them in all their wild abandonment. They are undoubtedly in the middle of some magical mystical ceremony, deigning to share some of their magic with us. There's something about that painting that kept drawing my eye from across the room, calling me to walk right over their and immerse my eyes. So I did. The magic worked.

The final room of the exhibition is strangely joyful and sad at the same time. Paul Klee was a bit of a cataloguer at heart and he carefully catalogued all his works. It was nice to have them displayed in chronological order so you can follow his development as an artist, sometimes going back to a previous style and approach to enhance it in some ways.

In the same year as he painted his witches he also painted 'Park Near Lu', a joyful pastel coloured vision of a park near Lucerne with a happy tree in the centre. Trees covered in blossom in all colours celebrating life and happiness. I suspect he'd had a good day when he worked on this painting. I hope he did.

One of the difficulties of seeing his work in chronological order is that the last paintings on display are those he completed before he died. Paul Klee suffered from a degenerative disease so knew he was dying. He kept painting as long as he could and three of the paintings in the final room are painful to look at. Just as Klee expresses joy in many of his works, these express pain and fear, particularly 'Catastrophe in a Dream' which shows the turbulence and pain he was living through at the time. It's an uncomfortable painting that I don't want to see but makes me appreciate his artistic integrity even more, making another side of life visible.

One of the last paintings in the exhibition is 'Twilight Flowers' from 1940. Some of his early works were of flowers and gardens and it's nice that he returned to that theme. Paul Klee died later that year, in the summer when the flowers would be doing their piece to brighten up a world at war.

Thank you Tate Modern for putting on such a great exhibition of the work of an astonishing artist. Klee famously said that drawing was taking a line for a walk - in his hands it's so much more.

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