Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bauhaus Buddha

Paul Klee's nickname gives a hint about the artist's influence when he was on the Staff at the prestigious institution.

"Paul Klee: Life and Work " by Boris Friedewald is a book filled with details and pertinent anecdotes about the artist's life. It includes also numerous quotes and reproductions of his major works. All this material is presented in a chronological order to build the story of the painter.

During his childhood and youth in Switzerland (1879-1898) near Bern, he started to draw with colored pencils, a gift from his grandmother. He developed a fondness for the "Images d'Epinal" and other French popular prints. However, his father and mother were musicians and he was brought up to become a violinist. After much hesitation, Klee decided that music was a "downward path" and concentrated on drawing. From 1898 till 1906, the young artist moved to Munich where he led a free-spirited life, attending concerts, carousing with some debauchery, all this considered part of growing up: "Put simply, first and foremost, I had to become a person; art would follow." He spent a few months in Italy, visited Paris and produced mainly drawings, etchings and disappointing paintings.
The years 1906-1920 would see the artist mature and his reputation grow in Europe. First he married Lily, a pianist who supported the couple for a while and had a son Felix. Klee enjoyed his domestic life and at the same time, he met Kandinsky and became a member of Der Blaue Reiter. Klee stayed independent from other artists and followed his own artist's path. He visited galleries, discovered the works of French artists and made a short trip to Tunisia in 1911 with August Macke. It proved to be a turning point in his career: the artist discovered color.

Klee's career accelerated with his move to Weimar in 1921, due to his professoral appointment at the Bauhaus. He mingled with painters, architects, musicians, composers and established theories about art, creativity, movement, forms, colors.... His classes became so popular that students had to be turned away. The book gives a great insight in the daily life of the school. Klee with his cool demeanor and humor knew how to defuse the tension between the Staff members. His moral authority earned him the nickname Bauhaus Buddha.

But teaching was taking a toll on Klee and he moved to the Academy in Dusseldorf in 1931 for a short period. The Nazis were rising in power and in March 1933, his works were confiscated then returned after his protest. The artist moved back to Swizerland where he died in 1940. His final years were overshadowed by the symptoms of scleroderma, a disease which precluded him from playing violin. However, it did not slow down his creativity and the artist who had developed a sparse style produced more than 1200 drawings, some colored and 43 paintings the year before is death. At that time, the artist had reached fame and Picasso met him during a trip to Switzerland.

A pleasant way to browse the book is by looking only at the numerous illustrations. By doing so, the reader can acquire a visual memory of the artist's work.

As a footnote, the children's book of a the month at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in March was "Paul Klee for Children" from Silke Vry. I found ironical that the book cover is Der Bayrische Don Giovanni (The Bavarian Don Giovanni), 1919. In this work, Klee represents himself on a ladder loooking for new erotic adventures and the names printed on the canvas amid the colors and shapes representing windows are the first name of his mistresses!

Klee was interested in children and challenged individuals. He wrote:" There also exist the primal beginnings of art as found in the ethnographic museum or at home in the nursery...for children are equally capable...The more helpless these children, the more revealing their art."

An exhibition of Paul Klee's work "Polyphonies" took place at La Cite de la Musique from October 2011 till January 2012 in Paris.

photographs from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

"Twittering Machine" 1922

"Burg and Sonne", 1932

"Ohne Titel" 1939-40

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