Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Five Minutes with Artist Paul Klee

Swiss-born artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) was a significant influence in my early art. What excited me about his work was the incredible variety. He seemed like an artist who defied categorization. Modern? Yes, but only in the sense that his work was liberated from everything before it. He worked using a variety of media and a seemingly endless variety of styles. He worked on paper, cloth, canvas, burlap, or what appears to be anything he could find. Like Dylan today, he seems to have been constantly re-inventing himself.

I caught up with him recently to discuss his life and work, somewhat eager to learn his impressions of mine.

Ennyman: Tell me about your early influences?
Klee: My earliest influence was music. I was raised in a very musical family. My father was a music teacher and my mother a trained singer. I began playing violin at age seven. But my grandmother once gave me a box of sidewalk chalk and it was clear I had a good hand for drawing. As a teen my drawings showed a considerable level of skill and my parents, reluctantly, allowed me to pursue art school at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.

Ennyman: My grandmother was an influence, too, in my art development. After college, then what?
Klee: I went back home and lived with my parents. It was a rueful time, and my work travelled down two paths. My black and white pieces were dark, and so color came to mean something special to me, even began to possess me. I was also doing a lot of experimentation at the time, doing one series of 57 pictures drawing on a blackened pain of glass with a needle.

Ennyman: Interesting technique.
Klee: I still kept up my music and played violin in the orchestra and was writing concert and theater reviews.

Ennyman: Yes, you were also a writer.
Klee: I'd begun a diary very young and never quit that. It's a good way to learn how to capture abstract ideas in words and to develop an understanding of how you observe.

Ennyman: How did you come to be a recognized figure in the European art scene?
Klee: I was doing illustrations for Voltaire's Candide and met Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and other avant garde artists, who became known as The Blue Rider group. Wassily has a keen mind and had been developing theories and ideas about color, as I had. Art does not reproduce the visible, rather it makes visible. We both went on to teach at the Bauhaus school of art.

Ennyman: Mr. Kandinsky wrote a number of books as well as opening modern painting to new spaces. I enjoyed his Concerning the Spiritual in Art. You wrote as well, did you not?
Klee: I published my diary in 1918 and also some other writings later.

Ennyman: You once stated that even drawing has changed for you.
Klee: In the final analysis, a drawing simply is no longer a drawing, no matter how self-sufficient its execution may be. It is a symbol, and the more profoundly the imaginary lines of projection meet higher dimensions, the better.

Ennyman: Are there any common threads in your world view with other disciplines:
Klee: The art of mastering life is the prerequisite for all further forms of expression, whether they are paintings, sculptures, tragedies, or musical compositions.

Ennyman: Any last thoughts?
Klee: Some will not recognize the truthfulness of my mirror. Let them remember that I am not here to reflect the surface... but must penetrate inside. My mirror probes down to the heart. I write words on the forehead and around the corners of the mouth. My human faces are truer than the real ones. Also, when looking at any significant work of art, remember that a more significant one probably has had to be sacrificed.

Ennyman: Thank you for your time.

This interview is a work of fiction. The information is not fiction, taken from Klee's actual quotes and the entry about his life and work in Wikipedia.

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