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Klee, Paul
born: 1897 München,buchsee, near Berne, Switzerland
died: 194o Muralto, Locarno, Switzerland

In 1911, the year Paul Klee drew Head of a Woman, he met Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and August Macke in Munich. The following year Klee took part in their exhibition, The Blue Rider. This pen and ink drawing marks the end of Klee's early phase, yet it also anticipates some of the graphic devices and inventions that would soon bring him fame. The simplified contour, which captures the essence of the model and whose harshness is softened by delicate washes, depicts not only what the artist's eye sees but also what it makes him feel. Indeed the whole of Klee's work was based on his credo, "Art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible." Key events in his career were a confrontation with Cubism and with Robert Delaunay's Orphism (1914, in Paris), as well as an experience of the Mediterranean region (on his Tunis journey of 1914). Klee's art was equally based in the study of nature and the study of art itself. The light-flooded composition Highroad and Byroads is one of a series of works done in 1928 and 1929 under the impression of a trip to Egypt. The rigorous structure of horizontal strips and rectangular fields reflects the approach of Klee's Bauhaus period (1920-1931). The linear scaffolding, also present in many other works of the late 192os, follows the rationa) principles of design which the artist had worked out for purposes of instruction at the school. His experience of the brilliant Egyptian sunlight, the expansiveness of its countryside, and the traces of its ancient culture, are all translated into compellingly simple form and clear color. The horizontal strips and lines evoke fields and terraces; the unbroken blue and violet bands at the top convey an impression of a horizon and distant sky, but might also be read as the Nile. By shortening the colored bands towards the top, Klee suggests a landscape receding in space without, however, going so far as to create a perspective illusion that would destroy the flatness of the picture plane. The light color harmonies wonderfully suggest desert sand and soil, water and vegetation, without being at all realistic. Beyond the impression it gives of the Egyptian landscape and atmosphere, the picture would also seem to contain a metaphorical, universal reference to streets and roads, symbols of the hierarchical order of social life, but also of its secrets and vicissitudes, its errors and confusions. In the watercolor Tone from Sicily- an island Klee visited in 1924 - details are indicated by means of what he called "squaring." The mountains are covered with groups of short brushmarks of a kind that would reappear in the Divisionist paintings of the 193os. Underscored by the title, the forms and colors of the painting evoke a mental picture - or conjure up a memory - of gleaming, sun-warmed villages overhanging Mediterranean bays, under a perpetually blue sky. The mosaic-like interior structure and the strips of silver foil at top and bottom lend the composition a touch of preciousness, and bring reminiscences of the art of the past in this region to mind. Klee's Fool in Trance (1929) belongs to a long series ofworks on the subject of theater, circus, and variety shows. The figure, built up principally of linear arabesques, appears against an indeterminate background of light browns and greys. It seems translucent and almost weightless, evoking the state of trance. This intention is underscored by emphasis on the gesture of the hands, open as if in supplication, and the facial features of overlarge eye and open mouth, which suggest the appearance to the figure of a dream or vision. Expelled by the National Socialists from his teaching post at the DüsseldorfAcademy in 1933, Klee emigrated to Berne, Switzerland. It was here that he did his late work, whose subject-matter was often ambiguous or gently ironic, as in the tempera and watercolor Über-Blick (Over-View, or Super-Gaze). Continuing to explore the borderline zone between objective reference and abstraction, Klee evoked an ambivalent relationship between nature and its creatures. Here the image oscillates between a mountainous landscape and a face, whose Super-Gaze seems to fix us impassively but threateningly.
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