Marmite and Klee

Let me steer you away from the realm of art for a moment, and instead let me ask you to consider the many love/hate relationships that we so often have.  Take chocolate for instance; LOVE chocolate, HATE myself afterwards (for all those who have consumed an entire large Galaxy bar in one sitting, you know what I mean….).  And then there’s Reality Television.  You know it’s wasting your life, minute by minute, and yet it can be so voyeuristically compelling.  And finally: marmite.  Of course, the old ‘you love it or you hate it’ phrase was seemingly created for this food product. Personally, I fall into the ‘love’ category, but I won’t judge if you don’t like it.  To each their own.  This leads me to… Paul Klee.
Apologies for the (apparent) abrupt change in topic, but bear with me.  If Klee were to create his paintings today, would he still be given all the acclaim that he received in the past?

Camel in Rhythmic Wooded Landscape, 1920. Oil on gauze with chalk, 48 x 42 cm. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen, Düsseldorf

Klee deals with the abstract.  This is all well and good, but abstract art, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, is much like marmite. Ergo, Paul Klee is much like marmite.  Within the ‘pro-Klee’ camp, there will be abounding arguments such as ‘his work was groundbreaking’, ‘he offered a cuttingly sharp perspective on the events of his time’, ‘he was a creative genius, none of his works are the same’, and ‘his works almost talk to us, through them we can see his humour, his moods, and his beliefs’.  In the ‘anti-Klee’ camp, counter-arguments may well follow to include; ‘the “childlike simplicity” in his art is pretentious’, ‘he couldn’t decide which medium to work with, so he tried them all’, and ‘he couldn’t paint what he wanted to communicate straight out, he often hides his true meaning so it requires a fine toothcomb to uncover it’.

Departure of the Ships, 1927. Oil on canvas, 50 x 60 cm. Private Collection, Switzerland

Of course, if Klee were to paint today, his work would no longer be groundbreaking. Strike one.  On first impression, his work is simplistic to the point of that of a childish amateur.  It requires deeper understanding and analysis to see the depth that is actually in his work.  In today’s society, do we have the patience required to do this or have we become a ‘Banksy’ culture, where we require a message to be painted on a wall in order to appreciate it?  …Strike two.

Thirdly and finally, are we still capable of appreciating abstract art in its pure form?  Having been to the Tate Modern and seen the nearly blank canvasses with squares of colour, and Dali’s lobster on the telephone, I have to concede.  Yes, the abstract is alive and well and living among us.  Welcome to the 21st Century Paul Klee, it seems your art will always have a place within society.

For any Klee sceptics out there, allow me to point you in the direction of Dusseldorf’s Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, where the exhibition 100 x Paul Klee is ongoing until the 10th February 2013. You may find yourselves acquiring a new taste for this particular artist, and as I always say to my non-English compatriots about marmite, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!  Paul Klee aficionados will love the Klee eBook by Donald Wigal, or alternatively discover Klee in Beauty of the Beast, written by John Bascom.

-Fiona Torsch

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