Tate Modern: Paul Klee, Making Visible

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“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible.” – Paul Klee

Tutor at the Bauhaus, contemporary of Kandinsky and one of the most inventive artists of the twentieth century, Klee is best known for his colour-blocking and innovative gradation technique. However, this exhibition reveals another dimension to Klee’s work and poses him more as an illustrator – his oil-transfer technique as a new approach to printmaking, through which he created whimsical scenes and bizarre characters – explained as his way of dealing with the horrors of war.

Klee’s work combines the representational and the abstract; vivid tones and dark motifs; geometric shapes and soft spatterings of colour. When isolated, Klee’s work can appear simplistic and its themes trivial, however when placed chronologically as in Making Visible, shapes become torrents of gunfire and the smiles of half-formed characters are  ironic and foreboding.

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Klee’s haphazard tableaus reveal themselves as a coping mechanism for his turbulent life – the untimely splitting of the Blaue Reiter group, the inclusion of his works within the Nazi ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition – real events placed within theatrical settings to allow for a much needed psychological separation.

Klee is known for colour and life, yet in this context his colours are tainted – immediately dirtier, darker – only dramatically lifting when the artist ventured to Italy or Tunisia, as if his palette needed reminding.

Making Visible reveals the radically inventive yet troubled individual behind a vast collection of otherwise seemingly childlike works; not only providing an insight into the life of Paul Klee, but also standing as a fascinating reminder of the catastrophic effects of the Second World War upon artists, art institutions and art practice of the time.

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