Tag Archives: Paul Klee

FROM THE VAULT | Paul Klee on Modern Art

paul-klee-modern-artFROM THE VAULT |  Paul Klee on Modern Art
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Paul Klee on Modern Art (with Introduction by Herbert Read) is the text of a lecture delivered in 1924 at the opening of a museum exhibit of modern art (thus it reads in the first person). It is a series of brief commentaries on the Modernist creative process. Herbert Read’s brief but excellent introduction is an enlightening, concise summary of Klee’s intent in the lecture as well as the difficulties some readers might encounter while reading the text. Because Klee focuses on the creative process, he looks inward rather than outward (as he did in Creative Confessions), which gives the text a bit of an ego-centric viewpoint. In this sense, Modern Art is really about the artist in the world (in this case, Klee himself). Klee’s explicit reservations about speaking about his art also tends to make Modern Art feel somewhat defensive.

Because of this, Modern Art is not as rich with interesting observations, concepts and quotes that might find a common expression in architecture or urban planning (except perhaps its worst excesses, i.e. the architectural genius). Indeed, some of Klee’s text seems to pull back on his thoughts in Creative Confessions. For example, he states “line is the most limited”, which seems to contradict the ‘inherent energy’ he discussed in the other work. Instead, he shifts his focus to tone and color as an unmeasurable ‘quality’ in art, with explicit references to ‘mood’ in the artist and the emotions provoke in the character of a piece of art. In this sense, Modern Art represents a counter (and lesser) movement to Creative Confessions, of more limited application outside the realm of the artistic compulsion itself where there is “more value on the powers (i.e. the artist) which do the forming than the final forms themselves” residing “in the womb of nature” where the artist literally becomes a God himself in a creative act of genesis.

Paul Klee on Modern Art
by Paul Klee (with Introduction by Herbert Read)
55 pages
Faber and Faber Ltd. London. Paper Covered Editions (1967)

You can purchase Paul Klee on Modern Art from Amazon here.

Check out the Artsy.net Paul Klee page here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

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FROM THE VAULT | Creative Confessions and other writings | Paul Klee

creative-confessionsFROM THE VAULT | Creative Confessions and other writings by Paul Klee
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Creative Confessions is a series of short essays (vignettes, really) by Modern abstract artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) on art and composition, which the artist wrote while teaching at the Bauhaus in Germany during the 1920s with a postscript essay by the editor, Matthew Gale. In this, it is a thought-provoking read that can be managed in a single sitting (in a real sense: perfect for the Internet Era). It is stuffed full with quotes that have direct bearing on composition in art (“art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible”). However, Klee’s vignettes also carry (perhaps indirect) importance for composition in architecture and urban planning. For example, “a tendency towards the abstract is inherent in linear expression” when you think of this concept in terms of movement in the city. When Klee discusses “the formal elements of graphic art are the dot, line, plane, and space – the last three charged with energy of various kind”, we can easily translate this into built environment terms (dot=location, line=axis of movement, plane=convex space, and space itself is self-explanatory). Klee means this in terms of the energy of artistic gesture but we can also easily understand how these things in an urban environment are similarly ‘charged with energy’ in terms of movement, avoidance, and encounter.

Indeed, it is easy to make transitions such as these from art to architecture/planning since Klee himself tends to express these ideas in terms of movement/counter movement in encounter and vision, i.e. a journey across “an unploughed field” or crossing a “river” or “walking across the deck of a steamer”, which are described in terms of linear expression. Klee’s explicitly acknowledges this, arguing that “movement is the source of all change” and “space, too, is a temporal concept.” “When a dot begins to move and becomes a line, this require time.” In planning terms, we can think of this as our location in space changing by the action of our movement and thus our experience of space evolves with that movement. This is not only expressed in terms of geospatial reality but also in time since we, as human beings, are bound in space and time.

“Movement is the basic datum” of the universe, Klee tells us. In understanding this (in art as well as the science of urbanism), we can “reveal the reality that is behind visible things”.  Klee argues “the object grows beyond its appearance through our knowledge that the thing is more than its outward aspect suggests”. Indeed, in discussing art, is Klee begins to tap into the inherent nature of observation and science itself.

Creative Confessions and other writings
by Paul Klee (Matthew Gale, Editor and Postscript)
32 pages
Tate; Act edition (May 6, 2014), London UK

You can purchase Creative Confessions and other writings from Amazon here.

Check out the Artsy.net Paul Klee page here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

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Vertical Geometries | The City in Art

Paul Klee’s Castle and Sun (1928), 50 x 59 cm, oil on canvas, Private Collection/Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library.

Vertical Geometries | The City in Art
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Today’s issue of The City in Art returns to another innovative painting by the Swiss artist Paul Klee. The striking image Klee creates in Castle and Sun (1928) uses different geometric shapes and various shades of color, similar to the previously seen Klee’s Highways and Byways. The lone sun shines in the ingeniously designed sky with strong lines and the structure of the geometric shapes defining the castle/city. In addition, various rectangular sizes add depth to the abstract image. The complex and contrasting use of colors by Klee in this painting – in combination with the varying sizes of shapes – provides a subtle illusion of depth, independently of any proper perspective in gross terms otherwise lacking in the two-dimensional plane of the canvas. Klee executes the cubism technique of this painting in his patented style. The painting possesses a mix of the abstract with reality while figures are deconstructed to form interesting geometric shapes. The clay colored background gives a clearer sense of how the shapes seem to form a city skyline of intense color and light. Klee uses pops of yellow to bring the eye in and break up the browns everywhere else. This oil on canvas painting has a complex array of triangular figures to provide an imaginary metropolis of shapes. The touch of realism, angles, and its use of color creates a city of geometric shapes. Paul Klee’s imaginary works continue to inspire and intrigue (Source: Totally History). Klee’s Castle and Sun, in particular, is regularly used by teachers for early education in artistic technique. At that age, school children (and perhaps their teachers) are unaware of the subtly complicated and innovative beauty of this painting by Klee.

About Paul Klee
Paul Klee (1879–1940) was born near Bern, Switzerland. He studied drawing and painting in Munich for three years beginning in 1898. By 1911, he was involved with the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), founded by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. In 1914, Klee visited Tunisia. The experience was the turning point. The limpid light of North Africa awakened his sense of color. Klee gradually detached color from physical description and used it independently, giving him the final push toward abstraction. In 1920, Walter Gropius invited Klee to join the faculty of the Bauhaus. Nearly half of Klee’s work was produced during the ten years he taught at the Bauhaus. From 1931-1933, Klee taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf. When the National Socialists declared his art “degenerate”, he returned to his native Bern. Klee suffered from a wasting disease, scleroderma, towards the end of his life, enduring the pain until his death in Muralto, Locarno, Switzerland, on June 29, 1940 (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikipedia).

Visit the Artsy.net Paul Klee page here.

The City in Art is a series by The Outlaw Urbanist. The purpose is to present and discuss artistic depictions of the city that can help us, as professionals, learn to better see the city in ways that are invisible to others. Before the 20th century, most artistic representations of the city broadly fell into, more or less, three categories: literalism, pastoral romanticism, and impressionism, or some variation thereof. Generally, these artistic representations of the city lack a certain amount of substantive interest for the modern world. The City in Art series places particular emphasis on art and photography from the dawn of the 20th century to the present day.

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Terre Potentiel | The City in Art

Paul Klee’s Highways and Byways (1929), 67 x 83 cm or 26.4” x 32.7”, oil on canvas, Christoph and Andr Collection displayed in Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany.

Terre Potentiel | The City in Art
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

According to the one interpretation of Paul Klee’s Highways and Byways, plots of lands are used as ‘building blocks’ to offer an aerial view of the landscape in order to create the illusion of perspective and relief. “Complexity emerges geometrically by successive doublings from a central ‘highway’ to create ‘byways’ (i.e. small, more dense or compact plots of land), only to be lost again by inversely halving their number.” The largest plots forming the central ‘highway’ approach a water body (probably the River Nile since this period of Klee’s paintings came after a trip to Egypt). However, the title of Klee’s painting indicates a different interpretation than agricultural plots for the colored strata (Source: The Peacock’s Tail: Essays on Mathematics and Culture). It does seem to hint at more than an abstract painting of an agricultural landscape. Perhaps skewed by an American perspective towards the land, it might suggest terre potentiel (the potential of the land). Humans have already intervened in the landscape for agricultural uses and the river already serves as a transportation hub, both associated with the support mechanisms for urban living. “In this pattern of fields, all is order, timeless structure, with a poetic element added… in twentieth-century creative language” (Source: PaulKlee.net). It is in this ‘timeless structure of order’ that can be found the design traces of a future urban pattern, a future city that has yet to emerge from the land but the potential for its emergence is already etched in the landscape. I love this painting, not so much for what it represents in the ‘here and now’ (though it is beautiful only on these terms) but what it represents about the possible, the “undiscovered country,” …the future, where all travelers must venture but none may journey before it is time.

About Paul Klee
Paul Klee (1879–1940) was born near Bern, Switzerland. He studied drawing and painting in Munich for three years beginning in 1898. By 1911, he was involved with the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), founded by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. In 1914, Klee visited Tunisia. The experience was the turning point. The limpid light of North Africa awakened his sense of color. Klee gradually detached color from physical description and used it independently, giving him the final push toward abstraction. In 1920, Walter Gropius invited Klee to join the faculty of the Bauhaus. Nearly half of Klee’s work was produced during the ten years he taught at the Bauhaus. From 1931-1933, Klee taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf. When the National Socialists declared his art “degenerate”, he returned to his native Bern. Klee suffered from a wasting disease, scleroderma, towards the end of his life, enduring the pain until his death in Muralto, Locarno, Switzerland, on June 29, 1940 (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikipedia).

Visit the Artsy.net Paul Klee page here.

Read a later article about another Paul Klee painting featured in The City in Art series here.

The City in Art is a series by The Outlaw Urbanist. The purpose is to present and discuss artistic depictions of the city that can help us, as professionals, learn to better see the city in ways that are invisible to others. Before the 20th century, most artistic representations of the city broadly fell into, more or less, three categories: literalism, pastoral romanticism, and impressionism, or some variation thereof. Generally, these artistic representations of the city lack a certain amount of substantive interest for the modern world. The City in Art series places particular emphasis on art and photography from the dawn of the 20th century to the present day.

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