Mystical Klee at Tate Modern

Paul Klee Fish Magic

Suddenly there is a wealth of Continental painters on display in England, ones no one had really heard about before, despite being much loved over there in that far away place called 'Europe'.

Last year Tate showed Klimt in all his golden glory in Liverpool, and now they have dedicated 16 rooms to Paul Klee. Sixteen! It’s a miracle.

You will have seen a few of his paintings, mostly on display in doctors' waiting rooms. I don’t understand why his pictures of fish swimming are so popular; only the colourful medinas of August Macke, from the same group of artists painting at the start of the 20th century, are more popular. Maybe the colours are soothing.

Paul Klee A Good Place For Fish

So be prepared that the Klee you will experience here is far more taxing on your mind. This is Klee the amazing painter of the invisible, the artful technician, magician of the most elegant drawings interspersed with delicate water colour washes. The exhibiton, 'Paul Klee – Making Visible', takes us through his developments as a painter, and it is astounding to see how many styles he attempted – and mastered. This deeply cultured man spent his whole life working to show what he understood life to be about. The often-featured big, watchful eye looking at us: I imagine him saying, "Watch, see!" And he makes this new seeing so easy; his colours attract your eye and don’t offend it, so you want to explore.

His quiet, but determined resilience let him survive in a period of great upheaval in Germany, when he resigned at the Bauhaus and lost his tenure in Dusseldorf; the Nazis didn’t like exploring and subtlety too much. And they certainly loathed abstract, mystical paintings as 'decadent, degenerate art'. His 1923 exhibition at the National gallery in Berlin was his last uncontroversial one. He had to leave Germany, and showed his art in Switzerland from 1935. He was half Swisss, so could emigrate. The 'Baue Reiter' group he admired, composed of Kandinsky, Macke, and Jawlensky, all struggled now. Some of them had to flee the Nazis, being either communist or Jewish, and their dealers were emigrating too. The Officaldom made life hard.

You can see reflections of his friends' influences in the pictures presented here. Klee loved exploring, learning, and trying out techniques. There is even early Pointillism clearly visible in The Dancer (1932). Lyonel Feininger is anticipated, and even Keith Haring is on the horizon in work from 1938's Park near Lu.

Of course, the famous Fish Magic (1925), one of the largest, is shown, but most are really quite small exquisite 20x30 frames, maybe indicative of Klee’s declining health. He was a man driven to show that the artist is more than a camera, endlessly trying to 'reveal the reality that is behind the visible things'. What a mesmerizing, bewitching journey Tate Modern is offering us!

Paul Klee Fish Magic