Paul Klee @ Tate Modern

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

I think Paul Klee had the third eye. He saw what the rest of us couldn’t see and painted them to show us what we were missing. Paul Klee was one of my most revered art masters yet most of his works I encountered so far had been a complete enigma to me. Therefore, when I learnt that Tate Modern would host his retrospective show, the first large-scale exhibition in the UK for more than 10 years, I could hardly wait for its arrival.


I was not at all an art expert.
However, I felt it hugely rewarding and privileged to experience what this genius, Paul Klee, saw through his extraordinary eyes and through his various innovative methods, conveyed a poetic side of ordinary objects. In order to fully appreciate what he had achieved through numerous experiments, I must read his art-theory publications he complied during his teaching career at the Bauhaus. Even though, I hired an audio guide at the exhibition, and the guide itself was fairly informative, I was still left with lots of questions unanswered about his work.

The strongest impression I brought home from the exhibition was his astonishing ability to create a depth and distance by employing a seemingly basic medium. The more I looked into the works, the more I found its surface undulating, warped and deepened.

This work, titled “Opened Mountain” (1914), was produced during his break-through trip to Morocco.
The arrangement draws me further into the depth of surface…

– Watercolour on paper on cardboard.

In “Organisation” (1918), Klee repeatedly overlaid layer upon layer in order to achieve an imaginary field of distance…

– Watercolour, gouache, ink & graphite on paper on cardboard.

For “They’re Biting” (1920), he developed a new technique – black oil paint was spread over the canvas and while the paint was still wet, he overlaid a paper and scratched the surface with a metal tipped pen in order to create jagged and blotchy lines…

– Oil-transfer drawing and watercolour on paper.

A series of works from this period are filled with those humorous caricature like figures as well as letterings and arrows which are incorporated into the drawings.

This “Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms” (1920) is one of his most iconic works…

– Oil and ink in cardboard.

Tree like figures are overlapped with coloured squares and rectangles which resembles a wintery landscape being viewed through a coloured stained glass panel.

In the period during Klee produced “Ripening Growth” (1921), the works were dominated with tonal graduation experiment…

– Water colour and graphite on paper on cardboard.

Again, the technique appears basic and even rudimentary, yet, the execution is meticulous and creates a magical depth on the canvas.

Throughout his painting career, a certain symbol, such as an arrow, appears every now and then.
In “Separation in the Evening” (1922), there are two arrows pointing at each other. What are they for? The purpose of it is not entirely obvious…

– Watercolour and graphite on paper on cardboard.

In “A Young Lady’s Adventure” (1922), a red arrow points at the figure in the middle…

– Pen and ink and watercolour on paper.

What do these letters and arrows in “Analysis of Diverse Perversities” (1922) really mean?…

– China ink and watercolour on paper on cardboard.

On this work, “Battle Scene from the Comic-Fantastic Opera, The Seafarer” (1923), humorous figures are superimposed on the tonally graduated background, creating a charming 3-D like effect…

– Oil, graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper, bordered with watercolour, ink and gouache on cardboard.

The size of his works are definitely on the modest side whereby the level of detailing he achieved on this painting, “Structural II” (1924) is awe-inspiring…

– Watercolour and tempera on chalk-primed paper, with gouache and ink border on cardboard.

In this work, “Sacred Islands” – (1926), he created a labyrinth like landscape which draws its viewer to a multiple directions…

– Ink and watercolour on paper on board.

Klee must have been gifted with an incredible eye sight as well as nimble fingers. The drawing is meticulously inked with astonishing accuracy. The detailing on this drawing is simply beyond my comprehension.

Klee kept a fish rank at home. Therefore, fish in all sizes and colours graced his numerous works throughout the exhibition. One fine example is “Around the Fish” (1926)…

– Oil and tempera on canvas on cardboard.

In “Castle and Sun” (1928), his use of key colour provides a reference point from where I can feel an expansion of the canvas…

– Oil-colour on canvas on stretcher.

By a playful manner of subdividing the surface as well as a subtle use of the colour, “Town Castle Kr.” (1932) demonstrates how the illusion of undulation can be achieved…

– Oil on primed cardboard.

And the effect was repeated again with this work, “Fire at Full Moon” (1933)…

– Mixed technique on canvas.

While bright key colours, yellow and red, elevate themselves on the surface, more muted colours subtly suggest the unevenness of the terrain.

The period Paul Klee created his vast catalogue of works was far from calm. It was between two great wars and its ideological as well as political environment were changing dramatically. Being a German Jew and the Nazi branded his work as degenerate, his life toward its premature end was not at all peaceful. Yet, the works just before his death, “Rich Harbour” (1938) appears bolder and even defiant…

– Oil and coloured paste on drawing paper on burlap.

I wonder how Klee’s work would have progressed if the illness and the political suppression by the Nazi did not occur. He could have produced a prodigious amount of works. Hubbie and I left the exhibition, utterly enchanted by Paul Klee’s poetic interpretation of the world. We must say a big thank you to his third eye…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

14 thoughts on “Paul Klee @ Tate Modern

  1. Lovely post. Have you selected the pics of the work you liked best on an emotional response or chosen the works that were more interesting to think about? On a more boring note, was the exhibition very busy? And was there much of Klee’s 3D work like his puppets? Thanks. Agnes

    • Hi Agnes, I picked the works which left me a stronger impression. Having said that, there were so many more work I liked! The exhibition was not over-crowded when we were there. I think we picked the time well. Most of the tourists had gone by 19:30. There wasn’t any of his 3D works, by the way. The show was large and thorough. The audio guide was ok but didn’t describe much about the works but more about his personal history. Are you visiting the exhibition soon? (^_^)

      • Thank you for the info. I wanted to see this Exhibition when I was in London last week, but my sister (who has lived in Germany and has a degree in German) felt she wasn’t up to any heavy Swiss/German Expressionism and as I had twisted her arm to see Brecht’s ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’ (which actually we both thought was great) the night before, I didn’t feel like pushing the Klee. It’s on for a while so hopefully when I next come up to London I’ll get to see it – shame there are no puppets!

  2. Great post! Love the reproductions, and I’m intrigued by your analyses. I’ll have to come back and read them again in more detail. I’m no art expert, but I know what I like — and I’m starting to like Klee.

    Hope this exhibition makes it to Tokyo…

    • Thank you! I hope my humble view didn’t become a source of my embarrassment. I took photos from the exhibition catalogue I bought after the show. The colour of the original works are much much better. The colour is more intense and rich. My images don’t do justice to Paul Klee’s genius. I hope they will do his retrospective show in Tokyo too. Let me know if you come across any interesting art exhibition in Tokyo (^_^)

    • I love Fire at Full Moon! I think I could watch if for hours if I were allowed. The gallery had funny alarms for certain works. If I got too close to the painting, it would start off and I got frown on. That was only minus of the show (^_^;)

  3. What I admire about Klee’s work (which btw I find already prodigious despite his early death) is his talent in working and mixing differrent media and interpret influences in such a way that the final result is always unmistakably Klee. That, and the music in them!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: