I must apologise instantly to the unwary reader that I am about to begin this post with a sentence of crashing banality, but nothing else will do. Here goes: books are truly wondrous things! Yes, quite, and quickly moving on let me explain. I had to give a talk the other evening which I titled, 'Books Wot I Red: The Literary Peregrinations of a Semi-educated Man'. I know, I know, not exactly a snappy title. However, the preparation provided an excuse for me to root about in what passes for my study, in a quest for old books, that is, books which I have owned for years. As a result of this fevered search, I turned up what I can truly describe as a 'slim volume'. It only has 15 pages, and measures 4" by 6" - if you're a Europhile, work it out for yourself in metric, I can't be bothered. I bought it in 1957 (oh God!) and it cost 2s.6p which is about 13p in the dross we use today.
On the cover is a colour photo reproduction of a painting. It is square, and the painting itself consists entirely of loosely drawn squares and oblongs in a variety of colours. I can still remember the occasion on which I purchased it in W. H. Smith in Guildford. It was the picture on the cover that took my eye. I liked it instantly, and curiosity made me pick it up and flick through it. I liked everything I saw in it, and bought it on the spot.
Thus, by means of this modest little book, a window was opened in my life to the works of Paul Klee. I now have several books on him, and several reproductions of his paintings hanging on my walls. That little book has provided me with a lifetime of pleasure and delight. For those not familiar with Klee's work, I can only describe them, and here I choose my words deliberately, as charming, fascinating and intellectually rigorous. I write 'charming' in the literal sense of the word. They do charm the beholder, even those (like me!) predisposed to cynicism verging on dislike for the modernist movement in the arts. I am not original in describing Klee's paintings as having a child-like quality which is instantly attractive. As he, himself, put it, children 'see' with a clarity of vision that adulthood clouds.
I also use the word 'fascinating', again in the literal sense that, because they hover on the cusp between realism and abstraction, they give you a sense of the magician's famous trick of "now you see it, now you don't". They tease, but without the whimsy of, say, Kandinsky's work. Like, but of course in an utterly different way, Rembrandt's self-portraits as an old man, you can gaze at Klee's pictures for an age and 'see' or 'sense' depths within.
Finally, I used the phrase 'intellectually rigorous'. Because Klee's pictures are, in some ways, child-like, it is all too easy to imagine that a child could have painted them. It is only necessary to read something of his life and his writings to disabuse you quickly of that notion. He analysed painting down to the very basics. Begining with 'point', the mark made by a pencil; and then line, produced as he remarked, by taking his pencil for a walk! Then the length and breadth of the line, its straightness or curvature; then tone, the blacks, whites, and greys in-between, and the problems of how much weight to give them in any compostion. Finally, and perhaps above and beyond all the others, colour! All through his earlier works you can see him striving to work out the dynamics of colour, until, in his middle and late period, he conquered it and produced colour combinations of sublime beauty.
This was a man who 'thought' through his art-form, but who imbued it with a luminous and human light. I remain confident that several painters of the 20th century whose reputations have been inflated by the fashionable, will quietly fade away, but Paul Klee's creations will remain a delight for future generations. The best 2s.6p I ever spent!