SURREALISM AGAIN, Observations on the work of Klee by Jan Gordon 1941

The Liverpool Daily Post of Thursday 06 March 1941 carried a commentary by Jan Gordon on a London exhibition of works by the Swiss-born Paul Klee (18 December 1879 – 29 June 1940).

SURREALISM AGAIN: Paul Klee’s Art By Jan Gordon

"An exhibition of works by the German-Swiss artist, Paul Klee, whose death in Switzerland last year passed almost unnoticed, has just been opened at the Leicester Galleries. 

It is not an exhibition which the normal spectator will easily understand. In fact, one might say that passing round the walls hung with Klee’s small, strange works, he will come at last —if he lasts so long—to a drawing. No. 49. It represents roughly a head. There is a vague, twisted, bothered face, but the brain-pan has been ploughed up into blocks. 

If the spectator will give this little longer consideration, he may come to feel that it just about represents his own state of mind after having gone round some forty of Klee’s paintings. For Klee is, no doubt, the most apparently childish yet really most skilled and subtle, the most obviously absurd and yet the most innocently appealing of all those brain-twisting people who have been called Surrealists. 

Even of his own work Klee himself has written, "From this point I am not very intelligible." Superficially, Klee’s work looks like the scrawling of a child of four. It is the kind of work that makes the average spectator exclaim, My little boy can do better than that.” 

Yet early drawings by Klee prove that at one time he was among the most brilliant of Germany’s younger draughtsmen. This shows that he was not incapable of representational draughtsmanship but that he was unwilling. 

His work is magical in its peculiar skill and technical invention.

Klee, half-German half-French born, was exiled from Germany among Hitler’s decadents.

Reading this, I am reminded of listening to a 1983 (I think) concert by Maurizio Pollini, my favourite Chopin player, in Edinburgh (I was performing in a contemporary dance show at the time) where he played a Luigi Nono piece for prepared piano, but only after demonstrating his credentials with a Beethoven recital.

Jan Gordon had taken it upon himself to explain modern art in his writings and public lectures and this short piece was one more attempt to help make the new art more accessible.

I cannot find the drawing of the bothered face and the brain-pan ploughed up into blocks, but here instead is another of his works from this time period, the 1938 Forest Witches (public Domain).



References

- Jan Gordon on the Preston Harrison Collection of Modern French Art. September 27, 2014
- A 1920 Jan Gordon talk on Modern Art - "A Fierce Battle of Words!"  June 09, 2018

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