Ubiquitous Klee

The narrative of post-war American art is by now pretty dull. It’s hard to say how many really believed it; certainly most artists have always had a broader view of the world. It was probably at base a marketing strategy to encourage more American buyers of American art, and it worked pretty well to open markets in Europe—defeated Europe. But though most readers of this blog would likely nod their heads, as would most knowledgable art worldlings, the reality might still come as a surprise. The most influential artist world wide in the post WWII period may have been Paul Klee.

In Latin America he’s in everyone from Xul Solar to Gego to Mira Schendel; Max Bill notwithstanding I think Klee had more influence on abstraction in Latin America, though it’s interesting that the two examples who come to mind first, Gego and Schendel, were both Central European emigres. In India the early work of Vasudeo Gaitonde was very beholden to Klee. The historical rhetoric talks about Indian miniatures, but the works themselves say Klee. Klee was widely admired in the US but the American juggernaut, meaning above all big, very physical pictures, overpowered his small scale visual thoughts. Everywhere else the concept of “taking a line for a walk” captivated artists with its simplicity and improvisational obviousness. That’s fine, but I’m more interested in one of his characteristic techniques—oil transfer drawing, which is basically monoprinting. He would draw with oil and brush on something, don’t know what, and transfer it onto the surface already prepared with watercolour or ink.

Paul Klee, In the Style of Bach 1919, oil transfer drawing and watercolour on primed linen on cardboard

Paul Klee, In the Style of Bach 1919, oil transfer drawing and watercolour on primed linen on cardboard

Whether the various fabrics and papers were mounted on other supports earlier or later in the process I don’t know.

Mira Schendel ran with this, making a great many monoprints in oil on rice paper. Very attractive nothings. I like them a lot better than her smudgy all over works with letraset, which are too obviously derived from Klee.

Mira Schendel, Monotypes on rice paper, publication by Hauser and Wirth

Mira Schendel, Monotypes on rice paper, publication by Hauser and Wirth

This entry was posted in American Modernism, Early Abstraction, Latin American Abstraction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *