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Paul Klee's Fish Magic

A line is a dot, that went for a walk. - Paul Klee

Paul Klee's Fish Magic (see below), with its almost-fluorescent colored fish and flowers and abstracted people floating in an inky black space, is my favorite Paul Klee painting ever. The puzzle we designed for Fish Magic is hard, but it gave me time to really get to know the painting.  I would love to see this one in person - the Philadelphia Museum of Art holds it but it's currently not on view. However, their experts kindly provided us with this nice background on the painting: 

"Fish Magic is set squarely in the tradition of German Romanticism, with its blend of fantasy and natural empiricism, of poetry and pragmatics. That Romantic heritage led Klee to become one of modern art's greatest fantasists as well as one of its major theorists, especially in the field of color. His art is most beloved for its unending reserve of charming whimsy, inevitably bringing smiles to the least likely faces. Yet, during his decade as an instructor at the Bauhaus, the renowned German art and design school, Klee produced volumes of writings in which technical advice rises to the level of the philosophical. These two seemingly opposite poles of Klee's nature joined forces to inspire his unending experimentation with mediums and materials. Klee's technical knowledge and exactitude allowed the magician in him to conjure visions that delight and amaze.

In Fish Magic, made in the middle of Klee's period at the Bauhaus, the aquatic, celestial, and earthly realms intermingle. They do so in an inky black atmosphere of indeterminate scale and scope, where fish and flora float among human beings or clock towers. The delicate black surface that washes over the entire canvas covers an underlayer dense with multicolored pigments. Klee scraped and sanded the black paint to reveal mysterious specks and passages of glowing color underneath, a sophisticated version of the games children play with wax crayons. But Klee ingeniously conceived a device to imply that more mysteries await to be unveiled. The painting is, in fact, a collage, with a central square of muslin glued on top of the larger rectangular canvas surface. A long diagonal line reaching to the top of the clock tower from the side is poised to whisk off this subtle curtain. For Klee, art was always theater and, like all his paintings, this one provides a promise of more acts to follow."

From: Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art(2000), p. 61.


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