Paul Klee

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(385)

Tate Modern, London. Until 9 March 2014

Paul Klee has been described as "the left's favourite artist". This reputation stems in no small part from the use by the German critic and writer Walter Benjamin, in a typically poetic analogy, of one of Klee's works in his Thesis on the Philosophy of History:

"A Klee painting named 'Angelus Novus' shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.

"The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

However, it is not only Benjamin's influence that has attracted the left to Klee's work. His ground-breaking work first with the Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) and then his decade at the Bauhaus school between 1921 and 1931 have been of even greater attraction for Leftists.

His ongoing interaction at the school, most notable with the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, provides an extensive body of theory and practice in the development of the notion of modern painting. This, coupled with his principled stand against Nazi anti-Semitism, mark Klee out as both an interesting artist and a decent person.

But there is also something of a more fundamental nature as to why Klee's work is so approachable, and not just for the left, and that is that we can recognise in his use of line and colour a playfulness that encourages us to engage, keep looking and work out what is before us - it is a dialogue.

This exhibition, although large - it occupies 17 rooms displaying over 80 works - represents only a tiny fraction of what Klee produced: nearly 10,000 works in total before his death in 1940. It is missing a number of key works and, for me, does not contain enough of his wonderful scratchy, childlike drawings. That said, it is very much worth going to see and hugely enjoyable.

Klee's work seems to represent another world, occasionally dark and threatening, but more often than not musical, colourful and funny. It has the ability to make you smile inside.