“Fish Magic” by Paul Klee, Swiss-German, 1925.
Paul Klee wanted to paint like a child, but with wisdom. I think he achieved this. His paintings capture both an innocence and layers of meaning and depth. In this one, Fish Magic, he harnesses the wonder of an almost otherworldly mysticism, but with the delightful air of children’s game.
It is no wonder that the Nazis labeled his works “dangerous and degenerate.” At its core, fascism has no capacity for grappling with nuance or complexity. Eventually, the Gestapo ransacked his home and the threats mounted to the point of him losing his teaching position at the famous Bauhaus. He and his family were forced to flee Germany and return to the nation of his birth, Switzerland, in 1933.
The Nazis seized many of Klee’s paintings and included them in their infamous exhibit “Degenerate Art” in Munich in 1937. It featured the works of artists, many of them Jewish, socialists, anarchists, communists or homosexuals, whom they deemed were an “insult to German feeling.” They used this exhibit as a tool of propaganda, intimidation and ridicule, while promoting art that displayed conformity and deference to loathsome and false ideas of racial purity and complete obedience to nationalistic militarism.
It is a delightful irony that, in the end, Klee and the other artists’ works of this vicious exhibit, ones that were labeled “degenerate,” eventually prevailed. It seems Klee’s desire to paint as a child tapped into something infinitely more human than any sadistic ideology ever could: love.
Kenn Orphan May 2021
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