Paul Klee: man of mystery and joy

Paul Klee: man of mystery and joy

by Jon Rappoport

February 16, 2014

Paul Klee was one of those spirits who transmuted everything he came in contact with—effortlessly. It was in his bones, his blood, his heart, his mind, his psyche: the act of transformation.

The poet e.e. cummings once wrote, “There’s a hell of a good universe next door, let’s go.” Klee went, every day of his life. And he was not committed to one particular alternative. He invented them by the truckload. This, as opposed to organized religions, each of which invents ONE cosmic mural and tries to back people into a corner with it.

Klee never focused on developing a trademark style. He saw One Style as a limiter, a defection from the real joy of painting. He was a man who had many desires, recognized that fact, and painted all of them.

He exudes the sense of: “Give me a small room, a pad of paper, a few colors and brushes, and close the door behind you.”

Almost everything he did was by way of improvisation.

Critics downplay this last fact, because for them it amounts to cheating: spontaneity is only permitted when there are many signs and stories of struggle. Klee avoided becoming enmeshed in struggle by working on a number of paintings at once. When he was finished for the moment with one, he moved to another, and so on, and kept revisiting the incomplete works and adding to them until he was satisfied.

Klee was what I would call a sane man. He knew how to begin, he knew how to end. He knew that the next painting was more important than the last. He didn’t need self-pity, and he didn’t care for outlandish praise.

He wasn’t trying to be recognized for certain traits. He had found gold, and he kept mining it. He realized that imagination is an infinitely forked river, and he needed no propulsive agenda to drive him forward. One, two, three strokes on a blank canvas and he was able to invent what could come next. Could was never should or must. It was all open, his spaces.

He was not trying to solve a problem. Nor, as some have said, was he asking questions in his paintings.

Each small painting was a world unto itself.

He never titled a painting until it was finished. Then he looked at it and thought up a name, which was sometimes laid on as a description, and sometimes given as a statement about what the picture was not.

Even Picasso, who reserved most praise for his own fabulous self as a matter of principle, once visited Klee in his studio and acknowledged the brilliance of another man. Through clenched teeth, no doubt.

For Klee, the blank canvas signaled the delicious unknown. He was very comfortably nowhere at that moment, and then as he painted, he was in a successive series of somewheres.

Kandinsky and Klee mark a point of demarcation for painting. It was not enough to alter the so-called real world. You could actually create a new world in every picture. A different new world. There were as many as you wanted to dream up.

Klee did not give credence to having a finished idea in his mind before starting a work. He was not transferring a picture in his mind to the canvas. He was inventing/discovering as he went along. In this, he was happy.

He could be very precise, and he could be imprecise. A world does not have to be precise.

Some say his work was too easy. It was too celebrative. It didn’t present some final vision. It lacked maturity. The emotions were too simple.

All these judgments are off the mark. They represent estimates of what Klee was not. What he was, was marvelously direct. Is Mars too red? Is Mercury too hot?

Do androids dream, as Phil Dick asked, of electric sheep? Do ants dream of balloons? Why not? And if so, why not paint that?

Paul Klee. 1879-1940. There is a little (out-of-print) book titled Klee, with a long, fascinating essay by Marcel Marnat. Publisher: Leon Amiel (1974). Many plates.

Several paintings I recommend: The Red Fish (1925); Head with Blue Tones (1933); 17IRR (1923).

I believe Klee was saying this: Here are several thousand worlds I just invented. Approach them with a free mind and heart. Glance at them from several different angles. Jump into their liquids, stand on their flat surfaces, lean from their precarious platforms. Serve them to yourself as appetizers or main courses. Let them pass through your digestive tract. Make faces to match their faces. Remove their masks; then you may find deeper shades or you may find nothing. Ponder how you invest your imagination in mine, and go away with a spark of self-recognition, recognition of what you have, what you can do, what you can invent. Our whole planet is a mask, and we can, if we change and evolve, take great delight in dreaming up new spaces and times.

Jon Rappoport

The author of two explosive collections, THE MATRIX REVEALED and EXIT FROM THE MATRIX, Jon was a candidate for a US Congressional seat in the 29th District of California. He maintains a consulting practice for private clients, the purpose of which is the expansion of personal creative power. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he has worked as an investigative reporter for 30 years, writing articles on politics, medicine, and health for CBS Healthwatch, LA Weekly, Spin Magazine, Stern, and other newspapers and magazines in the US and Europe. Jon has delivered lectures and seminars on global politics, health, logic, and creative power to audiences around the world. You can sign up for his free emails at

3 comments on “Paul Klee: man of mystery and joy

  1. anthony says:

    Thank you, Jon.

    It’s interesting, as I have recently been a “student” of an “improv teacher” of allegedly great re-knowned (by her estimate). I am an enthusiastic practitioner of authentic expression of self and wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt.

    The truth of a person – any teacher – is found in what they do, not what they say.

    What I began to notice, over several weeks, was that she chose only ONE student to demonstrate to the rest of us what she meant. Then I met another student of hers in class who had been a student for three years.

    This student lacked any confidence whatsoever – every exercise I noticed she was glancing at the teacher, rather than trusting herself to her co-student with whom she was working. Then I noticed another student, allegedly a “teacher of psychodrama of over thirty years” whose self-expression was muted and without authentic passion.

    Then I noticed the “teacher” begin to “give corrections” over and over and over again about what “improv” was. She’d say, “NO, I WANT PRIMAL.”

    Well, what the hell is YOUR version of primal. Show me. Because, right now, I AM BEING PRIMAL within myself. Not YOUR definition of it.

    What I finally realized was that she wasn’t about authentic expression at all – but, rather, about creating little versions of herself for ego satisfaction.

    Her first name happens to be Ruth and I realized that what she was all about was creating lots of “Baby Ruths,” not actually freeing others to authentic expression of themselves.

    Just came to this realization last night and I have to say, sitting down and reading your piece about Paul Klee really allowed me to sigh a huge sigh of relief in leaving her “tutelage” (Picasso). I am a Klee kind of woman and so glad for that . . .

    So inspired to go on into my studio and shut the door . . .

    Our “job” here is to inspire each other to ourselves. NOT suck the life out of others for our own ego needs and attachments.


    Thanks for your writing.

  2. Patrick says:

    This is a really good piece Jon, many thanks. It made me think about how to approach art and music in such a way as to not be confined to a particular style and vision, and how freer expression like this can help the creative process be far more enjoyable, which in turn can also produce better results. As well as playing music I am also an expressionist / abstract artist, and will bear in mind Klee’s techniques for keeping things fresh and joyful.

    I’ve been slowly leaning about the History of Art for a few years now, and have long been an admirer of Kandinsky, but I had never heard of Klee, in general spending most of my time studying 19th century art. Thanks for making me aware of him, following reading your article I have been enjoying very much his unusual shapes, warm colours, and composition in general. He seems to create a magical kind of asymmetrical symmetry, unbalanced yet balanced, chaotic yet calm. Beautiful works.

  3. kd says:

    Thank you for your post , you’ve just described the way i paint and do other things for that matter: I have several different projects going at the same time, I even read several different books at the same time. It is always great to hear that the are others like me as I have always been different from most people.When it comes to art I always remember the famous approach to it that states: ‘ the sculpture was already there I just chip away what wasn’t needed’. I do the same with painting I look at paper/ canvas and see where to paint, it builds up a picture that can only be named later as there is no way to know what you will paint before you start. It is an exciting way of doing things.

Leave a Reply

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