Saturday, October 9, 2021

My hero / Paul Klee by Philip Hensher

Paul Klee in 1939 Photograph: Walter Henggeler

My hero: Paul Klee by Philip Hensher

'Somewhere in the afterlife, I am going to accompany his violin in the Brahms G major sonata'

Kwes / Why I love Paul Klee

Drawings by Cézanne and Klee among works gifted to Courtauld Gallery

Friday 5 August 2011

Twice a year or so, I get on the train from Geneva to Bern. At the end of it, there is the wonderful Zentrum Paul Klee, which holds thousands of Klees. Not all of them are on display; only two or three hundred at a time. But the Zentrum swaps them round regularly, and there's always something new to see. Restless and funny, Klee was the most musical of visual artists, the wisest and the most decent. Somewhere in the afterlife, I am going to accompany his violin in the Brahms G major sonata.

My favourite photographs of him all have something of the absurd – Klee with a donkey in Tunisia, or emptying sand out of a boot on a beach, or with that unmistakable face peering out from under a Pickelhaube in a German first world war regiment. It's that sense of the absurd, of the power of laughter against evil, authority and oppression, that gives him such strength – his Conqueror who is running in no particular direction under a pennant far too big for him. Or the Twittering Machine, that magical, smudged poem about anarchic voices at dawn. Or the Destroyed Labyrinth, painted at the dark end of the 1930s; something that a tyrant built, and that now children could walk through unhindered.

He was a brave man who stood against fascism from the start and who, through his love of colour, music, the stuff of the world, large and small, never minded trying things out, never worried about going slightly wrong, and created more wonderful, lovable, humane works of art through play than any artist I can think of. Sometimes at the Zentrum, you find yourself in tears in front of a still life, or a complicated game with lines where you have to work out the rules. Sometimes, too, it's laughter, not easily explained. He has the most beautiful grave, and a memorial, a hedge-lined ziggurat with the best view of the Swiss Alps from the top, the Luft-Station. He is my hero and somehow, too, my friend.

Philip Hensher's King of the Badgers is published by Fourth Estate.


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