Unreal Nature

December 6, 2016

The Picture Finds Its Focus in Him

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:29 am

… while the spectator may project himself into any picture, he must project himself into a late Klee.

This is from ‘Klee — II’ in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

… every point is as crucial as every other, and there is never a point on which the spectator’s eye is allowed finally to come to rest. Whatever sign it tries to come to rest upon, it is never able to take in the picture as a whole. And when it tries to grasp the part of the picture that eluded it, it is deflected towards some other sign and goes through the same process again. Soon the spectator finds that this movement of his eye from sign to sign is pulling him, in imagination, into the picture.

[line break added] He yields to this magnetic pull, enters the picture at some point and begins to move about within it. It is then that the picture begins to be legible and articulate. He encounters a sign and stops, then moves along it and finds that it indicates the direction he must take next, the sign he must next encounter. So he continues on his way, often returning to a sign already visited to find that it now means something other than what it meant when approached previously from a different direction.

[line break added] What forces him to go on circulating in the picture, constantly setting off in new directions, is that many of the marginal signs, though they point a way out of the picture, so that the continuation of the structure beyond its actual borders is suggested, also indicate a direction back into the picture other than that by which they were reached.

… the movement and direction of the signs are so regulated that the total equipoise can be apprehended from any point in the picture: the spectator, situated in imagination on one of these signs, can sense the convergence towards him or recession from him of each of the other signs — that is, the interplay of movement which surrounds him. In other words, wherever he is, the picture finds its focus in him. He becomes in a sense the focal point. And it is by this means that he apprehends the whole.

[line break added] All this implies that when the spectator explores a Klee, he does not merely get a close-up of an image which he had already seen as a whole, any more than he reads it bit by bit: he sees what was previously a decorative pattern as an articulate image. It follows that, while the spectator may project himself into any picture, he must project himself into a late Klee.

klee_intention1938
Intention, 1938

… if Klee had a genius for creating signs which immediately establish the identity of the object they signify, he was also unsurpassed in the creation of signs with multiple significations, that is, signs which signify two or more species of objects by abstracting and exhibiting their common features. Among Klee’s linear signs of this kind are one that is both flower and musical note, one that is boat and insect, one that is nipple and eye, one that is dying water lily and snail, one that is tree and archer, another that is tree and ostrich, another that is tree and antennae of a butterfly.

… [Klee’s primordial signs which are in addition to those described above] should not … be confused with those products of automatism which have primeval significations, such as forms of Arp with plasmic associations and early pictures by Kandinsky which evoke bacteria seen through the microscope. These are no more than evocations of actual primitive organisms, whereas the primordial signs of Klee are not at all evocative of primeval slime but infinitely suggestive of nature as a whole.

[line break added] The primordial signs usually appear in conjunction with simple and multi-evocative signs, but sometimes a whole picture is composed of them — for example, Harmonised combat (1937), in which quick black lines, some straight, some pronged, dancing on a red and yellow ground that is light itself, evoke the movement of all things that have ever moved concertedly in space, constantly threatening to collide and destroy one another, whether men, animals, fishes, birds, leaves, waves or comets.

[line break added] The splendor of this conception lies not so much in the breadth of suggestion of these forms, as in the fact that this breadth of suggestion conveys an idea of the universality of the forces which those forms manifest. Here Klee shows what he meant when, thirty years earlier, he wrote: ‘I seek out a remote point, the origin of creation, at which I divine a kind of formula serving, at one and the same time, for man, animal, plant, earth, fire, water, air, and all the rotating forces.’

Klee’s last works are a crystallization of human experience conceived as a process and viewed from within.

klee_harmonizedcombat1937
Harmonised combat, 1937

My previous post from Sylvester’s book is here.

-Julie

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