Inspired by Klee

Inspired by Klee - student project

My inspiration for this project is Landscape Near Hades by Paul Klee:

Klee created this painting in 1937. The medium is pastel on canvas mounted on jute burlap. It is 18 5/8" x 27 7/8".

I am curious about the title, but I have not been able to find any commentary about it. However, I discovered that Klee made a painting called The Gate to Hades in 1921, which is associated with the death of his mother. There are a number of places in the world which have been believed to be portals to the underworld. See, for example:

It is possible that Klee visited, read about, or imagined one of these gateways and the landscape surrounding it, perhaps a desert landscape.

Despite what may seem a gloomy title, the colours are fresh and joyful. The contrast between the black lines and pale background is dramatic. The black lines give an impression of being placed haphazardly, but there are strong connections and rhythms. The ground appears to have been painted yellow before any other colours were applied, and a narrow strip of yellow shows around each of the black lines. This creates luminescence. The white patches are obvious; there are also very pale violet patches which are approximately the same value as the yellow. Most colours are dispersed fairly evenly over the picture area, but there is a single patch of violet near the left. Perhaps this is the gate to Hades within the landscape.

I intend to work on watercolour paper, painting the paper yellow with watercolour or gouache first, then using oil pastels. I will reproduce Klee's colours as closely as possible, given the limitations of my oil pastels and the fact that I haven't seen the original.

My painting will be smaller, and in portrait format rather than landscape. I will use the same type of black lines, but eliminate some and change others. So my personal touch will be to create a new composition in a similar style.

My word is EXPLORATION. I have never used a colour scheme like this. I have had oil pastels for years, but only did one painting with them when I first purchased them. So I have a lot to learn from this project.

Colour tests:

I made a very rough sketch on photocopy paper, using a Sharpie marker and an old set of Crayonex crayons that I've had since primary school. It includes a light violet that my oil pastel sets don't have.

Next I made a digital drawing the size I plan to use, which will fit a frame I have if I decide to frame the painting. It includes the violet border, and yellow areas around the black lines. This is important because when I do the painting with oil pastels I need to be careful not to extend any black lines into the border areas, and I need to remember to adjust all the shapes so they fit together more gracefully around these yellow outlines. The rough edges of the pastel will help to make awkward joins less noticeable.

I started the painting itself on Arches Hot Pressed 300 gsm watercolour paper. I painted the yellow background with a mixture of Winsor and Newton Designers Gouache Permanent White, W&N Artists Water Colour Naples Yellow, and W&N Artists Water Colour Cadmium Yellow. When the paint was dry I lightly drew the frame with a violet coloured pencil, and the black lines with a black coloured pencil.

The paint made the smooth watercolour paper feel a bit like fine sandpaper. This is an effect I hadn't anticipated, possibly due to the gouache. This is good for oil pastel. I painted the black lines first, then pink, blue, and violet.

In the two pictures above, the border is intentionally wider than what is meant to be visible when framed. The finished painting is shown here with the intended narrower border. I wish the white were more opaque, but this is the best of three whites. I did most of the colour mixing with the oil pastels themselves, but for the border I wanted a more completely blended look covering almost all the yellow (as in Klee's painting), so I used a stump. I feel more confident about using oil pastels now.

The pictures above are from scans. Here is the framed painting from a picture taken with my camera. The colours are somewhat different and the white looks more opaque. Most of the colours are better in this photo, but the border has more red-violet as in the previous picture.

Mondrian extra:

Years ago I did a series of patchwork wall hangings inspired by Mondrian, most of them fairly straightforward using white, yellow, red, and/or blue rectangles and black stripes, with the division of space and colour placement of primary importance. None of them were copies of Mondrian’s paintings, just a similar style. The last of these patchworks is much more complex. It was inspired by Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie and Victory Boogie-Woogie, though it is quite different from those paintings. Each square is one inch high and wide, so you can imagine that it took much longer than two weeks to plan and sew. Nevertheless, since this is a Mondrian class, participants may be interested. The patchwork texture enlivens the large area of white. I still have this piece, Pathways, hanging on my bedroom wall. It gives me great pleasure.

Thank you, Nicole, for a great class. It has been a wonderful opportunity to look at Mondrian and Klee anew.

Calligrapher & Designer