Polar opposites or kissin' cousins
Paul Klee and Martin Creed
A friend and I recently visited London to see the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern followed by the Martin Creed 'retrospective' at the Hayward Gallery.
Broadly familiar, but not intimately acquainted, with the works of Paul Klee it was a pleasure to view a comprehensive survey of his creative life. Unique is a word often applied to artists and strangely inappropriate if you stop to think about it. However, Klee's work seems to have few ready equivalents. It's true, you can spot traces of all kinds in his image-making (and his subsequent influence in the work of others). But, he is one who appears unburdened by the practice, passions and experiments of his contemporaries. Influenced yes, but as a master assimilator he absorbed what he wanted and transmuted it into something very much his own. His work has been described as whimsical or fantastical and though there is much evidence of a creative playfulness it does him a disservice to major there. The underlying rigour of his practice lends a supple edge to his output and I think the turmoil of his days touches much of his work tangentially. He could be described as a creative man-child who inhabits a kind of parallel universe. Signs, symbols and practice reveal a rich reservoir of visual resource and interest that are at once deployed intellectually but with the retained wonder of a child. The veil between the real and imagined–the felt experience and the sublime is paper thin. You are captivated by his world of line, form, image, colour. And, like the best of painting you linger in anticipation of the reward your patient contemplation will yield.
Unfamiliar with his work I left Creed's show at the Hayward no wiser. Things began badly–The introductory blurb about his work did not awaken my imagination. My doubts were amplified later when a cursory glance through the well produced monograph–fulsome in image but singularly lacking in written appraisal–announced, in the first line, the artist's 'brilliance'. I felt harangued. On navigating the show itself I concurred with the Creed's stated interest in repetition. Sadly, this was not a means to revelation but to boredom. If Klee was a creative man-child Creed only seemed adolescent. A kind of heavy handed in-joke dressed many ways replaced the light touch of wit. There seemed to be a lack of editing too. Creed's first idea was the final idea. Yes, lots of things done in different ways but no sense of development. I guess if you keep people hopping around you keep them off guard. There were some highlights though: A set of early drawings that hint at an idea being explored. Even the set of marker pen drawings seen collectively have a visual power. Otherwise, I didn't share in the enthusiasm Creed's work has garnered. But, perhaps in the title of the show 'What's the point of it?' Creed played his best trick. Like my friend and I many others will be provoked into long discussions about what it may, or may not, all mean