When you think of Paul Klee, you instantly think of painting. Cubism, expressionism, surrealism - reds, blues, oranges - and black silhouetted symbols, winking from the canvas. His works are joyful, full of colour and movement and lively abstraction.
Few people know, however, that Klee suffered from scleroderma, a wasting disease that is incredibly painful and causes the skin to thicken, as well as making it very difficult to swallow. A rare disease of the immune system, blood vessels and connective tissue, early diagnosis and treatment is vital to prevent the worst symptoms. Klee was not diagnosed with the illness until after his death, and his paintings led to several discoveries about the nature of the disease.
“He has found his style when he cannot do otherwise.”
The suffering brought on by the illness can be seen in several of the paintings Klee made towards the end of his life. One of the last paintings he ever made, Death and Fire, spells out the German word for death, "Tod", amongst his usual bright colour palette and black painterly lines.
Klee's desire to forever simplfy the forms in his paintings would prove useful to him in later years, when his symptoms began to limit his movement. He was forced to stop playing the violin and he could no longer go hiking as he loved to do, but he could still paint and draw. He began to produce large, simpler works, using coarser materials like burlap. Responding to his new limitations possibly inspired his famous quote, “He has found his style when he cannot do otherwise.”
During 1940, Klee died of heart failure from severe scleroderma at the age of 60. That same year he created 366 works of art.
It is World Scleroderma Day on 29th June, and in light of this, the Scleroderma Society is hosting an art competition inspired by Paul Klee's 1933 sunflower painting, Wie Blumen in Glas. Reflecting the nature of a sunflower, the theme is "Turning Towards The Sun".
The deadline for submissions is Friday 20th June, and an external panel of judges will decide on a winner, whose artwork will be come the cover for the next Scleroderma news.
The submitted artwork will be displayed at the World Scleroderma Day Celebration on the 3rd July, and then at their Annual Conference on the 19th July in London.
Send your artwork to Art Competition, The Scleroderma Society, Bride House, 18-20 Bride Lane, EC4Y 8EE or visit their website for more information.
Paul Klee is proof that anyone - no matter their limitations or misgivings - can continue to express themselves, or find new ways in which to do it. He was and is still one of the most influential artists of all time, and he deserves to be remembered not only for his painting, but for his undying urge to create, even when faced with extreme difficulties.