Returning from the US usually gives me the French bleus. As wonderful a city as Paris can be, it is hard to leave friends and family and good ol' American comfort behind. My recent return from Chicago was even more difficult than usual since I was there for the celebration of my sister's wedding. In addition to the fun of the wedding itself, highlights of the trip included visits to the science museum, the natural history museum and binge-watching Doctor Who.
So coming back to gray Paree was rough. Luckily there was a bright spot on the horizon: my annual day-trip to London with my friend Mia. This time the shock of hearing English all around me was not quite as strong as usual, since I had just come from the US, but it is still a thrill to take a 2-hour train ride and emerge in a totally different country.
Our trip was centered around a visit to the Paul Klee retrospective at the Tate Modern, in London's South Bank neighborhood. This is not a neighborhood I have explored very much, but it was a pleasant walk from St. Pancras station past St. Paul's cathedral and across the Millenium Bridge to the museum. The Millenium Bridge is also a great vantage point from which to observe the mix of old and new British architecture.
There seem to be much more interesting construction going up in central London than in Paris, perhaps owing to the height restrictions in Paris (which may preserve the horizon, but unfortunately didn't preclude a lot of unattractive, squat buildings going up in the 1970's). The result is that London seems to have an energy and dynamism that Paris currently lacks, but maybe it's unfair for me to judge on one day's visit. (I'm betting the continual construction is also a headache for Londoners trying to get around the city).
The South Bank is an area filled with up-and-coming restaurants and our lunch at the Refinery was a good example of the "New British Food" tradition, which mixes fresh ingredients in creative, healthful ways. I'm not really sure why London is so much more advanced than Paris in terms of vegetarian food (a left-over from the whole foods kick in the 60's?) but it was nice to have several options on the menu instead of just one.
The Tate Modern is itself undergoing renovation, so much of the museum was closed off, but we were more than happy to concentrate on the Klee exhibit. Active from 1910 until his death in 1940, Klee is a hard artist to categorize for the best of reasons - because his art was so distinctly different than what everyone else was doing. Although the currents of cubism, expressionism, surrealism and abstraction that were floating around Europe at the time surely influenced him, his visual vocabulary (for lack of a better term) and use of color sets him apart.
Klee is probably most famous for his use of geometric and bright colors, and those are the paintings I mostly knew him for, but he also used more figurative elements like fish or flowers as well as muted colors in unexpected combinations. The great thing about a retrospective is the chance to see the breadth of an artist's work as well as work rarely on display. I had no idea how technically innovative Klee was (using such new techniques as spray painting and mixed media) nor how he was constantly reinventing his style.
In his later years, while he was suffering a degenerative disease, he pushed the abstract elements of his paintings even further, introducing hieroglyphic-like symbols and a darker palette to reflect his feelings on the war (Klee's art was condemned by the Nazis and he lost his teaching position, forcing his move from Germany to Switzerland).
Klee admired what we now call 'outsider art' (art by the mentally ill, for example) for its purity of expression so it is not surprising that despite the well thought-out technical experimentation he practiced, his paintings seem extremely personal. To paraphrase Marcel Duchamp (who is quoted in the catalogue), a painting by Klee is like no other - not even another Klee.
Visiting a city is never the same as living there - you get to experience the best without the hassle of daily life, so it's really unfair of me to keep comparing Paris and London or Chicago or Los Angeles. Maybe it's time for me to put on my tourist glasses and take a day-trip to central Paris to remind myself how others see it. Right after this episode of Doctor Who.