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Analysis of Paul Klee’s Possibilities at Sea



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    Line: There is heavy use of contour line and line as symbol. The entire concept and composition are defined primarily through the heavy use of line and linear elements. The boat is constructed from thin red and white lines – the white lines defining the shape of the boat and the red lines providing a supporting structure vertically and horizontally. There’s also a shape that is defined by a contour line around the entire composition. The water is a series of lines, two straight lines and one organic curved expressive line.

    There are several symbols and shapes placed throughout the painting, two arrows, two circles and two semi-circles. Value: The subtle darkening of the inner shape from the outer edge of the composition has a low contrast but does help creating depth and distance. The overall darkness of the composition helps set the mood and imply a night scene. There is no gradation or change of value within any of the shapes so there is no three-dimensional effect. There are several simple shapes of very light values within the composition creating high contrast and immediately drawing the eye.

    Shape: There are many instances of geometric and abstract shapes in this painting. The abstract shapes are most prevalent. The boat is a very abstracted shape constructed from thin contour lines and borders on being non-objective. The organic shape of the water is abstract as well as the representation of the wind which is not a visible element in a realistic representation. The arrow shapes also define conceptual elements and are more descriptive of something that is happening within the composition than representative of some object.

    Spatial Illusion: This painting has a seemingly flat spatial illusion but the composition still creates some spatial illusion by compositional position. The shapes are all flat and rarely overlap. When they do overlap it is not altogether certain that the underneath shape exists behind that shape. However, the vertical position of the shapes within the composition is consistent with reality enough that a small sense of depth and volume is created. It is not enough to be easily interpreted but cannot be seen as entirely flat.

    Texture: There is an actual physical texture from the sand mixed into the paint. While it is not visible as texture from a distance, it does prevent any reflection from the surface of the painting creating an ultra-matte finish and yet somewhat uneven finish. There is no simulated or invented texture, as all the shapes are painted flat solid colors. Color: Large solid shapes of neutral colors are broken up by smaller amounts of bright saturated primary colors and white. The contrast created by the bright yellow, blue and red areas immediately demand attention against the darker neutral background.

    It creates a hierarchy of read. There are also several more neutral shapes that are only noticed upon closer inspection. The background is an analogous group that is harmoniously neutral and close in hue and value. The colors are expressive more of emotion than of reality. There are several achromatic shapes and lines and one shape that is a shade of the primary color blue. Repetition: There is no predictable pattern of elements within the composition, but there is a definite rhythm of light and dark moving from left to right and back from right to left.

    This is due to the use of white within the overwhelmingly dark composition. Point of Emphasis: The first read is most definitely the delicate yet commanding shape of the boat, specifically the very center of the composition where the tip of one of the red spars connects with the outline of the white sail, creating a convergence of three lines and almost a fourth from the implied line coming from part of the black downward-pointing arrow representing gravity.

    Proportion: The largest object in the composition is the sail boat, although it is surrounded by the shape of the framing area. There are many secondary shapes, including those representing the water, the stars, the forces of nature et cetera. The size of these is what clarifies the subject matter of the painting. Although the composition is abstract, there is nothing that is glaringly out of proportion with what would be the proper size of the object in nature. Balance: This is the perfect example of asymmetrical balance.

    On each side of the painting there is a dot of a light value circle, but they are not precisely equally spaced from the point of emphasis. Also the top and bottom of the composition are balanced by the weight of the black arrow above and the dark organic shape and blue horizontals of the water area below. The large delicate boat on the right is almost perfectly balanced by the light brown shape on the left. Thus the overall composition is balanced visually by the placement and value of these various shapes.

    Visual Movement: The outer contour line of the surrounding shape, while subtle in contrast with the background, helps contain the eye within the composition. The directional focus of the two arrows does not affect the viewer’s attention by pushing them off the composition. Instead, the balance of the objects placed within that containing shape helps to move the eye from boat to water to wind to gravity to boat again. And at each circuit of the painting, new elements gain significance, aiding in the reading and understanding of the piece.

    Analysis of Paul Klee’s Possibilities at Sea. (2017, Feb 16). Retrieved from

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