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Friday, October 28, 2011

Heinrich Kley

Even the non-artists among us do it. We sit at the telephone, listening to the elevator music while on hold, our pen hovering mere millimeters above the pristine whiteness of the notepad, waiting the instant when it will be called to duty to write down some vitally important bit of data or scrap of trivia.  Our fingers twitch involuntarily. The pen touches down out of sheer boredom and we began dispensing ink from the tiny ball in the tip, tracing monotonous paths of pigmented lines which eventually begin to form more and more complex figures or designs drawn from deep within our subconscious. It's called doodling. And, varying according to our artistic bent, they may or may not look like much. Moreover, only the broadest definition of the term could deem them to be art.

Northern Italian Peasant with
Bagpipes, Heinrich Kley, typical
of his early work.
Heinrich Kley was born in the heart of Germany in 1863. He was a painter of landscapes, portraits, city scenes, and later industrial monuments such as tunnels, architecture, and shipyards. His oils and watercolors were typical of an academically trained hand and eye working in the late 1800s. But Heinrich Kley is not remembered for his paintings. Although most of them are far too complex and profound to be classed as mere "doodles," there is that spontaneous, unplanned quality to many of them--an expert artists unleashing his psyche to flow freely from the tip of his pen, seemingly just to entertain himself, surprising even himself perhaps by the pencil and ink images that would seem to magically appear before his eyes.

An example of Kley's "biting" humor

Some are startlingly simple, a lone figure on a beach or isolated, unrelated men, women, children, or animals--light, airy, and delicate. Others are much more highly organized and complex, full of sarcasm, criticism, and dark humor. Some have an underlying sexual theme, nude figures, dancing or playing; animals such as centaurs, penguins, crocodiles, or dragons. Some were shocking. Some might have gotten him in trouble except that at the time his name and work were so obscure he's not even mentioned in most art history books. Yet his sketchbook is a treasure of deftly probing illustrations giving us insight into both the man, his lively mind, and the prewar German society in which he lived. He's an inspiration to all of us who absentmindedly put pen to scratch pad and pour out our inner self. Maybe it is this that is the more profound art, rather than our more overt attempts at pretentious, archival, painted, creative exposition.
Walt Disney was an early collector
of Kley's work, which is  said to have
inspired figures in his classic
masterpiece, Fantasia.

If Kley's elephant can dance, why not
a Disney hippo?

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