Essay: Comparative Visual Analysis Essay

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  • Comparative Visual Analysis Essay
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In this essay, I will be looking at two different works. ‘The Protector’ (figure 1) by Paul Klee, made with ink paper on board (Support: 300x487mm) in 1962, and ‘Drawing for Whamm!’ (figure 2) by Roy Lichtenstein made with graphite on paper (Support: 149x350mm, Framed:198x352x19mm) in 1963.

Klee created The Protector’ during his time teaching at the Bauhaus in Germany. It depicts two subjects. On the left, a man with his hands held by his head, and his mouth open wide portraying a shocked expression. On the right, a dog like creature looking fierce and aggressive towards something outside the drawing. The two subjects are connected by a leach.

‘Drawing for ‘Whamm!’ was created during pop arts peak in America during the 1960’s. It also contains two subjects. On the left a cartoon plane shooting at another plane on the right. The left plane seems to have been successful as the other goes up in flames and smoke, with the iconic ‘WHAMM!’ font emerging from the wreckage.

I have selected these two works to compare because I believe they have similar qualities in terms of their visual appearance. They are both landscape, have two main subjects and use similar materials. However, they were produced almost 40 years apart, use very different qualities of line and drawing techniques and were both influenced by very different art movements. This means that there is a vast amount to compare and contrast with, making the argument that I will conduct…

By comparing these works I will address 4 main points. Firstly, how both drawings are made by considering the quality of line and how this communicates different experiences and feelings within the audience. Secondly, how the artists attitudes compare with consideration to their passions for the art of drawing and painting. Next, how historical components at the time will have changed the purpose and meaning of the drawings. Lastly, considering wider contexts such as how both artists were effected by other artists and art movements within their time era.


Drawing techniques + symbolizations

The use of different drawing techniques is evident when looking at these two artworks. ‘The Protector’ displays the use of quick, sketchy, unplanned lines to create a simple yet busy drawing. The website ‘Paul Klee and Surrealism’ have described the quality of line used in ‘The Protector’ as childlike. “Paul Klee has used simple and almost childlike lines that create strong and dynamic form” [1] this is not the only time Klee has been referred to as childlike, when J Thwaites in the article ‘Paul Klee and the Object’ explained that “People are not wrong to compare it to the imagery of a child” [2] when describing Klee’s work. This shows there is a style to Klee’s work that is very similar to that of a child’s. However, this does not make his art work any less influential or thought provoking.

The inaccuracy of his line may symbolize the emotions within the drawing, how the man is shown looking startled by what the dog is barking at. The dog looking fierce and bearing his teeth. This creates an atmosphere of panic and fear in the drawing. These emotions compliment the quick lines, as if he was rushing to finish it, because he was panicking or scared. Oskar Schlemmer, made the statement about Klee- “With a minimum of line he can reveal all of his wisdom.” [3] Showing that to create emotion and atmosphere within and around the drawing he does not need to be extravagant and over the top with the line he produces. This is very evident in ‘The Protector’ with his ‘childlike lines we can see the underlying emotions and feelings with very little to take from. Another quote from J Thwaites article sums this concept up perfectly with the quote. “he gives the symbol which frees your imagination to supply the whole” [4]. With the simple lines acting as the symbol, they open your imagination to be able to complete the image with your own interpretation. Meaning the childlike lines may have been deliberate when creating this drawing as he wants his audience to “supply the whole” themselves.

‘Drawing for ‘Whaam!’ is a huge contrast to Klee’s work in terms of the quality of line and how it is produced. Within ‘Whaam!’, we see clearly planned and thought out lines that look like they may have been drawn using ruler and have been carefully considered in the composition of the drawing. This preciseness and planning may have been due to the fact that this drawing was a plan for a bigger painting, therefore time has been put in to ensure all planning is correct. “He also aligned the deadly rocket, and thus the entire scene, on the horizontal axis, and balanced the compositional weights of the two planes-an effect reinforced by his placement of the planes on separate, equally sized panels.” [5] This quote from the book ‘Modern Romance: Lichtenstein’s Comic Book Paintings’ shows the rigorous planning that Lichtenstein has put in to his work to make sure the composition and the weightings of the two planes on the separate canvases are perfect. This shows that Klee and Lichtenstein have very different approaches in terms of the planning and preciseness. This is also shown by Klee’s famous description of drawing as “taking a line for a walk” [6] from the Tate Modern website on the exhibition ‘Paul Klee – Making Visible’ this shows how relaxed Klee is towards drawing, he just draws and sees where the line takes him.

‘Drawing for Whaam!’ could also be seen as having less underlying meaning than ‘The Protector’ as it is not so much to provoke an emotion but to be appealing to the eye, with the final painting being rich in colour and bold lines. Lichtenstein considers his audience when using composition in his paintings. “by stripping the scene of all anecdotal and physical detail and placing the antagonists on separate panels, Lichtenstein provides the viewer of Whaam! with the essence of the war comic genre.” [7] Quote from Modern Romance: Lichtenstein’s Comic Book Paintings. This quote implies that Lichtenstein wants to display a raw and straight forward painting with little to read in to as he has striped back all anecdotal detail, meaning he doesn’t want anything unnecessary or untrue in his drawings.


Passion for painting

Klee and Lichtenstein both seem to have the same passion and love for painting as one another. Klee’s passion is seen in a video on the Paul Klee exhibition, in the Tate Modern, in 2014 “Colour has taken possession of me… I know it has a hold of me forever, colour and I are one, I am a painter” [8]. He has immersed himself in to the world of painting and feels like he is truly one with his art forms. Alongside his love for painting he was also “fascinated by the relationship between man and beast as much as that between man and nature” [9] This is what was thought to have driven Klee to draw ‘The Protector. Within this quote we can understand more about the function of the image; it may have been to express Klee’s curiosity and clarify his feelings towards the man and the beast.

We see Lichtenstein’s dedication to his artwork in the video- ‘Roy Lichtenstein: Diagram of an Artist’ where an acquaintance to Lichtenstein quotes, in reference to painting “it was his joy, it was his pleasure, it was everything” [10]. He also continues to say, “I’d watch him work and he was just focused, nothing was a distraction” this shows how nothing could come between Lichtenstein and his paintings. Therefore, there is a clear similarity in the two artists approach to drawing and painting, as they are both truly passionate about what they do and the artworks they produce.


Historical circumstances + components

CBS news stated, that for America, 1963 was “the year everything happened” [11]. With an online picture gallery including, Martin Luther King’s freedom speech, the assassination of JFK and images from the Vietnam war. These events may have been over whelming for Lichtenstein and we see the effects on him through other works he painted in 1963 including “Drowning Girl” (1963) and “Crying Girl” (1963) these two paintings both include disturbing images of a girls crying, one looking distressed and another one drowning. All of these factors, including the Vietnam war could have influenced his choice when painting these unpleasant images.

However, the images seen in ‘Whaam!’ are ones of war and fighting, but a quote from Modern Romance: Lichtenstein’s Comic Book Paintings shows that the Vietnam war may not have been his main inspiration for the painting- “he began work on the theme in 1962, at a point when U.S. involvement in Vietnam was still limited and not yet a critical issue” [12]. Meaning that other factors or just pure inspiration from American comic books at the time drove him to create ‘Whaam!’. As we see in another quote from Modern Romance: Lichtenstein’s Comic Book Paintings- “Lichtenstein began working on scenes from war comics in 1962. A representative example of the genre is Whaam! which was based on a scene from “Star Jockey” in All American Men of War.” [13] The scene in ‘star jockey’ is almost identical to ‘Whaam!’ leading us to believe that he copied this comic strip. This may be another factor in the purpose behind Lichtenstein’s paintings; he likes the look of the image and recreates it himself, meaning that it may just be plain aesthetic behind the true meaning of his paintings, as he may not be raising awareness for the Americans in the Vietnam war because their involvement was still limited.

Klee was in Germany teaching at the Bauhaus between 1921 and 1931, in this time, he produced “The Protector’. He taught classes such as bookbinding and painting on glass. An online article about Klee’s ‘Bauhaus years’ explains ‘the pictures he produced often related to the subject of his courses’ [14]. However, this contrasts a quote from the website Paul Klee and Surrealism “Klee was captivated about the correspondence between humans and animals this is why he developed this piece.” [15] These two quotes contradict each other in terms of why Klee created ‘The Protector’. By looking at other drawings he created during his time at the Bauhaus in 1926, we see that they include similar abstract forms drawn with the same styles and technique referencing to ‘Windmill flowers’ (1926) and ‘Eidechse’ (1926). This could mean that he was following a taught class from his Bauhaus years, suggesting that he only created ‘The Protector’ because he was learning and expanding his knowledge through drawing abstract forms. This differs from Lichtenstein’s purpose for creating his drawing, as he created them because he was interested in recreating what he saw in recent American pop culture, whereas Klee was teaching and expanding his own knowledge on abstract forms and experimenting with what he could do with his choice of media.


Influences from art movements

Both artists can be seen as having been influenced hugely by art movements and other artists. But also, hugely influencing other artists around them. An overwhelming influence on both artists came from modernism. A quote from the Paul Klee – Making Visible exhibition in the Tate Modern (2014) states that “He cuts a radical figure in European modernism” [16] showing that he has been an extensive part of the modernism movement, starting in the late 19th century to the mid 20th century. Modernism can be seen reflected in Lichtenstein’s work but in a different way. A quote from Roy Lichtenstein’s Retromodernism states “Modernism continued to be an inevitable influence on Lichtenstein’s work” here we see that instead of being a part of the modernist movement, he was ‘inevitably influenced’ by it, as he painted ‘Whaam!’ in the second half of the 20th century, when the modernist movement was coming to an end. This shows that even though the two art works were made more than 30 years apart, they were both influenced by the same movement, making Klee and Lichtenstein both modernists of their own stature.


I have found that these two artists use very different quality of line to produce different feelings and emotions linked with the drawing. Klee drew abstract forms to provoke an emotion or a personal response in the audience, however Lichtenstein used popular culture to create something that largely had one over all meaning and was aesthetically pleasing. They both have a very clear love and passion for creating art, this can be seen through quotes directly from the artists and people close to them. Dedicating their lives to live in and amongst the art they create was something they both made a big part of their lives. There is a clear connection to Klee and why he produced the art works that he did, however, not so much with Lichtenstein showing that he may have been more secretive when expressing what made him produce a particular art work. Lastly, it can be seen that both artists and their art works have vast ties to the modernist movement. In conclusion, I believe that the artists have a lot in common in terms of the movements that were influenced by and the passion that they both had for art, but on the other had they were very different in terms of the art works they produced and the types of line and subjects they drew.

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