Drawing in the archive: Paul Klee's oil-transfers

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Paul Klee's oil-transfers are a distinctive body of his works, made in the main between 1919 and 1925. Because the method of their production required the use of an existing drawing, and the use of such a drawing is made explicit in the resulting work, I argue that the oil-transfers supply an exemplary case for investigation of the continuing significance of Klee's drawing to his works in other media. I re-examine Klee's method for producing oil-transfer works and argue that the oil-transfers should be interpreted in relation to the de-skilling of drawing undertaken by other avant-garde artists of the 1920s, including Moholy-Nagy's advocacy of the mechanization of line. I propose that Klee's oil-transfers, with their strongly tactile, blurred and mis-handled line and their bright, acid colours, should be seen as the result of taking mechanization inside his practice, where it is accommodated by the physical gestures and operations of the artist, in a fantasized expansion of the space of the apparatus I compare with Bauhaus models of photography. This reading suggests that Klee's oil-transfers supply a model for the internalization of automated, technological production which may fruitfully be compared with the alternative models proposed by two recent accounts: Molly Nesbit's interpretation of works by Duchamp in relation to state-funded programmes of industrialized drawing, and Rosalind Krauss's theorization of Picasso's neo-classical line of ca 1916-1924 as a traumatized reaction to photography.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-95
Number of pages21
JournalOxford Art Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2008

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