When Claire Åkebrand was a child growing up in Germany, her father had a print of a Paul Klee painting hanging above his couch. “I remember sharp, fuzzy fish and other delicate, vibrating shapes and colors,” says the self-taught Swedish artist who has been in Utah since she was 14. “To my childish sensibilities these images made perfect sense. The piece was dreamlike, playful, mysterious, dark, and full of curiosity. I remember the signature too. Klee. ‘Clover’ in German. A name that matched the playful sea plants of the painting. I think the art we grow up around, becomes a part of us.”
After studying creative writing at Brigham Young University and the University of Utah, Åkebrand published a novel and a poetry collection. She began painting in 2018, an interest that quickly turned into an all-consuming passion.
“Whenever I find myself in a creative slump, I peruse Klee’s art. I’m delighted by his sense of humor. I’m moved by his colors, particularly his reds and blues against a black background. I’m surprised by his meandering but careful line. If his art were a Shakespearean character, it would be King Lear’s fool — deliberate nonsense interspersed with ambiguous insights. His angels for example: awkward, ugly, silly, dejected. In a few spare lines, Klee humanizes the godly. Angels come down to our level and it feels less lonely somehow. We are invited to consider and even delight in frailty and clumsiness. Klee began painting a lot of his angels when he became chronically ill. What an odd but moving way to cope with the most serious matter of all — mortality. On the other hand, Klee has a way of elevating simple geometric shapes to ethereal levels through, for example, oscillating colors and a soothing compositional balance. I’m always drawn to artists who attempt to express the human experience by minimal means. Because Klee often uses plain and simple objects, they readily take on a metaphorical significance. It’s as if all his figures are meant to be read as metaphors.”
Åkebrand doesn’t view Klee’s spare style as simplistic. “Rather it’s a kind of thoughtful withholding, and respect — Klee trusts his observer to make meaning. I like the way he teaches my eyes to value simple shapes and how these shapes can come to life when interacting.”
In her own work, Åkebrand says she tries not to take her paintings too seriously. “Life is absurd and even serious things have so many silly aspects and I try to incorporate that truth in my art.” She tries to keep her lines spontaneous and explorative, aspiring to Klee’s “spidery, hieroglyph-like symbols against a monochrome background. That kind of economy requires a great confidence and humility from the artist and faith in the imagination of the observer. I want my paintings to be buzzing with shapes that everyone wants to read as great enigmatic symbols. There’s this sense in Klee that one has been presented with secret symbols and that if one could unlock their meaning, something huge in the universe would be unlocked maybe, a little song or whole symphony. Klee is a lover of moody colors, economy, mystery, curiosity, awkwardness, and irreverence, and I love him for it.”
You can view more of Claire Åkebrand’s work at http://instagram.com/claire_things
During the month of February we ask Utah artists about a specific piece of art or artist, living or not, local or global, that has sparked their curiosity or influenced their work. We run their responses throughout the month.