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2. Chess

 

 

 

Fig. 1

Paul Klee: Chess (1931)

One of the most enigmatic spatial compositions of Klee’s is the painting Chess (1931; see Fig. 1). Let us start with a general description of its three main elements.

First, we have a set of vertical coloured bars (black-brown, red and blue). They are displaced in the space in such a way to suggest a sense of perspective depth. Indeed, as we shall see, their perspective construction is perfect, even though we have the sensation that the bars are randomly spread into the space.

In the background an architectonic element is depicted, something like the interior of a building, a room, just suggested with its greenish-yellow bare walls, floor and ceiling, and with a light-coloured rectangle in the up-right corner of the painting as a little window. The background too seems to suggest the idea of perspective depth, but there is something disturbing or even wrong, that we almost immediately perceive, which confers to the composition a diffuse sense of instability. Furthermore the location of the bars with respect to the room is quite problematic, because it is difficult to match the slightly different perspective suggested by the two elements; particularly, it is difficult to understand if the bar system were depicted inside or outside the room.

The third important element in the composition is the checkerboard, depicted by means of arrays of red-brown points, forming a grid of little transparent squared cells; the checkerboard looks like the fourth (transparent) wall of the room (near the external observer), which closes the perspective box as a cover. With reference to this hypothetical wall, it is even more difficult to decide if the bars are placed inside or outside, even because Klee carefully avoided to paint any point on the coloured bars (which would be the definitive evidence that the bars were inside). Thus at a first glance the checkerboard makes us think of a chess problem, something puzzling, which indeed holds a perfect corrispondence with the enigmatic ambiguity of the depicted space.

 

The perspective of the coloured bars

The perspective of the background

A parenthetic note on non-linearity

Returning to Chess

Putting things together

 

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