Nearly Hit
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A shining example of Paul Klee’s trademark Swiss-German sense of humor.

Fast getroffen (aka Nearly Hit) was purchased by SFMoMA in 1944, a time when acquisitions at the museum slowed, and people were in need of a good comic relief, because, you know, Hitler.

As the title of the piece implies, our subject in Nearly Hit—let’s call him Carl—has just barely escaped…something…something presumably painful. Here Carl looks like Wile E. Coyote after one of his traps have backfired, complete with a cartoonish explosion in the background.

Turns out, the comparison to the plight of the Coyote is not as far off base as one might assume. Animation legend Chuck Jones regularly referred to works by Klee in interviews, and even paid tribute to Klee’s Senecio with a portrait of Porky Pig titled Portrait De Cochon. Interesting side note: Klee is famously quoted as saying “A line is a dot that went for a walk,” and in 1965 Jones directed and produced the Academy Award-winning animated short The Dot and the Line—an animation tinged with visual elements of Abstract Expressionism, a movement which was influenced in no small part by Klee. Coincidence? Nah.

Known to use more arrows than a Dance Dance Revolution boss song, here Klee incorporates an arrow presumably to show us where Carl was “nearly hit.” On the other hand, he could be trolling us; I wouldn’t put it past him. Some of Klee’s arrows are suspiciously phallic looking, and this might just be a precursor to the time-honored fraternity tradition of drawing dicks on the faces of unconscious frat bros.

Behind Carl is a fiery burst of reds and whites that exemplify Klee’s restraining order-level obsession with color, which began during a trip to Tunisia in 1914. Upon his return Klee stated, “Color and I are one, I am a painter.” Those words were ahead of their time, as LSD would not be invented for another 24 years.