In 1914, everything changed for Paul Klee. Whilst sampling the delights of Tunisia on a twelve-day trip with fellow artists Louis Moilliet and Auguste Macke, he found himself profoundly affected by the light and colours of North Africa—an intense experience that inspired him to explore new forms of abstraction and bring colour to the canvas like never before. A diarist since 1898, Klee recorded this artistic turning point in his notebook; the following entry came as he toured the city of Kairouan, newly “possessed” by colour. He began work on the painting seen above—one of his first abstract pieces—when he returned home.
The Diary Entry
926 0. Thursday, 4.16. In the morning, painted outside the city; a gently diffused light falls, at once mild and clear. No fog. Then sketched in town.
A stupid guide provided a comic element. August taught him German words, but what words. In the afternoon, he took us to the mosque. The sun darted through, and how! We rode a while on the donkey.
In the evening, through the streets. A café decorated with pictures. Beautiful watercolors. We ransacked the place buying. A street scene around a mouse. Finally someone killed it with a shoe. We landed at a sidewalk café.
An evening of colors as tender as they were clear. Virtuosos at checkers.
Happy hour. Louis found exquisite color tidbits and I was to catch them, since I am so skillful at it.
I now abandon work. It penetrates so deeply and so gently into me, I feel it and it gives me confidence in myself without effort. Color possesses me.
I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour: Color and I are one. I am a painter.
Paul Klee began keeping a diary in 1898, when he was 19, and he gave a date and number to each entry (i.e. the first entry was 1; the last entry, in 1918, was 1134. BUT, sometimes a group of entries shared a number, in which case letters were also used—hence 926 o on this one). In 1992, his diaries were finally published, edited by his son, Felix, and titled, The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918. Highly recommended. To learn more about Paul Klee, you could do worse than to visit Zentrum Paul Klee, a museum in Bern, Switzerland, dedicated to his work.
Diary entry excerpted from The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918 by Paul Klee. University of California Press, 1992. Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through Copyright Clearance Centre.