Hot Sun and Desert Dust in Paul Klee’s Colors

Paul Klee, Arab Song, 1932. Oil on burlap, 35 7/8 x 25 3/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1940

Arab Song recalls Paul Klee’s love of North Africa, first experienced in Tunisia in 1914 and reawakened in 1928 in Egypt. It was within the intense light-filled landscapes of North Africa that Klee discovered color. Klee literally infused color into Arab Song, an aspect that drew Duncan Phillips to this work. Phillips wrote, “With only a raw canvas stained to a few pale tones, he evoked a hot sun, desert dust, faded clothes, veiled women, an exotic plant, a romantic interpretation of North Africa.” Bold for the time, Klee’s method of directly applying color onto an unprimed canvas became a call to arms in the 1950s for a young generation of Color Field painters, such as Gene Davis and Kenneth Noland.

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.