CARAVAN's Founding President, Paul-Gordon Chandler, is providing a series of reflections on works of art along the themes of “Inspiring, Transcendent, Contemplative, Enriching, and Imaginative.” Below he focuses on “Enriching Art.”
August Macke, On the Street, 1914, Watercolor, 25.5 x 29.3 cm
“Magi came from the east...bringing gifts…” is a phrase we hear a lot during the end of year holiday season.
This is a difficult time of year for many, from shorter darker days, to the ongoing wars in Gaza and Ukraine. During a season of darkness, light from the East can profoundly add color to our lives.
This watercolor by the German painter August Macke titled “On the Street” speaks to me of the beauty of East and West coming together, towards enriching each other. In 1914, three of my favorite European artists, August Macke, Paul Klee and Louis Moillet, traveled to Tunisia, where I used to live. It was far more than just a journey to them, for they were profoundly influenced by the time they spent in North Africa, and the paintings that came out of their experience there are seen as the beginning of a whole new genre of art known as Modernism.
Paul Klee was impacted the most. As a result of his time in Tunisia, color became his most important creative tool. Prior to this trip he struggled with color: "In the realm of color I found it hard to progress." He had worked almost exclusively in monochrome watercolor drawings and etchings…excluding color. However, during his trip to Tunisia, he was profoundly affected by the brilliant light and colors of the North African landscape. He wrote, "Color has seized me. I no longer need to pursue it: it has seized me forever, I know. That is the revelation of this blessed moment. Color and I are one..." Today, most of what we know of Klee’s work, resulted from that interaction with the Arab world.
The French artist Henri Matisse traveled to Morocco around the same time period, in 1912 and 1913. It had a profound impact on his life and art as well. Inspired by the luminous North African light and the color, during his time there he honed the distinctive marks that define his best work, with vibrant and expressive colors. I am reminded of the reflections on the spirituality of color by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, who lived during the same period and whose work I also love. Kandinsky writes, “Colour is a power which directly influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings.”
I find Macke’s “On the Street” painting an interesting illustration of the West encountering and being enriched by the East, and of how each can beautifully influence the other, leading to far-reaching cultural and spiritual inspiration – a fresh perspective on the seasonal phrase, “Magi came from the east...bringing gifts.”