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KLEE AND AGUÉLI: FRIENDS OF LIGHT

Klee and Aguéli are two names you would not normally write in the same sentence. However, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm has just opened an exhibition where these two painters are looked at in the same light. And this is precisely the element of affinity the museum has found between the German and the Swedish. Their travels in the north of Africa, their shocking encounters with the light of this continent, and the spirituality which ensued the life-changing experience: in the form of colour adoption and realisation of the self for the former, and in the shape of religious conversion and language acquisition for the latter.

Left: Paul Klee, Kairuan, Before the gate, 1914. Watercolour and pencil on paper, mounted on cardboard, 13.5 x 22 cm. Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Right: Ivan Aguéli, Egyptian Domed House, 1914.   Tempera on canvas, 21.5 x 30.5 cm. Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
Left: Paul Klee, Kairuan, Before the gate, 1914. Watercolour and pencil on paper, mounted on cardboard, 13.5 x 22 cm. Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Right: Ivan Aguéli, Egyptian Domed House, 1914. Tempera on canvas, 21.5 x 30.5 cm. Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Obsessed by colour. This is what Paul Klee became after travelling to Tunisia in 1914 with August Macke. He even claimed “I am a painter”, when recording his experiences in the journal he kept until 1918. Shortly before, he had translated Light, Delaunay’s essay in which the French claims: “La lumière est la seule réalité” (“Light is the only reality”). Combining these two elements, light and colour, and adding to it an element of symbolic imagination, remained Klee’s artistic ambition throughout his life.

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Paul Klee, View of Kairuan, 1914. Watercolour, 8.2 x 21 cm. Moderne Galerie Otto Stangl, Munich.

Ivan Aguéli met with Africa in jail. It was during his first sojourn in prison that he was introduced to orientalism in general, and Arab language and Islam in particular. Following his liberation, he travelled to Alexandria, Egypt, where he strove to find a truer art beyond the West’s façade of what he called falseness. He started using spirituality and enlightenment in his painting, but finished by focusing on the more esoteric studies of the Muslim religion. Both his experiments with light and religious illumination brought him fame at a much later time, when he was recognised as one of the first Swedish modernists and an eminence in Islamic philosophy.

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Ivan Aguéli, African Landscape, c. 1914. Oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard, 37 x 45 cm. Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Whether as the bedrock of an abstract symbolism that Klee so passionately and cleverly founded in colour, or as the path to a more metaphysical form of pure art that Aguéli advocated, light was the guiding star these two artists found in North Africa. The Moderna Museet, with its exhibition Klee/Aguéli open until 24th April 2016, sheds light on the relationship the two artists had with the fundaments of visual art.

To further understand the revolution accomplished by Klee in the world of contemporary art, you can check out our books on the subject: TS Klee, TS Klee, MS Klee.