Exploring Color in Abstract

Many different aspects of painting contribute to the development of an artistic style such as abstract art. When an artist such as Paul Klee strikes out in their own direction, his choices add to the possibilities of new thought and approaches to art in general. Klee, a Swiss-German, absorbed the influences of several movements in the art world as he developed his own style.

"Ad Parnassum" by Paul Klee

“Ad Parnassum” by Paul Klee

Influences on Klee


Klee had a natural ability as a draftsman, and he liked to experiment with color. Various artistic movements, such as cubism, expressionism, and surrealism, inspired him in his explorations of color theory. During the course of his career, he taught at the Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture, along with his friend and colleague Wassily Kandinsky.

The artistic movement may have affected Klee’s intellectual study of art,

but it was a trip to Northern Africa in 1914 that had the greatest influence on him as a painter. His experience of the light in the environment of Tunisia awakened a new connection to color in Klee. From that time on, his attentions to color and its effects inclined in more abstract directions.

Studies of Color


Klee’s studies of the nature of color paralleled in a way his appreciation of music. He was also a trained musician, and frequently would prepare himself for painting by practicing his violin. He felt that the power of color for expression was similar to that of music. For Klee, even the rhythms of visual compositions generated the same sort of evocative response that musical compositions do.

In his personal quest for expression, Klee pushed himself beyond traditional methods of painting. He experimented with various techniques and use of color, by finding new ways to present them to the viewer. His methods were considered unusual, for he would apply paint to canvases by stamping it on the surface, or spraying it. He also liked to experiment with the surfaces he worked on, using everyday materials, such as panels of cardboard, or surfaces of muslin or burlap.

The exotic and evocative effects of his masterpiece “Ad Parnassum” demonstrate his experiments, for the style grew out of pointillism, retains an echo of representational art, and yet is trending toward abstraction.

Beyond Representational Art to Abstract


Klee  once made this observation about art:

“Formerly we used to represent things visible on earth, things we either liked to look at or would have liked to see. Today we reveal the reality that is behind visible things, thus expressing the belief that the visible world is merely an isolated case in relation to the universe and that there are other, more latent realities…”

It is his drive to see “behind visible things” that puts Klee’s work on the path toward abstract art. Other artists take that impulse much further than he did, dropping even the direct hints of any representational inspiration in favor of focusing on the immediacy of color or energy in a work.

"Dustdevil Flats" by Diana Hobson

“Dustdevil Flats” by Diana Hobson

Abstract artists such as Diana Hobson want to plunge the viewer into an immediate experience of color and form and energy. Her treatment of color in “Dustdevil Flats” lets the hues vibrate within the composition of the shapes. Visually, it will not “sit still.” The viewer’s eyes are drawn by the colors from the blue in the lower right upward through greens and golds, while the underlying shapes, particularly the central narrow V form brings the eyes back down to the starting point again.

All art brings an experience to the viewer. Abstract art wants to explode past our expectations of recognizability of form.



“Ad Parnassum” by Paul Klee. 1932, Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern. Image reproduced here under Fair Use Practices for information and instruction.

“Dustdevil Flats” by Diana Hobson, 1975. Copyright Diana Hobson. Used by permission.


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