Heiliger Bezirk, a complex tapestry of harmonious colors and mysterious pathways, embodies two of the major influences in Paul Klee's life and work: his seminal trip to Egypt and his lifelong appreciation of music. Playfully nicknamed the "Bauhaus Buddha" during his years as a revered teacher, artist and theorist at the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau from 1920 to 1931, Klee truly believed in the power of color and compositional arrangement to transport one's senses to a higher realm of being. While the obsessive grid of interweaving bands and colorful stripes in Heiliger Bezirk may evoke the tilled landscape and light of Egypt, the rhythmical arrangement of the horizontal lines punctuated by breaks and vertical staccatos recalls a carefully composed sheet of music. Klee's fusing of the structural, architectural, natural, spiritual and lyrical is a trademark that makes him one of the most complex and fascinating artists of the early Twentieth century.
In December 1928, Klee made a life-impacting trip to Egypt, which would profoundly inform his artistic output for the rest of his career. Will Grohmann explains the significance of Egypt for Klee:
The past of 5000 years ago is still present there, and the agricultural pattern of the Nile Valley has hardly changed since the days of the Pharaohs. The pyramids and monuments, temples and tombs of the ancient dynasties are still standing and, with the areas of tilled and untilled land, produce a network of horizontal, vertical, and oblique lines out of which the responsive mind can read man's destiny in time and space...Klee, then, brought with him the necessary flexibility of pictorial means; what Egypt gave him was the possibility of utilizing them to produce a complete image of what he experienced there, a picture not of present appearances but of origins and changes in time--the 'ka,' the genius of the land (in Paul Klee, London, 1969, pp. 275-276)
The visual impact of Egypt provided Klee with a new lexicon for his artwork and directly inspired the stripe paintings that soon followed. The prismatic arrangement of shimmering colors suggests the hot sun of the land, the maze of lines suggest hieroglyphics of a secret language and the flatness of the landscape. The title of the present work, Heiliger Bezirk (translated as Sacred Site), bears evidence of his veneration for the ancient land and his newfound enlightenment after this journey. Additionally, this work must have been of great importance to the artist as he inscribed the mount with his personal code 'SCl' ("Sonderklasse"), which was reserved for special works he chose to keep in his personal collection.
Music was an integral part of Klee's life: his father was a music teacher, his mother a trained singer, his wife Lily a pianist and he was an accomplished violist himself, who religiously attended concerts and the opera. While teaching at the Bauhaus, many of Klee's lectures centered on color theory through comparison to music, in particular the ability of intersecting lines to create "structural rhythms." Klee felt that the interplay of lines, much like notes of music, held a spectrum of expressionistic possibility ranging from tranquility to turbulence. Hajo Düchting describes Klee's complex analysis of the similarities between music and painting in his lectures at the Bauhaus:
In his endeavour to translate temporal elements (rhythms) from music into painting, Klee investigated the structure of musical compositions in more detail. Using Bach as an example, Klee explained the difference between 'individual' and 'structural,' or what he termed 'dividual' components of musical composition, concepts that he then applied to the field of painting. The 'structural' or 'dividual' element is part of a larger unit characterised by rhythmic repetitions without variation and hence divisible...The 'individual' components, on the other hand, are defined as a superior, rhythmically independent, unrepeatable and irregular unit of a composition...A third possibility would be the fusing of both rhythmic characteristics, a feature he pointed out in his excerpt from Bach's sonata (in Paul Klee, Music and Painting, Munich, 1997, pp. 35-36).
The present work exemplifies Klee's theory of the 'dividual' (the structural horizontal bands) and the 'individual' (the intersecting vertical breaks and redirections) combining to create a harmonious and gloriously rhythmic composition, not unlike a perfect sonata.
Heiliger Bezirk marks an apex in Klee's varied and prolific oeuvre, while it harks back to the sacredness of ancient Egypt and the natural phenomena of the land, it also moves forward with pulsating and rhythmic energy, it's all-over abstraction and expressionism both foreshadowing what would follow in modern art history.