'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 many more other, latent realities' (Paul Klee, Creative Confession, 1920).
Der Man der Reise (The Man of Travel) is a whimsical fantasy picture that Klee painted during the First World War while stationed in the paymaster's office of the flying school in Gerstenhofen. Describing a kaleidoscopic graphic journey in and out of tunnels, arches and railway waiting rooms, along narrow streets, by ship and by train, this mosaic-like semi-abstract watercolour fuses the image of a cheerful-looking man smoking a cigarette with a wealth of largely metropolitan images of travel.
Merging all that he had learned on his journey to Tunisia four years beforehand with the cubistic colour harmonies of an artist like Delaunay, Der Man der Reise combines many of the disparate elements of Klee's eclectic art into one intense and unified painting. Abstract geometric shapes form buildings and the features of the figure's face, while elsewhere, painted shadows of arches, rooftops and alcoves, assert their own abstract autonomy. Out of this collage-like manner of interweaving seemingly abstract and figurative forms over one another Klee forges an intense sense of motion and of the sensation of travelling. This fusion of imagery serves as a kind of visual poem, describing a sequence of travel memories that is reflective not only of the title of the work but, one suspects, also of Klee's own desires, trapped, as he had been for several years, in a small army office in the middle of an airfield.
'One may still speak reasonably of the salutary effects of art', Klee wrote in his Creative Confession at this time. 'We may say that fantasy, inspired by instinctual stimuli creates illusory states which somehow encourage or stimulate us more than the familiar natural or known supernatural states, that its symbols bring comfort to the mind, by making it realize that it is not confined to earthly potentialities... But, in the long run, even enhanced reality proves inadequate. Art plays an unknowing game with ultimate things, and yet achieves them! Cheer up! Value such country outings, which let you have a new point of view for once as well as a change of air, and transport you to a world which, by diverting you, strengthens you for the inevitable return to the greyness of the working day. More than that, they help you to slough off your earthly skin, to fancy for a moment that you are God; to look forward to new holidays, when the soul goes to a banquet in order to nourish its starved nerves, and to fill its languishing blood vessels with new sap. Let yourself be carried on the invigorating sea, on a broad river or an enchanting brook, such as that of the richly diversified, aphoristic graphic art' (Paul Klee, Ibid.).