Part of Frank Stella's Moroccan Paintings series of 1964-65, Fez I belongs to a modern Western mode of Orientalist painting and takes its title from the city of Fes (or Fez) in Morocco. Inspired by his trip to Northern Africa in 1961, the decorative striped patterns of exotic and vibrant colors in the series lock into place with a Western geometric logic and precision. Exhibiting a highly simplistic aesthetic with no inherent rules or boundaries, the paint in Stella's work follows a logical geometric composition of lines and is entirely self-referential. An exotic abstraction, the fluorescent Day-Glo paint of Fez I and the highly repetitive linear pattern that converges at the center of the canvas creates a vibrant, almost supernatural dynamic in the painting. The dazzling juxtaposition of green and yellow stripes in Fez I reflects "the theoretical, emotional, and perceptual opposite of the black-stripe paintings" (R. Rosenblum in L. Rubin, Frank Stella: Paintings 1958 to 1965, A Catalogue Raisonne, Stewart, New York, 1986, p. 18).
To Stella, abstraction was the pinnacle of art and Fez I captures the artist's maxim, "what you see is what you see." Stella recently commented, "Abstraction is making painting that can stand by itself as an act of painting, I mean it's always hard to make abstract art. The problem for me is to make art and that problem is to make abstract art, because I think that is the art worth making" (F. Stella, "What You See is What You See": Frank Stella and the Anderson Collection at SFMOMA, online interview, 2004, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).