A Monochrome Drama

Yves Klein, artist, publicity machine and entertainer, mixed his own super-bright ultramarine blue. He covered canvases, paper, sculptures and women (!) with it. One might wonder what he would have done with today’s social media channels.

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Yves Klein, artist, publicity machine and entertainer, mixed his own super-bright ultramarine blue. He covered canvases, paper, sculptures and women (!) with it. One might wonder what he would have done with today’s social media channels.

Yves Klein was, and remains, an important figure in the post-war European art world and a pioneer in the development of performance art. He is also seen as an inspiration and a forerunner of minimal art, as well as pop art. Yves Klein was born in Nice, in 1928. Both his parents were painters and Yves, without formal art training, followed in their footsteps. He went through many different phases in his career but he is perhaps most famous for painting bright blue monochromes.

In 1949 Yves Klein started painting monochromes and a year later he started exhibiting those works. Public responses to these shows, which displayed orange, yellow, red, pink and blue monochromes, deeply disappointed him, as people went from painting to painting, linking them together as a sort of mosaic. From the reactions of the audience, Yves Klein realized that viewers thought his various, uniformly colored canvases amounted to a new kind of bright, abstract interior decoration … Shocked at this misunderstanding, Yves Klein decided to take an even more decisive step in the direction of monochrome art … From that time onwards he would concentrate on one single, primary color alone: blue. Throughout 1957, Yves Klein worked exclusively with the color blue. He once said, “Blue has no dimensions. It is beyond dimensions.” 

It was in 1947 that the idea of a conscious monochrome vision came to me … Pure, existential space was regularly winking at me, each time in a more impressive manner. I painted some monochrome surfaces just to ‘see’. But each time I could neither imagine or think of the possibility of considering this as a painting, a picture, until the day when I said: Why not?

Yves Klein
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Untitled Blue Monochrome 1956.

In his search for a blue color that would suit his artistic concept, Yves Klein found that the commonly used ultramarine blue pigments mixed with linseed oil, eventually lost its intensity. Along with Parisian paint dealer Edouard Adam, he set about mixing a new type of ultramarine that was named IKB, or International Klein Blue. The uniqueness of IKB does not derive from the ultramarine pigment, but rather from the matte, synthetic resin binder called Rhodopas M in which the color is suspended. Rhodopas M allows the pigment to maintain as much of its original qualities and intensity of color as possible.

The following exhibition was called Proposte Monocrome, Epoca Blu (Proposition Monochrome; Blue Epoch) and showed at the Gallery Apollinaire, Milan. The show featured eleven identical blue canvases, using his ultramarine pigment, International Klein Blue. The show was a critical and commercial success, traveling to Paris, Düsseldorf and London. Later that year, he was invited to decorate the Gelsenkirchen Opera House in Germany, with a series of huge blue murals. Klein celebrated the commission by travelling to Cascia, Italy, to place an offering at the Saint Rita Monastery. “May all that emerges from me be beautiful,” he prayed. The offering took the form of a small transparent plastic box containing three compartments; one filled with IKB pigment, one filled with pink pigment, and one with gold leaf inside. The container was only rediscovered in 1980.

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The Ex Voto dedicated to Santa Rita de Cascia, 1961. Besides blue, Yves Klein painted mostly in pink and gold.

Despite the IKB paintings being uniformly coloured, Klein experimented with various methods of applying the paint. First he used different rollers and sponges, creating a series of varied surfaces. Yves Klein also patented a method by which he was able to distance himself from the physical creation of his paintings by using female models as “living brushes”. He remotely directed the models who were covered in color and called this work Anthropometry. 

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Yves Klein Untitled Anthropometry, 1961.
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Yves Klein Anthropometry performance.

Yves Klein also produced a series of works that blurred the edges between painting and sculpture. He appropriated plaster casts of famous sculptures, such as the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo, by painting them International Klein Blue.

I had left the visible, physical blue at the door, outside, in the street. The real blue was inside, the blue of the profundity of space, the blue of my kingdom, of our kingdom!

Yves Klein

Yves Klein called himself a visionary showman and a judo master. He died in 1962 from a heart attack, at the young age of 34.

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In 1957, on the opening of his exhibit Yves le Monochrome, Yves Klein released 1,001 balloons into the sky, calling it the Aerostatic Sculpture.
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La Vague, 1957.
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Age d´Or, 1959.
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Fa Mineur, 1960.
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“My monochrome pictures are not my definite works, but the preparation for my works. They are the left-overs from the creative processes, the ashes. My pictures, after all, are only the title-deeds to my property which I have to produce when I am asked to prove that I am a proprietor.” Yves Klein.

I want to take as the canvas for my next picture the entire surface of France. This picture will be called The Blue Revolution.

Yves Klein
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Le Rose du Bleu, 1960.
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Untitled Colored Fire Painting, 1961.

I made the flames lick the surface of the painting in such a way that is recorded the spontaneous traces of the fire. But what is it that provokes in me this pursuit of the impression of fire?

Yves Klein
La Victoire de Samothrace, 1962.
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Blue Venus, 1962.

The world is blue.

Yves Klein
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Petite Stature, 1962.