An Artist, a Colour #2: Klein Blue

(References: Yves Klein ,

A very popular italian song, “Nel Blu, dipinto di Blu” ( best known for its refrain “Volare”), sings about a dream, in which the player imagines to paint himself of blue paint, then get to fly and get lost in the infinite. Well, this desire for an annulment in a colour, an absolute artistic research, belonged to a French painter named Yves Klein.

Le Saut dans le vide, 1960 © Yves Klein, ADAGP, Paris Photo; ph. Harry Shunk-John Kender

In the1955-1956, he held two exhibitions in Paris of monochrome oil paintings, at the Club des Solitaires and Gallery Colette Allendy. But the audience response surprised Klein: people went from painting to painting (orange, yellow, red, pink and blue monochromes) linking them together as a sort of mosaic, instead of looking them individually. Disappointed for this misunderstanding, Klein knew a further step in the direction of monochrome art and he would concentrate on one single, primary color: Blue.

With the help of Edouard Adam, a Parisian paint dealer, Klein sought a way to maintain the brightness and intensity of ultramarine pigment which, mixed instead with linseed oil, faded itself. They found the solution using the polyvinyl acetate, a synthetic resin marketed in France as Rhodopas M. The result was a high visual impact colour, patented International Klein Blue – IKB – (the IKB’s Hex Triplet is #002FA7 but it’s outside the gamut of computer displays).

Monochrome Bleu sans titre, 1959 © Yves Klein, ADAGP, Paris

In the 1957, Klein featured at the Gallery Apollinaire in Milan 11 identical blue canvases, painted using his IKB. The paintings were attached to poles placed 20 cm away from the walls to increase their spatial ambiguities. The show was a critical and commercial success, traveling to Paris, Düsseldorf and London. The Parisian exhibition, at the Iris Clert Gallery, became a happening. To mark the opening, 1001 blue balloons were released and blue postcards were sent out using IKB stamps that Klein had bribed the postal service to accept as legitimate. Concurrently, an exhibition of tubs of blue pigment and fire paintings was held at Gallery Collette Allendy.

Anyway, Klein don’t used his paint for uniformly coloured painting. Later, he experimented with various methods of applying the paint. At first, using different rollers and then later sponges, created a series of varied surfaces. At second, using naked female models covered in blue paint, as “living brushes”, and dragged across or laid upon canvases to make the image. This type of work he called Anthropometry.

Anthropométrie sans titre, 1960 © Yves Klein, ADAGP, Paris

The artistic Klein’s research was always directed to overcoming the physical limitations of traditional Arts and revolved around a Zen-influenced concept he called “le Vide” (the Void), a neutral zone where one is inspired to pay attention to ones own sensibilities, and to “reality” as opposed to “representation”.

Despite his athletic physique (he became a master at judo, in Japan, at the age of 25, receiving the rank of 4th dan black-belt), he suffered from heart disease. Two heart attacks killed him on 6 June 1962, any months before the birth of his son Yves Amu.


About liviusnotes

Architect, Graphic Illustrator, Drawing Teacher, Gentleman.
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