Yves Klein was a French artist born in 1928 who died at the age of 34. I first encountered Klein this past summer at an exhibition of his work; Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. He was an innovator who worked in painting, sculpture, performance, photography, music, theater, and architecture. He pursued his art in search of an immaterial spirituality, specifically through his use of pure color, primarily a ultramarine shade of blue that he created and patented; International Klein Blue (IKB). Klein created a series of monochromes in various colors and textures as he explored the nature of color. His fascination with color is apparent in this quote,
After having gone through several periods, my research has led me to paint unified monochrome pictures. My canvases are therefore covered by one or several layers of a single color after a certain preparation of the support and using various technical procedures. No drawing is visible, no variation in hue; there is nothing but the UNITY of a single color. The dominant invades the entire picture, as it were. In this way I seek to individualize the color, because I have come to believe that there is a living world of each color and I express these worlds. My paintings, moreover, represent an idea of absolute unity in perfect serenity; an abstract idea represented abstractly, which has made me rank myself with the abstract painters. But I hasten to point out to you that the abstractionists do not understand it this way and they reproach me, among other things, for refusing to provoke relations between colorsÉ. I think that the color "yellow," for example, is quite sufficient in itself to render an atmosphere and a climate "beyond the thinkable"; what is more, the nuances of yellow are infinite, leaving the possibility to interpret it in many different ways.
Klein experimented with different ways to express individual colors particularly in his discovery of sponges. He was fascinated with the way sponges absorbed the pigment and their ability to become impregnated with color. This curiosity with saturation also reflects on how he wanted viewers of his art to engage with his work. They should be transported through his art and come out the other side impregnated with its sensibility. Klein's experimentation with sponges and monochromes led to several large scale works that he created for the Gelsenkirchen Opera House in Germany. The works were wire reinforced plaster reliefs
, covered with natural sponges and spray painted in IKB.
Klein's anthropometries were another experiment in the expression of color. He had nude female models cover their bodies with blue paint and then press themselves onto sheets of white paper in strategically planned ways. This entire process was part of a larger performance piece that was attended by a formally dressed audience and accompanied by the Monotone Symphony (a piece of music created by Klein).
My personal favorite of Klein's various series are his fire paintings which he created by burning the paper while simultaneously pouring water onto the support. The resulting effect was a print of the flames with traces of water to which he added paint. His artistic endeavors were often experimental and this was no exception. Klein created his first large series of fire paintings at the French Gas Company's Test Center where the process was overseen by a fireman as you can see in the picture below. I find the end result truly incredible, and I when I saw this work in person, could only think of the glow of liquid metal (it's the first image at the top).
Although Klein's career was cut short by his premature death, he was extraordinarily prolific in all facets of his art. His development of new techniques, mixing of mediums, and philosophical and spiritual approach to his art made him a highly significant contributor to 20th century art.