New Blue Klein
One man's reinvention of a colour
Yves Klein was with us for only a few short years between 1928 and 1962, but he left an indelible impression on the world in many different ways. Famed for his blue monochrome paintings, Klein was born in Nice to artistic parents and started a career as a painter in the post-war period of the late-1940s. He moved around the world, staying for a short time in London, before living in Japan between 1952-53. There, he became an expert in judo, a sport at which he taught later on in life, and after a reasonably short stay in Spain, he returned to France to reside in Paris where he lived from 1955.
As an artist, Klein became obsessed with blue. Together with his Parisian paint supplier Edouard Adam, he invented International Klein Blue, a colour so rich with a matte quality that was unique at the time, IKB was a powerhouse of colour and from 1958 Klein painted in it almost exclusively - using it to explore space and density in enormous quantities. He patented IKB in 1960 and it would dominate his life for the next two years.
Klein is credited with having a career marked with extraordinary creativity and is renowned for influencing entire generations of artists. His theories on monochrome, and particularly the colour blue, are viewed by artists and designers as nothing short of experimental audaciousness. According to art historians, Klein’s influence has seeped into some of the major artistic movements of later years, and he predicted the rise of many of them, including installation, performance art, pop and conceptual movements. He was a cool revolutionary, and very much a publicity-seeker. But where, exactly, did he develop this penchant for monochrome?
The truth is that Klein was always preoccupied by colour. Some believe it is down to his pious Catholicism, where the blue often is seen in religious art as representing eternity and godliness, which was inspirational to the young, church-going Yves. Was it angst abstraction (a popular movement in the post-war period) or was it Klein’s concerns about living in the atomic age meant that his depthless monochromes and interest in portraying ‘the void’ was an expression of the threat of nuclear holocaust?
No one really knows, but there is no doubt the colour obsessed him. As early as 1956 in Nice he worked with raw, unstable ultramarine pigment and attempted to preserve its luminescence and powdery texture. It was this formula that was the basis of International Klein Blue - and it was a colour of such astonishing depth that it had become a considerable part of his story.
Yves Klein was undeniably a forward thinker who always had one eye on what the future might bring. And in a short career, which was characterised by many radical gestures, he created some astonishing work. Sadly, Yves Klein died of a heart attack - his third - at the young age of 34. A sophisticated, controversial, and sometimes contradictory artist, his legacy is still very much alive in the modern world.