Life is short. Paint everything blue. This is the bittersweet story of the artist Yves Klein, from whom we have much to learn about commitment and maximizing our time on earth.
In 1947 three teenagers lay basking on a beach in the South of France. They had become close friends at school while all sharing a love for Judo and the arts. Full of youthful arrogance, these three boys vowed to divide the world between themselves. The young sculptor named Armand Fernandez chose the earth. Claude Pascal chose the domain of words, and Yves Klein committed to take on the sky. If this sounds like a creation myth, that is because, in a way, it was.
With the sky as his mandate, Yves Klein got right to work. Two years after that pivotal moment at the beach, he summoned the infinite with an ethereal performance piece called “Monotone Silence Symphony”. Following the minimalist symphony and a Judo focused sojourn in Japan, Yves Klein held his first exhibit of monochromatic paintings in Paris. For his next show in 1957, he narrowed the focus down to one single hue: the color blue. For Klein, this color represented the concept of the void. He was interested in how its quality of pure energy was in tension with the materiality of the physical art work.
“At first there is nothing, then there is a profound nothingness, after that a blue profundity.” – Yves Klein
Now known as “Yves Klein Blue”, this vibrant color had once existed only in the form of raw pigment. Klein became obsessed with the lapis lazuli like quality of the ultramarine powder, and engineered a way to keep its luminosity while transforming it into paint.
From the get-go, Klein understood how to make an impact in the art world, and in turn his rise to success was astonishingly direct. After the heralded blue paintings, Klein went on to explore the relationship between the physical and the void by staging performance pieces in which he used naked bodies as vehicles for paint application. He also created painted sculptures and other conceptual performance works. In the field of photography, Klein published poetic series called Saut Dans Le Vide, which shows him swan diving into the open air.
Tragically, with a new wife and his first baby on the way, Yves Klein had a fatal heart attack at the young age of thirty four. It is astounding to contemplate the targeted impact that he made with his brief time on this earth. The commitment and focus with which he approached his life and career seems almost prophetic- as if he was well aware that the clock was ticking away, and that he needed to triage the situation.
Throughout his time, Klein stayed profoundly committed to the sky and its metaphysical implications. His mission was to outsmart mortality, and his method was to paint the world the color of eternity.
When I see Yves Klein blue I am reminded of life’s brevity, and the mandate to be focused, courageous and to make bold propositions in life. We are all living out our own creation myths- the question is what piece of the universe will you be responsible for?
This exercise is inspired by Yves Klein’s passion for the color blue.
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Further reading and supplies:
Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers : With the Void, Full Powers includes examples from all of Klein’s major series, including his Anthropometries, Cosmogonies, fire paintings, planetary reliefs and blue monochromes, as well as selections of his lesser-known gold and pink monochromes, body and sponge reliefs, “air architecture” and immaterial works.
Over Coming the Problems of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein The first complete collection of the writings of the visionary French conceptual artist Yves Klein (1928–1962) published in English translation.
Ultramarine Blue Pigment Oxide Mineral Powder Life is short, paint everything blue. It is fascinating to think about the relationship between raw pigment and paint.