Bathed in a sea of electric blue pigment as fresh and glowing as the day it was made, ANT 5 is one of a rare and important group of Anthropométries made from a unique combination of sprayed blue pigment, light, shadow, water and fire that Yves Klein made shortly before his premature death at the age of only 34 in June 1962. One of only six Anthropométries registered in the catalogue raisonné to incorporate a mix of fire and blue pigment, and the largest of these, ANT 5 is a work that marks the material culmination of this seminal series of works that Klein first began in 1958. With their mixture of ethereal blue pigment signifying the void and the transmutational logic of the fire, these works almost auspiciously seem to signify Klein's long-held personal ambition of becoming one with the immaterial realm through the practice of levitation, or as he more famously referred to it, 'Leaping into the Void'.
One of the most elegant and refined of all Klein's Anthropométries, - recalling in its form the subtle elongation of the blue cut-out figures of Henri Matisse or one of Amedeo Modigliani's Karyatids - it depicts a tall female form seemingly emerging from and disappearing into the sprayed pigment and golden brown clouds around her. Indeed, Klein has positioned the model for this work in such a way that its sprayed figure seems to be running on air and reaching upwards as if in exultation or worship against a central rising column of blue smoke. Reaching out like a hierophant of Klein's prophesied 'Blue Epoch', her arms outstretched in the Y-form - a symbol in alchemy of both the initiate and the androgyne - this elegant and ethereal human form, part column of blue cloud, part aspirational figure, stands as a magnificent icon of Klein's magical and transcendent art.
ANT 5 in particular, with its depiction of a young, healthy and seemingly floating human form merging into an immaterial essence of blue pigment and golden flame-charred card while in an act of ascension, represents a complete and unified fusion of the many disparate threads of Klein's art. In his last Anthropométries, most of which made use of the spectral negative image of the figure, Klein concentrated on the form of a single female figure surrounded by a column of sprayed blue pigment in such a way that it suggested a smoky immaterial blue emanation coming from her figure. In addition to the blue in these works Klein also applied fire from a Bunsen burner to the paper ground to create golden patterns that further emphasised the dematerialisation process suggested by these works. Fire and gold were, of course, also materials that signified transmutation, gold being the illuminative and spiritual goal of the alchemists and fire the 'ultra living element', that 'presence of absence', as Klein described it, that burns both 'in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man'. (Yves Klein, cited in P. Restany, Yves Klein, New York, 1985, pp. 226-7) Here, painting, water, fire and the material transmutations they cause combine with the living energy, action and performance of Klein's female model to form one potent, deeply Romantic and ultimately fitting image of human transcendence.
For Klein, his Anthropométries represented what he described simply as 'the mark of the moment states of the flesh' and he saw a direct connection between these works and the other great art he practiced, judo, at which he was also a master. Indeed, in many respects, the Anthropométries can be seen as painterly expressions of the judoka's concept of the body as a physical, sensorial and spiritual centre of energy whose power resides specifically in the controlled and disciplined release of this energy to the outside. Imprints of the body left in the sand on the beach or on the judo mat for example provided a deep inspiration for Klein and often featured in the films he made and other of his works long before he created the Anthropométries. The Anthropométries essentially take two forms: positive imprints made by pressing the painted torso of the model against a surface, and negative shadow-like images, as in this work, made by the artist spraying paint around the contours of the model's body. In both cases the resultant residual image is the product of a collaborative performance between Klein and his model. This performance or action was also an important dramatic and interactive aspect of these works that Klein took trouble to emphasise by often turning their creation into public spectacles where the models, acting as autonomous brushes, would replicate themselves according to Klein's spoken directions.
In this seamless and near-autonomous fusing of action, performance and painting in these works, Klein was effectively uniting many of the elements of his own art which up until this point had tended to separate his actions from the making of his paintings. Not only this however, he was also now demonstrably operating in what Robert Rauschenberg had famously described as the 'gap between art and life'. And it was in this respect that Klein's Anthropométries established the whole of Klein's 'monochrome adventure' (as he referred to his art) firmly within the context of a whole generation of artists who were then pioneering much of what would become the Minimal and Conceptual Art movements of the 1960s. From the interactive and collaborative performance experiments of Rauschenberg, Cunningham, Cage and Johns for example, to the Spatialist theories of Lucio Fontana and the autonomous works of art being created by Piero Manzoni, Klein's Anthropométries seemed to fuse all these developments together into one resonant and also ethereal image. But not only had Klein extended Jackson Pollock's great breakthrough in beginning to paint in the space above the canvas to now include real life, his Anthropométries had successfully, if also controversially, reintroduced the human-figure, and the nude at that, back into painting. Revealing it once again as an exciting and vital arena of energy and life that could be used in painting at precisely a time when the prevailing tendency was heavily leaning towards abstraction.
For Klein himself however, this 'figurative' nature of his anthropometric images actually represented the end of the human form and the effective dissolution of the individual into the anonymous, immaterial collective of the void. For him the Anthropométries were transcendent images that actually signified the end of the materiality of the body and what Klein firmly believed would be its 'resurrection' in the immaterial. A mystic and a Rosicrucian, Klein foresaw the coming of a new age of the spirit, which he referred to as the 'blue epoch', when mankind would leave their bodies and ascend into space and the infinite immaterial realm of the void. It is a development that many of his Anthropométries actually catalogue and depict, from the communal cannibalism of La Grand bataille to the floating ghostly shadows of works such as Hiroshima and People Begin to Fly. As in ANT 5, in the case of these last two works where the negative images of bodies appear like absences or voids that reflect the shadowy traces of a figure, the emphasis is also on levitation as the means of transmutation.
As a judo champion Klein firmly believed in the possibility of human levitation and also that through its practice one's spirit could leave the body and actually fly. Yves-the monochrome, 'who is also a judo champion, black belt 4th dan, trains regularly in dynamic levitation!' he wrote in the accompanying text to his own famous leap into the void. 'Today the painter of space must actually go into space to paint, but he must go without tricks or fraud, and not in an airplane, parachute or rocket. He must go there by himself with an autonomous, individual force. In a word, he must be capable of levitating.' (Yves Klein from 'A Man in Space - The painter of space leaps into the Void' in his newspaper Sunday 27 November 1960). Indeed, in the last two years of his life, levitation became an increasing obsession for Klein. He is reported to have spoken about it continually and to have practiced exercises in breathing intended to enhance the body's ability to free itself from the constraints of its weight.
For Klein, the successful act of levitation marked the separation of spirit from matter. It was a moment of transcendence and perhaps too of transfiguration - a moment when the material body lifted from the physical restraints of the material world and the radiant light of the inner spirit broke forth to join with the realm of the immaterial. Using the ancient practice of shadow imprinting by spraying pigment around the outline of the body and combining this with the transmutative charring caused by fire to create golden clouds on the surface of the work, Ant 5 is one of the most elegant, moving and poignant expressions of this aspiration in Klein's art.