Over the course of his tragically brief life, Yves Klein produced one of the 20th century’s most radical and esoteric bodies of work. Fascinated by the colour blue, he believed that art had the power to reveal the mysterious void underpinning human existence.
Klein was born in Nice in 1928. While sitting on the beach with his friend Arman, he symbolically ‘signed’ the sky above his head, declaring it his first artwork. Drawing on sources ranging from mystical philosophy to the frescoes of Giotto, Klein believed that blue was the most pure and elemental of all colours. In 1957, he developed a unique blue paint that he named IKB (International Klein Blue). He claimed that this dazzling ultramarine tone, created by suspending pigment in synthetic resin, could transport viewers beyond the material world.
Klein’s first major works were his blue monochrome paintings. He would later adopt sponges, creating sculptures and reliefs that exploited the material’s absorptive properties. Though blue remained central to Klein’s art — from his Cosmogonies to his Blue Venus sculptures and Planetary Reliefs — it ultimately came to form part of a broader ‘holy trinity’ of colours. Gold and pink, or madder rose, were its counterparts. Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) (1960) — a pink Sponge Relief — sold for £23,561,250 at Christie’s in 2012, realising a world record price for the artist at auction.
Inspired by his studies of judo in Japan, Klein placed performance at the heart of his practice. Early projects included Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility, in which buyers exchanged gold for empty space, and his iconic Leap into the Void: a photograph depicting him suspended mid-air.
In 1960, Klein presented a legendary staging of his Anthropometries, in which models painted themselves in IKB before proceeding to print their bodies onto paper. He would later combine this technique with his Fire-Colour paintings, born of his experiments with flames at the Gaz de France test centre. Masterworks from these series, including FC1 (Fire-Color 1) (1962) and Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, (ANT 124) (1960), have achieved top prices at Christie’s.
Klein died in 1962, aged just 34. His work would have an extraordinary impact on the evolution of Conceptualism, Minimalism and performance art, inspiring artists ranging from Piero Manzoni to Tracey Emin.
Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, (ANT 124) (Anthropometry of the Blue Period), (ANT 124))