As the title suggests, RE 2 was Yves Klein's second painting from his highly celebrated series of sponge reliefs. The sponge, like the blue monochrome, is one of Klein's signature motifs and a key element in his unique spiritual aesthetic. His sponge relief paintings combine the natural earthbound form of the sponge with an ethereal expanse of color. In their deliberate materiality, they also represent the dramatic expansion of Klein's monochrome paintings into the real space of the viewer.
Klein wanted the viewer to undergo both a revelation of the senses and the mind in front of the intense blue field of his paintings. He believed that through meditation of the material, he could release the individual from the confines of the worldly and into the realm of transcendent experience. Blue was for Klein the color of the infinite and of the void - a color "beyond dimensions". He even gave his extreme tone of blue a patented trademark - International Klein Blue (IKB) - mixing the pure ultramarine with a synthetic resin so that it retained its powdery consistency and true brilliance. The sponge was a natural element that clearly offered itself as a metaphor for the viewer's "absorption" of the pregnant nature of space and the spiritual resonance of the void.
"When working on my pictures in the studio," Klein stated, " I sometimes used sponges. Naturally they turned blue very rapidly! One day I noticed how beautiful the blue in the sponge was, and the tool became a raw material. The extraordinary capacity of sponges to absorb everything fluid fascinated me. Thanks to the sponges I was going to be able to make portraits of the viewers of my monochromes, who, after having travelled in the blue of my pictures, return totally impregnated in sensibility, as are the sponges" (cited in Yves Klein: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Houston 1982, p. 111).
Unlike the seemingly abstract immateriality of the flat planes of colored pigment in his monochromes, the three-dimensionality of the sponge reliefs places them in the world of everyday reality. RE 2 looks like the strange landscape of a foreign planet or the ocean bed. The organic nature of the sponges combines with the intensity of the color in a way that seems to actively invade the real space of the viewer and physically asserts what Klein referred to as a "profundity of blue." The fact that the sponges of RE 2 extend over the edges of the painting makes it even more invasive, as though the picture itself is growing organically.
Incorporating sponges into his paintings allowed Klein to introduce compositional ideas into his work without abandoning the unity and rigour of the monochrome surface. In RE 2, Klein fills the compact space with sponges and stones of different sizes, arranging them in such a way as to suggest a natural rhythm. The composition is neither asymmetrically balanced, nor mindlessly scattered, but is rather a gentle combination of mind and nature - seeming both random and calmly controlled. Klein's refined ordering was influenced by Eastern aesthetics and in particular by the Japanese art of sekitei or stone gardening that he had seen during his stay in Japan in the early 1950s.
With its highly concentrated and charged space, the viewer is mesmerised by the intensity and energy of RE 2's surface. Klein creates a compelling environment that fills the senses and evokes a strong immaterial presence that is conveyed through the purity and depth of the artist's resonant pigment.
Ryoan-ji garden, Kyoto, Japan
Yves Klein, RE 1, 1958, sold $6,716,000, Christie's, New York, 15 November 2000, World Record for the Artist at Auction
Installation view, Iris Clert Gallery, Paris, 1961
Yves Klein in his apartment, 14 rue Campagne-Première, Paris, 1959