Executed in 1960-61, Anthropom/aetrie "Le Buffle" (ANT 93) presents the viewer with an absorbing, immersive picture surface in which Yves Klein's patented IKB, or International Klein Blue, has been vigorously smeared across by naked models, their bodies' imprints merging together to form a colossal, abstract entity that conveys some notion of orgiastic energy. This work belongs to a small group within the wider bracket of the Anthropometries, Klein's last great series, referred to as the Anthropophagies. This reference to cannibalism was explicitly contained in the title of the closely-related Anthropophagie grande bleue: Hommage à Tennessee Williams, now in the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; another similar work is in the collection of the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao. It is a clear tribute to the quality of Anthropom/aetrie "Le Buffle" (ANT 93) that, in a photograph taken in his Paris apartment at 14, rue Campagne-Première, Klein himself is shown sitting with his friend and fellow artist Martial Raysse with the picture hanging prominently on the wall.
Klein was one of the greatest of artistic pioneers in the post-War period, pushing back the boundaries of what art could and indeed should do. As well as the highly influential use of ritual in his artistic oeuvre and in using new media such as air, sponges and fire, Klein revolutionised the nature of painting itself. In an era that was marked by such developments as the drip painting of Jackson Pollock, the Informel movement and the iconoclastic innovations of his own friend Piero Manzoni, Klein made several incredibly influential leaps within the field of painting, especially in the form of his monochrome works and his Anthropometries. These truly cemented the meteoric success of his career, which was tragically cut short in 1962 just as he was beginning to enjoy widespread international recognition. Importantly, Klein saw himself as part of an ancient tradition, as old as consciousness itself. As his friend, the art critic Pierre Restany wrote, 'The blue gesture launched by Yves Klein runs through 40,000 years of modern art to be reunited with the anonymous handprint, as sufficient as it was necessary in that dawn of our universe, that at Lascaux or Altamira signified the awakening of man to self-awareness and the world' (P. Restany, quoted in S. Stich, Yves Klein, Ostfildern, 1994, p. 175). He thus linked works such as Anthropom/aetrie "Le Buffle" (ANT 93) as much to Abstract Expressionism as to the spectral hand silhouettes picked out in blown pigment on the cave walls of Neolithic man. It is perhaps with reference to ancient art that Klein named this work the "Buffalo": the flicking limbs visible at the right of the picture recall the legs of the running bison dating from 14,000 years ago in the caverns of Lascaux, linking Klein to another dawn of awareness as he ushered in his Blue Epoch.
During the 1950s, Klein had developed his monochromes, which he most often created in IKB, harnessing the power of that uniquely affective pigment. 'What is blue?' he asked, discussing the mystical intensity of this color. 'Blue is the invisible becoming visible... Blue has no dimensions. It exists outside the dimensions that are part of other colors' (Klein, quoted in O. Berggruen, M. Hollein, I. Pfeiffer, (ed.), Yves Klein, exh. cat., Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 48). For Klein, his monochrome works existed without perspective, without detail, and thus became completely absorbing infinities, recalling the depth of the sky, allowing his viewers to be absorbed and to become aware of their place as part of the wider living Universe: 'the authentic quality of the picture, its very being, lies beyond the visible, in pictorial sensitivity in the state of prime matter' (Klein, quoted in P. Restany, Yves Klein, trans. J. Shepley, New York, 1982, p. 47).
In order to heighten his own sensitivity to the universe while creating those works, he often had naked models wandering through his studio. 'My models laughed more than a little when they saw how I created the exquisite blue monochrome, limited to one color, after their images!' Klein recalled. 'They laughed, but they felt more and more attracted to the blue. One day it was clear to me that my hands and tools were no longer sufficient to work with the color. I needed the model to paint the monochrome painting' (Klein, quoted in Berggruen et al., op. cit., 2004, p. 126). He thus began to use models themselves as his medium, covering them in paint which they would then press against the picture surface: 'My brushes were alive and remote-controlled' (Klein, quoted in ibid., p. 126).
One earlier monochrome had been painted in a spectacle organized by Klein in the home of Robert Godet in 1958, but its result was completely different, as she covered the entire surface in blue; also, Klein was perturbed by the degeneration of the atmosphere of the soirée. This new innovative procedure, with his "remote-controlled" brushes, instead produced an incredibly direct and vivid transferral of the sensibility and the life force to the picture surface, as is clearly the case in Anthropom/aetrie "Le Buffle" (ANT 93) The whirlwind of activity, captured in the blue imprints that stretch across so much of the surface, are thrown all the more into relief by the way in which the rest of the support has been left, unlike in the 1958 example, in reserve, resulting in a picture that even invokes the Oriental notes of classical Chinese landscape painting in its composition.
In the majority of the Anthropometries, Klein's models had pressed their bodies against the picture surface, whether it was on the wall or on the floor, and then pulled away, usually leaving identifiable imprints of their torsos; here, by contrast, the viewer sees the frenetic traces of movement, captured vividly in his blazing pigments. Some people considered the Anthropometries to be a form of return to figuration for the artist; Anthropom/aetrie "Le Buffle" (ANT 93) and its sister Anthropophagies in Paris and Bilbao disrupt this. Here, instead, the traces of the women, though vivid and vivacious, have dissolved, and so too has any sense of individualism dissolved. In this sense, in the Anthropophagies Klein has managed both to create a work that, as a focus of our contemplation, will absorb us into the Blue in order to make us sensitive to the vibrations of the living Universe around us; at the same time, in a deft union of medium and message, the process by which it was made and the appearance itself perfectly express this intention in the manner in which the individual imprints and traces have become a sprawling, frenetic, chaotic entity in their own right.
The reference to cannibalism in the word Anthropophagie was appropriate to Klein's intentions in several ways. Firstly, it referred to his belief that he was living in an age in which the world and humanity were absorbed in manic consumption and self-consumption. It also referred to the communion, a perfect theme for Klein the mystic. The biblical invitation to, "Take, eat, this is my body" is echoed in Anthropom/aetrie "Le Buffle" (ANT 93)'s sumptuous, energetic mass. Here, rather than being measured, man is being consumed, as Klein invites his viewers to contemplate the picture and become aware of their place as part of infinity, to dissolve into the Immaterial, absorbed within the greater expanse of the Void. This is made all the more intense by the presence of the smeared IKB, 'material, physical Blue, offal and dried blood, issue of the raw material of sensibility' (Klein, quoted in N. Root, "Precious Bodily Fluids," pp. 141-45, ibid., p. 142).
Essentially, the marks in Ant 93, Le BuffleAnthropom/aetrie "Le Buffle" (ANT 93) convey the immediacy of existence itself. The energy of life has been converted into pure form, into a haze of blue. Klein had become increasingly interested in ways of capturing and channelling motion in part through contact and collaborations with his friend and fellow artist, Jean Tingueley, and in a sense, that is one of the aspects captured in this work, in its maelstrom of captured movement. Klein often associated his Anthropometries with Judo, in which he was a black belt and an instructor: the women were pressed against the surface in the same way that the wrestlers were flung against the mats, and that concept of struggle is clearly embodied in the battle-like series of movements that have resulted in Anthropom/aetrie "Le Buffle" (ANT 93). Klein had been partially inspired by the marks left, either by impact or sweat, of the wrestlers thrown down in Judo, and has transferred some of that notion of action into this work, lending it an existential aspect that intensifies the degree to which this mark-making process, involving real people in direct contact with the support, has so powerfully conveyed the life force of the protagonists. To a degree, Anthropom/aetrie "Le Buffle" (ANT 93) is a relic, the evidence of those movements in the early 1960s, an eloquent proof of life.
It is in this context that one of the most important influences for Klein's Anthropometries must be considered, that of the shadows of people left in Hiroshima by the blast of the atomic bomb. Klein himself had seen these during his time in Japan in the early 1950s, and had been haunted by their strange poetry. 'Hiroshima, the shadows of Hiroshima. In the desert of the atomic catastrophe, they were a witness, without doubt terrible, but nevertheless a witness, both for the hope of survival and for permanence - albeit immaterial - of the flesh' (Klein, quoted in Stich, op. cit., 1994, p. 179).
Klein's experiences in Japan had a huge impact on his entire belief system, his mythology, his incorporation of ritual and mysticism into his art. And stylistically, be it in the gold screens, the Zen gardens, the calligraphy or the Judo, his surroundings during his time training there in the early 1950s left a great imprint. While there is a calligraphic aspect to the balanced yet chance-dependent composition of Anthropom/aetrie "Le Buffle" (ANT 93), it has also been suggested that the process itself may have owed its creation to Klein's time there. In an article written with Jean-Yves Mock for the catalogue of the important 1983 retrospective of Klein's works at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Shinichi Segi recalled a conversation he had had with the artist during his time in Japan. They were discussing the traditional Japanese technique of pressing a dead fish into ink and then against a picture surface in order to capture all the more vividly the impression of its scales. This technique is called gyotaku; yet when Klein, with his French accent, tried to say that, it sounded like he had said jyotaku, a mispronunciation that he enjoyed as it resulted in its being a woman, not a fish, whose imprint was being made.