Dazzling with the intensity of the artist’s signature International Klein Blue, Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 108) is an important early painting, not only because it is one of the first of his iconic blue monochromes, but also because it once belonged to Klein’s great friend and contemporary, the artist Arman. Executed in 1956, the vivid, piercing, almost hypnotic blue pigment that is the sole component of this work forms part of the artist’s investigations into what Albert Camus termed, “the void” (A. Camus, quoted in D. Riout, Yves Klein: Expressing The Material, Paris, 2004, p. 7). In the luxurious surface and gently rounded corners of the present example, the void becomes physical as Klein’s painting appears to hover before us offering an enticing aperture into an unknown world. In addition, on the verso, along with his name and date, Klein has placed his personal insignia—a small eight-sided star.
In 1948, Klein began to explore the sublime, resulting in his iconic monochromes. It was with these powerfully simple works that Klein first managed to encapsulate what he had been searching for, and which would establish his reputation as one of the most radical and innovative artists of the postwar period. “It is the monochrome that makes me the most intoxicated,” Klein enthused. “I have tried I don’t know how many styles. I have been as much of a painter as it is permitted. I have advanced and become avant-garde; I have passed through all the periods; I have been insatiable and drawn from the wells of pleasures and consolations, which have already left me jaded. In any case I do believe that it is only in the monochrome that I truly live pictorial life, the painterly life of which I have dreamed” (Y. Klein, in K. Ottmann (ed.), Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, Putnam 2007, p. 143).
Klein first discovered the visual power of the monochrome some years earlier when he realized that he could push the intoxicating effect of color (which had so enthralled Vincent van Gogh and the Fauves) to a new extreme by avoiding putting any more than one color on the picture surface. As he explained: “When there are two colors in a painting, a struggle is engaged; the viewer may extract a refined pleasure from the permanent spectacle of this struggle between two colors in the psychological and emotional realm and perhaps extract a refined pleasure, but it is one that is no less morbid from a pure philosophical and human vantage point” (Y. Klein, in K. Ottmann (ed.), Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, Putnam 2007, p. 140). Klein’s interest in the physical and psychological properties of the color blue began when he was just nineteen and he and friends Armand Fernandez (who later became known as Arman) and Claude Pascal lay on a beach in the south of France looking up to the sky. With youthful bravado they decided to divide up the universe among themselves, just as the Greek gods Zeus, Poseidon and Hades had done. “Arman…took charge of the animal realm… Claude gathered to himself the safety of all plants. And Yves…defined his realm, the mineral, as the blue emptiness of the distant sky” (T. McEvilley, “Yves Klein: Conquistador of the Void,” in Yves Klein, 1928-1962, exh. cat., Institute for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, 1982, p. 28).
Klein’s monochromes were the artist’s purest response to what he believed was a mystic place that existed beyond the conventional notions of time and space—what Klein called the “zone of immateriality.” The mysterious, textural expanse of pure radiating color provides a highly physical manifestation of the inherent dialogue that Klein hoped to induce between the sensibility of the viewer and the vast monochromatic expanse of intense, but immaterial color emanating from the surface of the work. ”The painting is only the witness,” he wrote, “the sensitive plate that has seen what has happened. Color, in the chemical form in which all painters use it, is the medium best suited to the event. Therefore I say” My pictures represent poetic events, or rather, they are immobile, silent, and static witness to the very essence of movement and life in freedom, which is the flame of poetry in the pictorial moment” (Y. Klein, quoted in D. Riout, op. cit., p. 29).
Klein’s ultimate goal was to create an engulfing experience for the viewer. “I seek to put the spectator in front of the fact that color is an individual,” Klein said, “a character, a personality. I solicit a receptivity from the observer placed before my works. This permits him to consider everything that effectively surrounds the monochrome painting. Thus he can impregnate himself with color and color impregnates itself in him. Thus, perhaps, can he enter into a world of color” (Y. Klein quoted in S. Stich, Yves Klein, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1994 p. 66). Klein wanted his monochromes to induce a feeling of pure, primal freedom for the viewer. Released from the need to interpret dogmatic systems of reference, Klein felt that the viewer could truly understand the true experience of the color, ree to instill his or her own meaning, symbolism or emotion into the work. The feelings brought on by experiencing the intensity of Klein’s blue is not meant therefore, to be a substitute for a religious or human experience, it is intended to release us from our corporeal existence and leave a space for the viewer to embody the painting, as one would be enveloped by the ocean of vast expanse of blue sky.