For many years strong blues were out of favour in the world of interiors. Too cool, too vibrant, too overpowering – instead we favoured first tasteful, stoney neutrals, and then the more obvious glamour of dark purples and blacks. But just as blues moved back into favour in discerning homes, perhaps the most iconic blue of all is once again being celebrated. Yves Klein Blue – named and registered by the artist in 1960 as International Klein Blue (IKB) – is once again in vogue, as celebrations around the artist’s 90th anniversary take place this summer.
Yves Klein’s artistic legacy and practice extend far beyond his ‘invention’ of the deep, ultramarine IKB, but it is through this colour that he is best remembered. His work from the late 1940s onwards prefigured later art movements, including performance art, Pop art and minimalism – the extraordinary photographic work Le Saut dans le vide (Leap into the Void) places the artist firmly in the picture, for example. In the summer of 1947, playing an idle thought-game with friends, Klein supposedly announced, “The blue sky is my first artwork,” ‘signing’ the sky and claiming it as his own work.
From here his fascination with the colour blue – and especially the luminous blue of the blue sky over Nice – developed until it became the defining image of his work. In 1955 he exhibited orange, yellow, red, pink and blue monochromes but, disappointed with their reception, began from this point to focus just on a single colour of blue. In 1957, in an exhibition titled ‘Proposte Monocrome, Epoca Blu’ he displayed 11 identical blue canvases, later releasing 1001 blue balloons into the sky.
Key to the appeal of IKB was its method of manufacture, created by Klein in collaboration with Edouard Adam, a Parisian art paint supplier whose shop is still in business on the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet. In this method, ultramarine pigment was suspended in a synthetic resin ‘Rhodopas’ which prevented any dulling of the surface when it dried. Klein registered – though never patented – this paint formula under the name International Klein Blue (IKB) in 1960.
Klein stated that he believed colours allowed the viewer to “bathe in a cosmic sensibility,” and his use of blue seems to have been connected to spiritual ideas of freedom, the infinite and the sublime. But by naming the colour after himself, it was also a provocation – he responded to Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s description of earth’s blueness seen from outer space, by stating that he, Klein, had successfully saturated the whole globe with IKB.
Now, 90 years after the artist’s birth, the breadth of work which he produced using IKB is being celebrated in an exhibition at Blenheim Palace. Over 50 artworks will be on display in the venue’s Great Hall, including a number of the Monochrome Paintings, Sponge Sculptures, made from the sponges Klein used to paint with, and images from the Anthropometry series, for which Klein used models as ‘living brushes’, creating blue marks with their bodies on canvas in front of a live audience.
All images courtesy of the Yves Klein Estate. Yves Klein Contemporary Art Exhibition is on at Blenheim Palace from 18 July to 7 October 2018.