I have a problem with galleries: the only information you get about a piece of work is the name of the artist, the date it was made, perhaps a name for the piece or the place of origin if you’re lucky. This restricts a viewer’s interpretation and means that many artworks are overlooked. This is especially true with Yves Klein’s art.
International Klein Blue is a series of large ultramarine paintings that are solid in colour. Klein made over 200 of these, and while none are completely identical, they are all monochrome. Bearing in mind my reservations about gallery curation, I think it is particularly easy for people to disregard Klein’s work as ridiculous specimens of ‘contemporary art’. In my opinion, these paintings are completely unique and deserve a second glance. Little do people know that Yves Klein worked extensively with paint supplier Edouard Adam to make the ultramarine colours in his work as intense as possible – and so helping to retain their luminosity on canvas.
So yes, you could say that these paintings are just blue. In my opinion, though, they are so much more. I believe that we should appreciate the more simplistic things in life – including exquisitely rendered colours. After all, this is a completely unnatural blue – more intense than anything you could see elsewhere. I think it’s hard to stand in front of this piece without being overwhelmed by its intensity and the feeling of bliss that Klein’s work induces inside the viewer. This colour is simultaneously irresistible and consuming.
Klein was as obsessed with his series as he hoped his viewers would be. He considered the painting to be ‘the ashes of his art’ – while any work of art is (by its very nature) disposable, but what really matters is its lasting effect on the viewer. Klein wanted his paintings to have the power of memory – for them to remain with the viewer for time im memoriam. He later compared this to the sponges that he soaked with these fantastic blues – the viewer would take on colour in the same way as his sponges.
In fact, Klein’s paintings represent a sensory experience for most people. For some, they even induce a multi-sensory response. For those who have synesthesia (a condition where you can hear colours) Klein’s shades of ultramarine sound like a single note that is low-range and deeply hypnotic. Considering this, it should come as no surprise that Klein composed music too. One of his arrangements, titled “The Monotone Orchestra”, is a 60-minute work that begins with thirty minutes of an entire orchestra performing a single note, shortly followed by another 30 minutes of pure silence.
It’s easy for people to say “this is just blue”, “this is nothing special”, “I don’t get it”. However, I truly believe that people would enjoy art so much more if they dig that bit deeper. We all lead busy lives, so taking the time to stop for a minute wouldn’t do us any harm. If it allows us to appreciate something as sublime in its simplicity as Klein’s paintings, then surely this is time well spent.
Words by Emily Stokes
Cover Image: Yves Klein IKB79