Yves Klein was born on April 28, 1928 in Nice, France. He had no formal art training though both of his parents were artists. Between 1948 and 1952, he traveled to Italy, Great Britain, Spain, and Japan where he became a master at judo, achieving a 4th degree black belt. In 1954, Klein settled in Paris and began his career as an artist.
A student of Eastern religions and Rosicrucianism, Klein’s quest for pure color led him to paint in monochrome. He worked with a chemist to develop his “International Klein Blue” which was made from pure colour pigment and a binding medium. Klein considered monochrome painting to be an “open window to freedom, and the possibility of being immersed in the immeasurable existence of color.”
Klein’s artistic breakthrough occurred in 1956 when he aroused public debate with the exhibition Yves: Propositions Monochromes at the Galerie Colette Allendy in Paris. The exhibition consisted of 20 monochrome surfaces, each a different shade of red, purple, orange, yellow and blue. The French critic Pierre Restany, in his speech at the opening of the exhibition, described Klein’s paintings as ‘single-colour proposals’.
“Klein presented his work in forms that were recognized as art but would then take away the expected content of that form (paintings without pictures, a book without words, a musical composition without in fact composition) leaving only a shell. He wanted his subjects to be represented by their imprint: the image of their absence.” (wiki)
In 1960, Klein, along with art critic Pierre Restany, and other artists founded the Nouveau Réalisme art movement. Restany wrote the original manifesto for the group, titled the “Constitutive Declaration of New Realism,” proclaiming, “Nouveau Réalisme – new ways of perceiving the real.”
Klein was a showman and one of his most famous events was the imprinting of paper with naked models smeared with blue paint, as he directed their performance to music. As well as his monochrome works, Klein created sculptures using sea sponges, paintings made with fire, and is well known for his exhibit called The Void, in which he chose to exhibit an empty gallery room, void of everything but a large cabinet.
Klein used two other colours before and after his Blue Period, yellow/gold and red. These colours represented his ideas of the immaterial. “Gold is the colour of the Absolute, the infinity of (divine) space. Red stands for life, fire and warmth.”
During his brief career, Klein’s body of work was an important precursor to art movements including minimal, conceptual, land and performance art. Yves Klein died of a heart attack on June 6, 1962 at the height of his career. He was 34 years old.