Inspiration – Yves Klein

Yves Klein Blue Monochrome

Image by Sergio Calleja via Flickr


My paintings these days are very much about color (along with many other things to be avoided, but not forgotten here). And with that, this blog I am occasioning is also spending a good deal of time on color. Of course, this all grows out from my mind, which spends a lot of time each day thinking, day-dreaming, postulating, or ruminating on the possibilities and purposes of color.  I spend a lot of time with the work and writings of artists who spent their much of their time focused on color.


One of these of particular interest of late has been Yves Klein.

Klein as an artist has always interested me for the simple reason that –like Ad Reinhardt– his work elicits such visceral and angry reactions among some. The sense of doing something so unusual in paint as to challenge people’s thought so profoundly is a real source of excitement and intrigue for me.

But I can’t say that I was ever drawn into Klein’s work at any particular point in my life. Only recently I find myself moving towards his work slowly – very much like a boat with the engine cut and drifting into a dock. I was at first intrigued by the presence I felt in front of Portrait Relief I: Arman (at PMA ), and then more and more I’ve grown excited by the ideas he presents as I read up on him.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the Yves Klein Archives of late. The images there give a proper overview, but it is the series of short videos such as Propositions monochromes that really fascinate me. These are, I feel, like clear windows into his thoughts and practices. The slow, and the quiet, the movement into and across the colors. The play in color, the enchantment of his work in it. The brief films seem to relay the ideas he writes about with a kind, calm, and assured sensibility. I am particularly enamored with the film at the bottom of this page simply titled Yves Klein.

The only unfortunate part is that I cannot get them to go full-screen on my iMac, so I am forced to watch them with the visual buzz of OS X icons everywhere.

Klein writes, in La Guerra, de la ligne et de la couleur, ou vers la proposition monochrome, that he envisions color being liberated from line. Line he asserts, is like a prison to a painting, holding the viewer back from truly seeing color and experience the sense of the immaterial that can come from color. Line he envisions as “…writing within a painting. One draws a tree but it would be the same to paint a color and write ‘tree’ alongside.” To Klein, “Color is enslaved by line that becomes writing,” and only survives as part of humanity’s colored soul which will rise up in generations of new painters.

Klein’s thoughts have taken up residence in my mind. Aside from the reference to a war between line and color which at first sounds awful and passe to my ears – like a Fox News headline about painting. I wonder on the tension he talks about. The balance between color and line and the role of both in all painting – particularly, of course, my own painting, seeing as how they both figure so predominantly in everything I do.

This reaction to the dominance of line and form in relation to color throughout art history is what fascinates. And aside from the war references, I do enjoy the hyperbole, the importance Klein places on the whole experience of color. There is a struggle and a drama in painting, and Klein embraces both in a way I love.

Klein still challenges, and that continues to draw me to him and excite my thoughts as a painter. And although I have apparently written this post this far while ignoring and saying little about his work is rather a shame, because that is what draws me to him. The meditative monochromatics, and the romantic windows to worlds of color un-caged.