1928 - 1962 · France
Yves Klein was a French artist and one of the most important figures in post-war European art. He pioneered progress in the field of performance art, and is seen as a major inspiration for the developments of minimalism and pop art. He is known for his trademark blue colour, named IKB (International Klein Blue) which has become synonymous with his art and continues to appear in popular culture.
Klein was born in 1928 into an artistic family, with both his parents being professional painters. Klein therefore received no formal art training but was exposed to it heavily in his family life. From 1942- 1946 Klein studied at the École Nationale de la Marine Marchande and the École Nationale des Langues Orientales. Klein did not initially pursue an artistic career, but trained successfully in judo, earning the highest rank in martial arts and spending fifteen months in Japan. However on his return to Paris in 1954, he started to focus fully on art and began his forays into working with monochrome for which is he now internationally known.
Klein anticipated and pioneered a number of important movements in art, including Minimalism, Conceptual art, environmental art and Performance art. From the 1950s, Klein worked with his famous ultramarine pigment believing it to be superior to other colours and the most meaningful. He stated that “Blue…is beyond dimensions, whereas the other colours are not. All colours arouse specific ideas, while blue suggests at most the sea and the sky; and they are in actual, visible nature what is most abstract”. With the development of International Klein Blue, Klein wanted to find the shade of blue that would remove the division between the sky and the earth and unlock the void of space.
Klein’s monochrome paintings would go on to form the basis for the Minimalism movement, and his use of models to smear paint across the canvas (an action which he later patented) anticipated performance art, by taking the act of painting out of the frame. His 1958 piece For The Void epitomised the beginnings of conceptual art, as he presented an empty gallery as an artwork, showing visitors around the bare space.
Klein died after suffering a heart attack at the age of 34. Although during his lifetime he did not gain financial success as an artist, Klein’s works have gone on to sell successfully at auction. His 1962 piece FC1 (Fire Color 1) sold for $36.4M at Christie’s in 2012. His work has been shown internationally in a number of renowned institutions including the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, and the Tate Liverpool gallery in the UK. He left a legacy with IKB, as it continues to surface in popular culture today. It has been used by the performance group Blue Man Group as their main colour, and was the subject of the 1993 experimental film ‘Blue’ directed by Derek Jarman.