Yves Klein in Nice, blue in the skies

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It’s a cloudless sky and the matrix of a work. That of one of the most important artists of the XXe century, born in Nice in 1928. He recounts it in 1961 in his Chelsea Hotel Manifesto : “That day, when I was lying on the beach in Nice, I began to hate birds flying here and there in my beautiful cloudless blue sky, because they were trying to make holes in the most beautiful and the largest of my works. ” Latent birth of an artist. Yves Klein was then 18 or 19 years old and hung out with his friends, Claude Pascal and Armand Fernandez, who would soon call himself Arman. These three met in judo a few months earlier and share common readings, a taste for adventure and shirts painted by them, bearing the imprint of feet and hands. On the beach in Nice, the three friends who form a small circle called “Triangle” choose to “Share the world : to Arman returns the earth and its riches, to Claude Pascal the air, and to Yves the sky and its infinity.

Son of two artists, Fred Klein and Marie Raymond, Yves Klein was more trendy in martial art than plastic arts, and if he painted, it was without much conviction: “Horses in a landscape or beach scenes” under the influence of his father, figurative painter, or compositions of shapes and colors, under the influence of his mother, abstract painter. Still the color makes him an eye “In an irregular but obstinate manner”. So he draws blue circles in notebooks, solemnly affirming that this is the future of painting. To Arman who asks him if this is a joke he replies: “Not at all.”

4e dan from Kodokan

But the future can wait because Yves has other ambitions first. In Japan, he becomes the first foreigner to land the 4e dan from Kodokan. But sees his hopes dashed when, on returning to France, the federation refuses to recognize his rank. “Become the largest non-Japanese judoka, he then wanted to become the greatest painter”, will later tell Arman. Back in Nice in the summer of 1955, Yves Klein’s footsteps lead him again to the water’s edge. On the Promenade des Anglais, he settled down with an easel and painted looking at the sky. A blue monochrome. Since 1947, in reality, Klein has painted plain surfaces (blue, orange, green, etc.) with a roller to see, he says, “What the absolute has visible”. Color is for him “Pure sensitive space”. Looking for “The indefinable in painting”, in Delacroix’s footsteps, he seeks to go beyond the materiality of the work.

Everything seems already there, on the pebbles of Nice, when he signs in thought “On the other side of the sky”. Ten years after this inaugural scene, in the spring of 1957, a thousand and one blue balloons inflated with helium flew into the sky of Paris for his double exposure at Iris Clert rue des Beaux-Arts, but also at Colette Allendy, rue… of the Assumption. There, visitors find a completely empty room entitled “Spaces and volumes of immaterial pictorial sensitivity”. The following year, he presented “The specialization of sensitivity to the state of raw material in stabilized pictorial sensitivity – exhibition called” the Void “. Here, no picture rail, nail or plinth, but a blue curtain which marks the entrance to the gallery, where only a cocktail of the same color is served (methylene blue, gin, Cointreau) which, according to Claude Pascal “Will piss all Paris blue the next day”.

For her 29th birthday, her mother gave her Air and Dreams by Gaston Bachelard, where Klein finds a sentence that resonates: “First, there is nothing, then there is a deep nothing, then a blue depth.” If the International Klein Blue (IKB), an extremely saturated ultramarine blue associated with a binder allowing it not to lose its intensity, is the paradigm of his work, Klein is far from being the only artist fascinated by this color. There is Matisse of course, with whom, it is no coincidence, he shares the sky of Nice. But there is also Giotto, whose starry skies in Assisi earned him to be inducted by the artist as “Precursor of monochrome”.


Heaven again! Or rather the heavens. Blue, as Kandinsky already wrote in 1911 “Attracts man to infinity, he awakens in him the desire for purity and a thirst for the supernatural”. Very focused on spirituality, even esotericism, from astrology to the cult of Saint Rita, patron of desperate causes, via the Rose-Croix, an order of which he was a member for several years, Klein saw the sky less as a meteorologist than ‘in mysticism. “The painter, he wrote, must be able to levitate. “

From monochrome to “fire paintings” from the past year, for which powerful flames caress the surface of fireproof cardboard, the alchemist manipulates the elements to create “Cosmogonies”, the result of atmospheric action – downpour of the spring, southerly winds, lightning – for example by fixing a canvas coated with paint on the roof of his car for a trip from Paris to Nice. Here we are back to the starting point: the so-called Côte d’Azur and its birth sky, which astrologers say they can determine a destiny. Written a year before his sudden death at the age of 34, the Chelsea Hotel Manifesto, concludes with the memory of the Nice beach: “I find myself before you, in this year 1946, ready to plunge into the void.” A jump on the other side of the sky from Nice, which will deeply transform the world of the arts.

Diane Lisarelli



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