The Wizzard of Pure Colour

Do you remember your last visit in to museum of modern art?
Somewhere in the corner, or in the best case on a plain wall, you surely will have seen a strange painting in one single colour: A deep blue! When watching this painting maybe you got the impression of a vibrating colour field, banging against the white museum-wall behind it, if your eyes were not burnt out by the intensity of the pure ultramarine pigment. Well, this blue colour actually has a name, and is patented:  It`s called International Klein Blue, or simply “IKB”, and the Artist who has created it was Yves Klein.

Klein, born 1928 in Nice as a son of artists, once discovered as a young man that the blue sky over Nice with its intensity has a special beauty and an artificial character. So he signed the sky with his finger as a piece of art.

Mr. Blue Sky over Nice and the Côte d’Azur – a perfect canvas?
(picture from

A modern alchemist seeking for pureness

Klein was fascinated by this colour: influenced by the Zen-Philosophy he wanted to present the meditative and mystic strength of pure blue to the people and started to create his typical minimalistic works of art. He mixed a special colour of ultramarine and coloured canvases, sculptures or little sponges with it. His aim was to show the colour in its purest form, as pure pigment. But pigments always need a “glue” to stick on the ground, and the glue, called binder, which is often oil (like in oil colours), makes the colour look glassy or fishy. So he experimented like an alchemist with the help of a chemist in a laboratory in order to get a binder which was totally transparent, or, in other words, nearly invisible.

But why cover objects like antique sculputures in one single colour? If you see a work of art by Yves Klein you get the impression of something very artificial, or better… synthetic. The pure colour emphasises the forms of such an object, you can perceive it in a new clear way. Because of the artificial or synthetic character of his objects, Klein was also very important for the Pop-Art-movement which started some years later in the 60’s and tried to expose the artistic side of mass-produced goods.

This is how a Klein-painting looks like
(copy by the author)

A master of different approaches

Klein’s quest for the pure element didn’t stop with his analysis on the field of pure colour. In his art he also tried to allegorise the four elemets: Earth, Air, Water and Fire. Some paintings are created by using a flame-thrower or by directing a naked young woman covered with blue paint like a brush over a white floor. With these spectacular actions he was also a pioneer for art-styles like Body-art and Performance-art (which became later popular with Joseph Beuys).

His efforts to present a totally clear piece of art, without any diversions, culminated in an exhibition with pure white walls. This exhibition can be seen as an early vanguard for the tendencies of Concept-art or Minimalart.

Yves Klein only had seven years to create his whole oevre. He died, 34 years old, of an heart-attack, caused by the exitement about  bad press he got from a critic.

Today you can find his works nearly in every museum of modern art all over the world.Text: Jarek Sierpinski

For more information and examples of his work visit:


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