A History Of International Klein Blue

Did you know that the Colour of the Year for 2020 is Casual Blue? Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute says that the choice represents "A boundless blue evocative of the vast and infinite evening sky, Pantone 19-4052 Classic Blue encourages us to look beyond the obvious to expand our thinking; challenging us to think more deeply, increase our perspective and open the flow of communication”. 

The affirming tones of the colour are sure to make their mark on the fashion, design and interiors worlds over the next 12 months as designers seek to use the colour within new concepts, colourways and schemes. With the endless array of possibilities that both the new year and the colour herald, we wanted to use the opportunity to shine the Creative light on another luminary use of blue with the story of artist Yves Klein.

The colour of the year immediately took us back to, perhaps, the most famous use of a singular blue in art. Of course, that category itself is exceedingly narrow, however the creation of colour IKB 191 by Klein was a landmark moment within modern art.

Born in 1928, Klein was a key figure within in post-war European art. A leading member of the French artistic movement of Nouveau réalisme founded in 1960 by art critic Pierre Restany,  Klein was a pioneer in the development of performance art, minimal art and pop art.

Yves Klein ArtistKlein had experimented with monochrome works from the late 1940s and held his first private exhibition at the beginning of the 1950s. Inspired by the cities he had lived in, Klein published his art book Yves Peintures, which documented these intense and colourful works. Discouraged by the public’s reactions to his pieces, who believed the series to be a sort of series of interlinked, abstract interior decoration, Klein realised that to push the direction of monochrome art he would have to concentrate on a singular colour. Blue was chosen and his radical idea started to take shape. 

International Klein BlueWith the help of Parisian paint dealer Edouard Adam, Klein began experimenting with ultramarine pigment suspended in a synthetic resin that created a brilliant optical effect. Inspired by lapis lazuli used to paint the Madonna's robes in medieval paintings, the colour became known as International Klein Blue (IKB).

Klein also sought to maximise the impact of the colour by perfecting how the canvas would display the hue. A canvas treated with casein helped the paint to adhere when applied with a roller and created the effect, when the paint dried, that the pigment appeared to hover over the surface of the canvas creating a rich velvety texture and an unusual appearance of depth.

Yves Klein Exhibition Gallery ApollinaireAt the Gallery Apollinaire in Milan, Klein’s fully realised concept of a singular, primary colour launched in January 1957. Featuring 11 identical blue canvases, the paintings were attached to poles placed 20 cm away from the walls to create a sense of spatial uncertainty. A deeply personal effect was created as visitors and potential buyers would pass through the gallery, observing each canvas and purchase the one that spoke to them the most. Klein reasoned that each buyer would see something different in a canvas and, whilst each painting visually looked the same, the impact each had on the buyer was completely original. 


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