Some of the works mentioned here is in an exhibition called Audible Presence at Dominique Levy Gallery, it is up until November 16th. 

At the mentioning of aura it conjures up a faint sensation of an environment or an atmosphere filled with energy that stimulates and triggers a sensory response.  Even though the phenomenon of aura is commonly believed as something immaterial or as an invisible energy yet it almost always requires a physical vehicle.  It is through this physical or material vehicle that allows one to feel the presence of an aura and sense the immaterial.  For Yves Klein, he holds this idea of moving energy and non-material sensibility as if it is the only thing that defines and ascertains life existence.  From his exhibition of an empty gallery space, to monochrome paintings, to his sculptures of sponges and anthropometries, he explores the possibilities of expressing this intangible and immaterial energy.  The heart of the question now becomes not so much about whether it is possible to exude or receive this energy that Klein so ambitiously attempts to convey, but it is the question of how.  In other words, through what means and methods does Klein achieve this sense of immateriality in his works?

Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 100), 1956
dry pigment and synthetic resin on gauze laid on panel
30 1/2 x 21 inches (78 x 56 cm)
Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan
© Yves Klein, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 2013 / Courtesy Dominique Lévy, New York.
Before able to examine closely at his artistic means and methods, one needs to start by looking at some of his influences.  In Monochrome Adventure, one of Klein’s own essays, he talks about his fervent readings of the journals of Delacroix.  In one of the entries, Delacroix mentions that the merit of the painting resides in the indefinable.  Furthermore he goes on to say that from the imprecision of indefinable, the soul comes to the aid of adding colors and lines in order to reach the soul.*  To say this in another way, it is through the mind’s eye perception of the non-visual that conveys the essence of a work of art.  Although Klein’s response to Delacroix’s reference to the soul takes on another interpretation by which Klein claims that in the more modern era, the word soul should be replaced by the word sensibility.  For sensibility refers to the intangible connections of human life with the cosmos and the universe.  In other words, sensibility equals a visceral and emotional identification to everything that exists in the universe and thus makes possible for man and universe to become a unity.  Klein’s sensibility is also a connotation for pure energy, the energy of which prevails as a driving force.  For example in the piece called The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility (1958), Klein presents an empty space in Irish Clert Gallery while the room exhibits apparently nothing physical but its basic architectural elements of white walls and clean floors.  Incidentally, Klein attempts to present a kind of energy similar to a ghostly presence of the invisible.  While manipulating his own artistic aura, Klein works up an atmosphere consisting of only the mentally perceivable works of art.  His aim is for the audience to take a psychological viewpoint and thus contemplate the empty space as if the space is full.  This idea of an empty space as if full echoes the Rosicrucian thought of Max Heindel as presented in one of Thomas McEvilley’s essays in which he compares Heindel’s Rosicrucian writing with Klein’s interpretation of an empty space.  For both the Rosicrucian thought and Klein an empty space is not utterly empty but like an invisible fullness.**  Vicariously, only through elevated minds of the audience hence the space becomes accessible, here as Heindel states: In our present materialistic period we have unfortunately lost the idea of all that lies behind that word space.  We are so accustomed to speaking of “empty” space, of the “great void” of space, that we have entirely lost the grand and holy significance of the word, … To the Rosicrucians, as to any occult school, there is no such thing as empty or void space.  To them, space is spirit in its attenuated form; while matter is crystalized space or spirit.

It is by the same idea of “emptiness” and “great void” filled with sprit and energy that Klein’s blue Monochrome, (1958-61), achieves its pictorial stabilization.  As if the empty gallery space devoid of any visible or physical spectacle, for the monochrome painting is covered entirely in one blue pigment without definable lines or forms.  As the result, without physical tension and obstruction the painting presents an infinity space and time.  Again, in his Monochrome Adventure, Klein mentions: Through color I experience a feeling of complete identification with space.  I am truly free.  If a color is no longer pure, the drama may take on disquieting overtones… As soon as there are two colors in a painting combat begins; the permanent spectacle of this battle of the two colors may give onlooker a subtle psychological and emotional pleasure, that is nonetheless morbid from a purely human, psychological point of view…** Here, Klein also emphasizes on the purity of spirit and mind as if it is only for those who hold elevated minds of this purity could fully access the work.

For Klein making a painting is also like writing a poem for the purpose of both creations is to communicate with others through sensibility and feeling.   The color blue that Klein chooses for his paintings is also a poetic color; blue is often used to describe a perfect sky under which one could indulge in a state of reverie, or the color of pure water that provides and supports the health of life, the earth planet is said to appear in a color blue when seen from outer space and thus the color has become a symbol of the universe and of when man and nature are in harmony.  Even though the Monochrome is still within the confine of the classic rectangular frame yet the presence of one pure blue pigment permeating the whole surface area opens up as if a window.  Moreover, Klein opens a window to the infinite possibilities of an open space that is indefinable and no matter which way the eye wanders the beholder’s contemplation remains still within the pictorial space thus stabilized.  Meanwhile without any use of lines or forms, the viewing experience is uninterrupted therefore allows for a continuous meditation.  The true essence of Monochrome resides in its ability to aspire an inner contemplation and hence the experience feels closer to a self-revelation.  In this regard, the immaterial and concentrated energy of the painting becomes the invisible driving force that prompts sensibility.

The physical vehicles for which Klein uses to convey this life energy gradually work their way into his works.  However they are not used to serve as evidence of his process but rather to show that in the process of transferring the energy of nature into his work, the physical and moving intermediaries are also pure energy themselves.  For his blue sponge sculptures, (1959-61), Klein soaks the sponges with the same blue pigment he uses in his Monochrome.  These sponges come from the sea once surrounded and soaked in the vast blue ocean regain their lives in Klein’s studio.  As he works with the sponges as color applicators for his paintings, they absorb the color and then become fully impregnated with the color blue.  This physical phenomenon to Klein is a form of transformation through energy.  If the ultramarine blue pigment represents a sensibility of openness and all-encompassing energy of life, then these sponges full with the color blue become saturated energy conductors. The wondrous nature has made the sponges in different shapes and forms, Klein on the other hand impregnates and revives them with the nature of man and that is his sensibility for poetic meditation. 

Another material or physical vehicle Klein uses is what he calls the “living-brush” that helps produce series of “Anthropometries”, (1960-61).  They are but female bodies during the process of making the work literally roll around the picture plane like a brush dancing across a canvas.  The result of this activity shows imprints of almost the entire torsos of his models.  In some ways, this mark-making method is similar to the handprint seen in Hans Hofmann’s painting, The Third Hand, (1947) with the handprints that symbolize universal energy and life.  It is as if wishing to retain the aura of a human presence, the bodies dipped in blue leave their signatures as to retain traces of life.  The shapes of the imprints are also visually reminiscent of Neolithic sculptures of voluptuous female figures.  These figures impregnated with life serve as symbols of fecundity.  Like the ancient figures, Klein’s imprints embody life and symbolize a natural force of life and energy.   

In the end, life becomes art and art imitates life when Klein takes this idea even further as to use his own body as a living proof of the immaterial.  In Leap into the Void, (1960), Klein shows himself levitating in the air while attempting a jump out to an open window into open space.  For he predicts that in the future and with evolution, man will no longer rely on his physical body but able to communicate and will things to take place through mental activities alone.**  By taking the leap out into nothingness, Klein presents himself to be a man of evolution for he no long feels the physical separation between his body and atmosphere.  In other words, the artist’s physical body has transcended into the immaterial.

Klein’s curious journey questing spiritual enlightenment and his relentless efforts to exude energy through his works as means to transform mind and body into immateriality is plausible.    For life is pure energy and is immaterial, further more human sensibility and feeling both of which are also immaterial aid the orientation of man in the universe.  Through his artistic means and methods, Klein is more interested in the exuberance of pure energy rather than the pursuit of an aesthetic model of which could only be admired exteriorly.  His Monochrome and void aspire the audience to embark on an inward spiritual journey of self-revelation.  To achieve this, Klein utilizes physical materials as vehicles but presents them within unexpected context thus facilitates the negotiation between the physical and the immaterial.  This confirms that life is a constant moving energy, and in order to hold on to it there needs a persistent negotiation with space.

*Yves Klein. 2000. “The Monochrome Adventure”, Yves Klein, Long Live the Immaterial. Translated by Brian Holmes. New York, NY: Delano Greenidge Editions. Pp.78.

**Thomas McEvilley. 1982. “Yves Klein and Rosicrucianism”, Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective. Houston, TX: Institute for the Arts, Rice University in association with The Arts Publisher, INC., New York. Pp. 240.


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