Fire, for me, is the future without forgetting the past. It is the memory of nature. […] It is a protective and terrible god, good and bad. It can contradict itself; it is therefore one of the principles of universal explanation. We may have not noticed enough that fire is a social being rather than a natural being, and, in order to see the merits of this observation, there is no need to develop considerations on the role of fire in primitive societies nor to insist on the technical difficulties of maintaining the fire.
Yves Klein, L’évolution de l’art vers l’immatériel, conference at the Sorbonne, 3rd and 5th June
Yves Klein, the artist who opens this exhibition, was attracted to the dialectical aspect of fire, a symbol of both good and evil, destruction and regeneration and life and death. “Fire for me is the future without forgetting the past. It is the memory of nature. It is gentleness. ‘It is gentleness and torture’. It is heath and it is apocalypse. It is a pleasure for the child sitting prudently by the fireplace; yet it punishes any disobedience when he wishes to play too close to its flames. It is well-being and it is respect. It is a tutelary and terrible god, both good and bad.”
Yves Klein was born on April 28, 1928 in Nice to parents who were both artists (his father, Fred Klein, was a figurative painter, his mother, Marie Raymond, an abstract painter). Before embarking on an artistic career, Yves Klein first took up judo in 1947. In 1952, he went to Japan to perfect his skills and became a black belt, fourth dan.
In 1955, Klein exhibited monochromes of different colors at the Club des solitaires in Paris under the title Yves, peintures [Yves, Paintings]. Klein became famous under the name “Yves le Monochrome”.
In the autumn of 1956, he began his “blue period” by selecting an already existing, nextremely saturated ultramarine blue, which, according to Klein, was “the most perfect expression of blue”.
But blue monochromes are only one aspect of his work, which unfolds through different techniques. In his Peintures de feu [Fire Paintings], as in the Cosmogonies (prints of rain and wind), the artist summons the elements of nature to manifest their creative force. The
first one was executed in 1957 in Colette Allendy Gallery’s garden in Paris, on the opening day of Monochrome Propositions. The Sculptures Éponge [Sponge Sculptures] are conceived as portraits of visitors who become impregnated with the painting, illustrating the idea of transmission of an artistic sensibility. Gold is also a favorite element for the artist, who uses it as a passage to the absolute.
The exhibition La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état de matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée at the Galerie Iris Clert in 1958 (during which he completely emptied the Parisian gallery) as well as the sales of Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle [Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility] (in exchange for payment in small gold bars, half of which were then thrown into the Seine) opened his art to the Immaterial.
In the continuity of his research on the fundamental elements (air, water, fire) Yves Klein defined an “architecture of air” and exposed its principles in June 1959 during a conference at the Sorbonne.
He was also one of the precursors of happening with the realization of his anthropometries in public, or the Saut dans le vide [Leap into the Void].
In a monographic exhibition at the Krefeld Museum in 1961, he showed more of his experiments with fire as a figurative element, which later that year he used as medium against a swedish cardboard canvas at the Centre d’essai de Gaz de France.
On January 21, 1962, Yves Klein married Rotraut Uecker, a young artist. He died a few months later, at the age of 34, leaving behind an immense, audacious and infinite body of work that continues to inspire new generations of artists and enthusiasts of our time.