Lectures on art are difficult to deliver without visual slides. But maybe the iconic blue painting by Yves Klein can be an exception. The painting is void of drawing, just the coloring of blue on canvas. No further explanation required. What does IKB, its code-like title, mean? The artwork leaves its viewers bewildered, but it is known as a masterpiece, worth tens of billions of won. One cannot help wonder why.
Klein was born in Nice, France. Though his parents were painters, he received no formal artistic training. He was known to look have gazed up at the sky and said that the blue sky was his first piece of artwork and left his signature somewhere in the sky. Of course, we don’t know where and how he did it, but Klein became an artist well known for his blue paintings. To Klein, blue was the color of the sky and his mind that liberated him.
Klein finished his first monochrome painting in 1949 and continued to express his work in blue, the color he had seen at the beaches of Nice. He experimented with other colors such as gold, pink, red and yellow, but blue remained his trademark color since 1957. In 1960, Klein invented and patented his own blue color known as International Klein Blue (IKB). The color was painted on canvas and produced almost 200 IKB paintings, which were numbered by the artist’s wife after his death.
Klein’s experiments came as a pleasant shock and represented a harbinger for the new age of art. Instead of drawing an object, he used only color to finish a painting, overturning the idea of drawing as a means of expressing art as well as the tradition of art as a reproduction of objects in reality. As such, the history of art has been shaped by innovating thinking and artists with bold action. Though not quite self-explanatory, Klein’s blue paintings are truly a great work of art.