A Short Primer on Klein Blue for The Curious

International Klein Blue Primer: A Short History for The Curious

If you’re someone who likes to read interesting books and magazines, on or offline, chances are you’ve recently happened upon a reference to Yves Klein, Klein Blue, or International Klein Blue. I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but there’s so much buzz about it lately. For those who aren’t sure what is being referred to, here’s a little primer that will get you up to speed.

Yves Klein was a French artist who was a pioneer in performance art. He worked in the post-World War II era, and he died very young (heart attack) in 1968 at age 34 — months before his first child was born. His wiki page is good and includes this charming tidbit:

At the age of nineteen, Klein and his friends lay on a beach in the south of France, and divided the world between themselves; Arman chose the earth, Pascal, words, while Klein chose the ethereal space surrounding the planet, which he then proceeded to sign:

With this famous symbolic gesture of signing the sky, Klein had foreseen, as in a reverie, the thrust of his art from that time onwards—a quest to reach the far side of the infinite.

International Klein Blue Primer: A Short History for The Curious

When he first starting working as an artist, he used lots of different colors. But after an unexpected response to one of his exhibits, he decided that any new art he made would only be in blue. Yves Klein is quoted as saying:

“Blue has no dimensions, it is beyond dimensions, whereas the other colours are not….All colours arouse specific associative ideas, psychologically material or tangible, while blue suggests at most the sea and sky, and they, after all, are in actual, visible nature what is most abstract.”

Working with a Paris paint shop (still open today!) he developed a particular hue, which was called International Klein Blue. It’s a particular mix of ultramarine pigment and a specific resin. Described here:

The uniqueness of IKB does not derive from the ultramarine pigment, but rather from the matte, synthetic resin binder in which the color is suspended, and which allows the pigment to maintain as much of its original qualities and intensity of color as possible.

Would you like to paint with Klein Blue? Well, that’s kind of a no go. Klein Blue paint isn’t for sale. You can get close approximations — Metafilter lists several here — but not a tube of the actual paint. But, if you’re up for experimenting, you can still buy the resin binder used to make International Klein Blue, packaged under the name Médium Adam 25, from the original shop.

For further reading on Yves Klein and International Klein Blue, try this article from the Guardian which goes into some of the behind the scenes experiences that influenced the birth of Klein Blue. Can an artist own a color? This topic was discussed in a BBC segment in 2014. There are also several books on Yves Klein and his work. Try Yves Klein: In/Out Studio or Yves Klein: Work, Writings, Interviews.

If you’d like to bring a little Klein Blue into your own spaces, you’ll find Klein’s work available for purchase at 1st Dibs, and you’ll find prints at Art.com.

Your turn. Where have you seen International Klein Blue referenced lately? Anything you would add to this short primer? Have you ever experienced Klein Blue for yourself? Perhaps in a museum? I’d love to hear.

P.S. — Remember the Nix color finder

19 thoughts on “A Short Primer on Klein Blue for The Curious”

  1. I’ve seen it in a museum recently–the Brooklyn Museum had a whole exhibit centered around the color blue and had a piece with it. It truly is a spectacular color in person.

    My fun little tid-bit of info about the color is that the actor Eddie Redmayne wrote his thesis at Cambridge on International Klein Blue–even though he’s colorblind!

  2. Pretty sure I saw the painting at the San Francisco Museum of Art. I stopped in my tracks and said…..what else? “I could paint that”! My daughter, a student at the SF Art Institute at the time, explained the painting to me and said “no you couldn’t!”…..:)

  3. The Contemporary Art Museum here in Mexico City is opening an exhibit on Yves Klein this weekend. I will definitely go and experience it in person!

  4. Have you ever watched the Mike Tyson Mysteries on Adult Swim? If not, it’s a cartoon in which Mike Tyson solves mysteries with the help of his team (a pigeon, a ghost and his adopted daughter). It’s a little bit Scooby Doo, but with more swearing ;) Anyway, Mike wears a blue tracksuit as his uniform and in one episode we learn that the color of his tracksuit is “Yves Klein Blue”! Actually, the color is the source of that particular episode’s mystery as someone has taken all the “Yves Klein Blue” fabric and the team has to try and track it down so Mike can make a new tracksuit. It’s a pretty silly show, but I love that this seemed to be such a strange thing to reference in it.

  5. If you want to read a funny story involving Klein you should look up The Void (Galerie Iris Clert in Paris 1958). Ahhh such an awesome and thought provoking story for a modern art theory junkie like me haha! I try to imagine what I would have thought after passing those curtains after all the hype 😜

  6. Love this piece. My experience with Yves Klein and IKB is from 2002. I was traveling and visited the Pompidou in Paris. The painting stopped me in my tracks. So simple, yet so captivating. I have never forgotten it, and I found an imposter paint with which to paint my piano.

  7. Ten years ago this December we saw an amazing exhibition in the Albertina in Vienna. It’s the only time I’ve seen Yves Klein blue up close and it really is so vivid with a quality all of its own. The whole exhibition was so wonderfully curated and it was so memorable with so many incredible works and artists and Yves Klein blue still stood out.

  8. I haven’t heard of Klein, thank you for sharing. I hated the color blue for years but now that I’ve bought my first home I’ve found that it livens up a room without being too overwhelming. What a beautiful hue.

    1. I’m always interested when I can see my color tastes are changing. My strongest feelings of dislike are usually directed at purple. And then sometimes, I love it.

  9. My husband’s name is Yves and his favourite colour is blue – he’s the one who introduced me to Yves Klein blue. Once I became aware of it, I started seeing it everywhere!

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