Bogleech.com's 2014 Horror Write-off:
" International Klein Blue "
You're looking at a blue rectangle mounted on a wall and you're thinking "My kid could do that" or "How is this art?" or variations on a theme of fatuous closed-minded martinetry. Well, it's art because it's expressive media that elicits an emotional response. That's all art is. People so rarely make the distinction between good art and bad art, and make a distinction between art and "entertainment" that simply doesn't exist so often, that they associate art with a certain set of ideas it does not possess. How could it hope to? Art is a broad category, containing everyone from Michaelangelo to Michael Bay. Let me explain how, if you'll permit. We've got time.
What you're looking at, presently, is a picture. Ha and indeed ha. The painting in question is IKB 191, by Yves Klein, and it is something that prior to the mid-Fifties literally could not exist. It is painted entirely in International Klein Blue, the colour the artist himself merely referred to as "The Medium". It consumed his life for a while, marking all his work and the work of millions thereafter. IKB. The maddening, magnificent IKB. Just listen to the name! It sounds almost like some kind of secret service Grandpapa talks about hiding crazy uncle Vaclav from, back in the Old Country. Heh, just my little joke, don't you fret. It's not really out to get you.
But what if... No. Mustn't tell... but must, must, if I and we might be free of this then I must. Sir, I know I have prevailed upon you too much already, but I beg a little more of your time, not that you're in a position to gainsay me. It's the principle of the thing. But I must explain. Or at the very least, I must tell you a story.
Ask yourself about the colour in the painting - a lowly slide, an impure copy, less beautiful, less inviting, alas, alas - really ask about it. Where did it come from? Oh, sure, Klein patented his formula and it is a matter of public record, but that's not what I mean. Every artist starts with a vision. What was his? Again, a matter of public record; he decided to stick with blue as a one-colour art form, to take the artistic traditions of High Europe further and further into abstraction, venturing past artist-kind's limits into the impossible, to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, and likely butcher him. Spotted the odd part yet? No? Allow me to enlighten you.
Klein was an artist, and artists, as I'm sure you're aware, are vain sorts. Klein invented a colour - a shade of blue so bright and vivid and inviting that one cannot help but get lost inside its infinite reaches - and that colour is named after him. Why then does he call it just "The Medium"? Why not puff himself up? More importantly, what's it a medium for?
Oh, do stop that. I know I'm a bit of a windbag, but it's not that bad, is it? Besides, you're learning something. We all are, in a way. Have been since 1959. Do you want to hear about 1959? Of course you do. You wouldn't be here otherwise - well, you might...
1959. America ascendant. Art ascendant. A new kind of art flourishing, blossoming out of the centuries that came before into something abstract, something that was not a picture as the rather bovine public knows it, but was art, devoid of form and function and purpose. Its sole role was to be art, its sole language that of art. No gaudy Rossetti religious scenes, no petty politicking of the Dutch Masters or the Florentine School, just art. That's what abstracted means, you see. Removed from everything, even itself. Aloof, distant, something further away but so much more. The world was reeling from the first introduction of IKB to the land beneath its constellations, and what followed was a natural progression.
This was the year that Klein exhibited one of his most famous works, and one of my personal favourites. The Sponge Garden. A statuary of a kind. Sponges - the bath kind - dipped in the Medium and left to dry, forming strange pillars, like trees. Exactly like trees, in fact. Well, exactly like grasses. People never think about grasses, except when moaning about the lawnmower getting gummed up with next door's escaped hamster. They don't realise what hardy sorts they are. I've heard them described as nature's shock troops, but I forget where. A failing, I know. But yes. Grasses. The strange and alien grasses. Springing up, tall and unnatural, from this little green portion of France, fair glowing with International Klein Blue, taking up residence in the Iris Clert Gallery and thereafter the rest of the world, or at least the places with power. Oh, Klein said they were sponges used to paint IKB monochrome canvasses mounted on rocks scavenged from his parents' back garden, thereby cementing the place of objets trouvees in the Nouveau Realisme, but that's what's so wonderful about life. It, um, finds a way. Oh yes. I'm talking about life.
You can see an earlier attempt at this sort of thing by Malevich. His Black Square is the rich, deep, void-black of the endless, eternal night, the night that sees no stars for no stars are left to burn. It is layered, it is said, because Malevich painted and repainted and repainted until he achieved the desired effect, and repainted it again because his desires changed. This is not so. The growths of colour, of nightblack, occur naturally from the canvas, as what is out there begins to become that which is in here. It is therefore important to remember Malevich failed; his solution was imperfect, the gates opened but briefly. I bring that up because you are looking at me like someone who has just wet themselves with fright and is trying not to show it in case the bigger children start teasing them again. I bring up your fear because you can't hide it. It's perfectly natural. After all, you know. You've seen, just for a moment, but long enough to know that something is not quite as you have been told.
Phase and antiphase render two somethings into nothing. This is basic physics. You know this. I know this. Children know this. Malevich failed because he neglected this simple fact, so simple as to be beneath the notice of the things which are out there. Reality has been their plaything for far, far too long, you see; such a simple little rule is one of the first to get broken. But not in this universe, not when their powers are insufficient. The colour of their entrances was in direct and complete antiphase to the canvas it was painted on because Malevich did his job too well; the black was too black, and thus the white reduced it to nothing more than an exceptionally beautiful work of stark Suprematist abstraction. Not that that's not a great achievement, of course, but compared to his mission? No.
Klein's Relief Eponge Bleu took a different route. For one thing, it was blue. Any reasonably colour-savvy idiot can tell you that the opposite of blue on a colour wheel is not white, but orange, and those selfsame idiots will tell you that nobody ever paints on a bright orange canvas. You can see it, can't you? What I'm driving at? Hold on, let me change the slide - ah! Beautiful. An image of an image of an image. What's growing out of it? The little trees of his forest of sponges. What grew out of Klein's medium? Something not of this Earth, nor of anything like it. Why did Klein move on to slathering models in paint for use as a kind of living brush during his famous "Anthropometries" phase? He didn't.
They're in the wind now, and there's only one thing that can show them for what they truly are, these things that cannot be, these things from out there. Phase and antiphase. The perfect colour for the perfect colour, the perfect warning orange to tell us mere mortal humans "No!". It takes a lot of making, you know. It takes a little bit of this, a little bit of that, but mostly what it takes is something lively and biological called the adrenal cortex, distilled in VINNAPAS, a concoction based on polyvinyl acetate that must be cooked up in the Netherlands, for reasons I should sincerely hope are obvious. But sir, I hear you cry - well, I don't, I just hear you crying - where does one get one's hands on the adrenal cortex to make this admixture?
You know how, when you were looking at IKB 191, you were of the opinion that your kid could do that?
I think she needs her Daddy to help her.