- Yves Klein
- SE 162
IKB pigment and synthetic resin on natural sponge
Munich, Modern Art Museum, Sammlung Gunter Sachs, 1967
Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste, Gunter Sachs, 2008, p. 178, illustrated in colour
"In working on my pictures in my studio, I sometimes used sponges. They became blue very quickly, obviously! One day I noticed the beauty of the blue in the sponge; at once this working tool became raw material for me. It is that extraordinary faculty of the sponge to become impregnated with whatever may be fluid that seduced me. Thanks to the sponges – raw living matter – I was going to be able to make portraits of the observers of my monochromes, who, after having seen, after having voyaged in the blue of my pictures, return totally impregnated in sensibility, as are the sponges" (The artist in 1958, cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Houston, Institute for the Arts, Rice University, Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, 1982, p. 111)
Klein's meteoric career – ended barely before it had truly begun – was devoted to a relentless search for an immaterial world beyond our own. To this end he developed modes of expression that fused together a sweeping array of profoundly held interests in aesthetics, nature and mysticism. Encountering and befriending Klein upon settling in Paris at the end of 1950s, Gunter Sachs became truly mesmerised by Klein's revolutionary artistic pursuit. Following his untimely death in 1962, Sachs orchestrated a commemorative event for the artist, and would later celebrate his genius in his own artistic endeavours, photographing models drenched in Klein's iconic sapphire blue pigment.
Here, Petit Eponge Bleue (SE 162), saturated with Klein's striking International Klein Blue, stands as a gem evoking intrigue and mystery. The soft, powdery texture of pigment is here absorbed into the natural crevices of the sponge; catching the light as it trickles across its surface, the tones vary from light to dark, as if recalling the reflection of water evoking a sense of movement across the spectacularly articulated surface. The sheer power of the IKB pigment unifies the topography of the sponge to such a degree that the exact landscape of the surface is not always discernible: Klein's spellbinding blue intermittently overcomes silhouette and contour. The labyrinths of minute spaces within the sponges create multifaceted schemas of light and shadow and the extraordinary potency of Klein's blue seems to fill these void matrices with a colouristic energy independent of the physical forms. Although indicative of some alien organism SE 162 encapsulates the artist's pure concept of ethereal intangibility.
Having first observed the powerful chromatic effect of pure powdered pigment while in an art supply shop in London in 1949, through the 1950s Klein experimented with various fusions of asphalt, plaster, cement, sand, tar and other materials that he acquired from Edouard Adam, a chemicals and art supplies retailer in Montparnasse. From these trials the two men developed the legendary International Klein Blue, a synthetic medium that included the transparent binder Rhodopas M 60 A, which preserved the pigment as if it were still pure powder. It was also Adam who provided Klein with sponges from 1956, sourced from Greece and Tunisia, which the artist first used to apply paint to his surface before being struck by the extraordinary aesthetic of soaking them in IKB. As aquatic animals sponges have evolved over hundreds of millions of years into bodies of maximum surface area and exceptional absorption qualities in order to extract food and oxygen as efficiently as possible from the constant flow of water passing through them. As a living being the shape of a sponge changes, but extracted from its life-support of plankton-filled seawater it is frozen in its final, ultimate form. In the present work this outstanding facet of natural selection is profusely drenched in Klein's blue, resulting in an organic architecture of immeasurable chromatic depth.
Initiated in 1958, the corpus of uniquely beautiful sponge sculptures evolved from Klein's iconic Monochromes as an extension of his exploration into nature and space. First exhibited in June 1959 at the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris, Klein presented his lavishly saturated sponge sculptures of varying heights, shapes and textures, grouped together along the sides of a small room, transforming the gallery into a lush, crowded and mysterious environment – Klein's immersive and dense forest of sponges encapsulated the beauty and overgrowth of a natural woodland area. The fact that the sponge reliefs incorporated actual elements of nature enforces a parallel with the Zen Gardens Klein had encountered in Kyoto during his training as a judo-ka in Yokohama in 1952. Indeed, very much engaged with the spiritual and physical harmony Zen philosophy, Klein enlisted the sponge as a metaphor to explain how diverse, isolated and separate elements of existence can simultaneously inhabit the same space. In the same way that sand, water and the air within water together saturate a sponge, various facets of material and immaterial worlds saturate our existence. Klein's corpus of saturated sponges translates this multifaceted conceptual philosophy into breathtaking material physicality.