Single-color paintings have played a crucial role throughout the 20th century. In the 19th century, painters under avant-garde thinking began exploring the use of solid color panels with comments by Alphonse Allais, a French writer, and his acquaintance Paul Bilhaud. Bilhaud exhibited an all black painting he named “Combat de Nègres das un tunnel,” (translated as “Negroes Fight in a Tunnel”).
From this bizarre and almost Dadaist beginning, early 20th century French artists like Jean Metzinger and Francis Picabia produced several pure white canvases, and Picabia is famous for claiming, while discussing his blank canvases, that “Light is enough for us.”
Yves Klein’s Blue: Monochrome Works
At the base, it can be argued that light itself is the ‘subject’ of all monochrome works, whether one is discussing Yves Klein blue and his signature color International Klein Blue, or the deep red later works of Robert Rauschenberg. These works showcase light in its form as pure color, bringing about a subtle, meditative, thought free state, which is often the mind’s natural response to pure light. Insight into the nature of light as a transcendental object, as portrayed in painting and other visual arts, is discussed from philosophical, religious and yogic perspectives in the essay Monochrome Art and the “Light” of Enlightenment.
A similar artistic thrust may be found among the Chinese Taoists, as reported by John Blofeld in his work The Secret and Sublime. In describing the room of a Taoist yogin he visited, he says:
-There was also a small bronze ox fashioned of creamy jade, but what held my eye was the strangest kind of picture I had ever seen. Mounted elaborately on a strip of fine grey silk and brocaded rollers, it consisted of a vertical panel of off-white paper, completely blank. Watching my expression, Pien Tao-shih said, smiling:
-‘No, it is complete. The best of paintings hanging from one’s wall becomes so familiar that one doesn’t notice it for days on end and its beauty seems to wane. On this picture, I imagine whatever scene I choose…
One can envision that the Taoist’s mind, steeped in meditation and esoteric yoga, was often as blank as his canvas, and thus he effortlessly enjoyed the creamy white light of the blank scroll.
International Klein Blue for Meditation
While few artists committed themselves completely to monochrome works, many of the most insightful and influential artists of the 20th century experimented with one-color works. These range from Abstract Expressionists like Reinhardt and Resnick, who were drawn to the monochrome canvas as fields for meditation, to those of the Minimalist school, like Ellsworth Kelly who found himself drawn to monochrome painting through his exposure to the late works of Monet. Lucio Fontana, the Argentine painter and sculptor, moved throughout his life in the direction of monochrome works, sometimes more realized than at other times, and completed his career with a single, blank white canvas shortly before his death. International Klein Blue paintings are the perfect aid for meditation. As Klein himself said, “blue is beyond dimensions. Blue suggests the sea and sky. Painting this way, I met the empty, the deep empty, the depth of the blue.” Gazing into the depths of an International Klein Blue painting allows the viewer to be enveloped in the velvety, infinite space of blue.
Recently, there has been renewed interest in the work of Klein and International Klein Blue, and several contemporary painters, such as Gerhard Richter and Alan Ebnother continue to generate monochrome works. Interestingly, Ebnother recently told an interviewer, when asked why he moved to New Mexico from Germany that
-I moved to New Mexico for the light and land inexpensive enough that I could afford to build a studio here. I designed it for the light, with all my attention going in this direction rather than for comfort. The light in here is the best that I have ever experienced!
Yves Klein Print
Klein’s blue paintings are beautiful. During his lifetime, he created almost 200 blue, monochrome works. He considered to be similar to pure space – his “patented” blue. Klein believed this color had a mystical effect on people. His works are powerful, but not obtainable – most of his recent paintings have sold for as much as 20 million dollars. Generally, people can only view his works in galleries for a few brief moments. An Yves Klein print is attainable, however.
Many artists are inspired by Klein and his deep commitment to contemplative exploration. His works have moved other artists to create original paintings inspired by his originals. One such artist is Joseph Wagner. From his studio in Colorado, Wagner’s Yves Klein print allows people to meditate and contemplate Yves Klein blue inspired paintings closely. An unhurried reflection allows for a deeper connection. Now, you can own an Yves Klein print – an inspired work by a Colorado artist.