• Fusion by fire

Article, 1982

Fusion by fire

Catherine Millet

The influence of alchemy restores to the artist a mastery of the universe that the ways of modern painting had thus made him lose. Yves Klein has emerged as the ultimate demiurge artist. From 1951, visiting the gardens of Granja near Madrid, Klein imagines in front of the basins and their water jets, what would be these same fountains spitting fire. The idea will be repeated in 1958 as part of a collaboration with the artist Norbert Kricke, then in 1961 with Claude Parent. The last project was to insert between the water jets of the Palais de Chaillot, incandescent gas jets. In 1961, for his retrospective at the Haus Lange Museum in Krefeld, Germany, Klein made Bunsen, a Wall of Fire and a fire sculpture, an enormous flame gushing up to three meters above the ground. ground.

It is during the course of this exhibition that will be born the first paintings of fire. Their mode of execution will be developed only a few times later, at the Gaz de France Test Center, which will provide the artist with industrial coke gas burners. The support of these paints is a Swedish cardboard made heat resistant thanks to a mixture of asbestos. By adjusting the opening of the burner, approaching more or less the cardboard, by moistening it, Klein varies the degree of combustion. In fireboards dotted with starburst burns, due to small beaks (a little like imprints of the Wall of Fire), succeeds more composed works where are superimposed larger halos. Often the chart keeps track of water run-off. It sometimes mixes blue or pink spots, gold leaves, anthropometries. Indeed, it happens that the humidification is done by the application of the wet body of a model, whose mark turns out to be darker at the moment of combustion.

The paintings of fire represent, in Klein's work, a moment of synthesis. The element is itself a symbol of this synthesis. In a televised interview, Klein tells Pierre Restany that he regards the incandescence of the flame as the "major expression" of the synthesis of fundamental colors. Moreover, the water that "draws" in the flame makes the artist dream of a conciliation of the antagonistic forces of nature. Klein is the Hermes of the Rosicrucian legend, a polymorphous figure, holding both Lucifer and Christ, Hermes whose redemptive blood was the color of pink, the "other" color of Klein. On the modern subject exploded, fascinated by emptiness and stirring matter, individualistic while affirming a messianic vocation, the myth brings the hope of the Great Synthesis, the resolution of the opposites (which also symbolizes the cross of the Rosicrucian coat of arms), of the man who, having espoused the fundamental ambivalence of nature, became confused in the Great Cosmic All.
Excerpt from the book "Yves Klein", Catherine Millet, Paris, Art Press-Flammarion, 1983