Article, 2018

Testimonial : The Life and Work of Yves Klein


The artist Rotraut Uecker was 19 when she worked as an au pair for the artist Arman (b. 1928-d.2005) in Nice. Half a year earlier, she had found herself hypnotized by a blue monochrome painting at an exhibition in Düsseldorf, and was amazed when she saw a little red monochrome in the home of Arman by the same artist – the then 29-year-old Yves Klein. When the two met, sparks immediately flew, and Rotraut feels that they became one. She was very sensitive to his work, which took her breath away, not least his use of the colour blue in his monochrome paintings: “You can disappear into it… You forget the frame, the size, you just get lost into it, into the universe. Also, the immateriality of it – what you can do with colour is so big and so powerful… It’s a big window into something that has no limit.” The couple were together for only four years, but Rotraut describes how those four years felt like a hundred: “It was so intense, so many things happened, and I learned so much.” She took on the role of Klein’s assistant, model and muse, and in the video, she also talks about how she assisted Klein, how she experienced – and sometimes participated in – his work.

From the beginning, Klein said to Rotraut that he didn’t think he would live very long and that his artwork of the void and the immaterial was calling him: “He was thinking of surviving spiritually, and that his artwork would be more complete.” Shortly before his death, he told a friend that “I will soon have the biggest studio in the whole world, creating only immaterial works.” When Klein suffered a fatal heart attack in 1962, Rotraut was seven months pregnant, and Klein had expressed that he didn’t think he would live to see his child – he was right. Klein remained in their home for four days, during which people could come and see him – the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (b.1925-d.1991) even mistook it for a performance. The thought that comforted Rotraut in the difficult time that followed was that Klein continued to live in the immaterial: “An artist is kind of living in between times. There is no time, really. The art is always timeless.” Moreover, Rotraut believes that we all carry the souls of the deceased within us: “We’re not alone, and it’s nice to think that we will continually be around.”

Rotraut was interviewed by Christian Lund at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark in September 2018.

Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Christian Lund
Cover photo: Yves Klein & Rotraut at the opening of the exhibition ‘Monochrome und Feuer’, Museum Haus Lange, 1961
Copyright: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2018

All photos and works by Yves Klein in the video:
© Photo: All right reserved

Interview with Rotraut from 1966:
‘L’Actualité Artistique présente: Yves Klein’ (1966), 23 minutes
Produced by: Yvan Butler
Interview by: Marlène Belilos

Supported by Nordea-fonden