• Writings on monochromy: "My Position in the Battle Between Line and Color"

Article, 1958

Writings on monochromy: "My Position in the Battle Between Line and Color"

Yves Klein

Paris, 16 April 1958

For my part, the art of painting consists in liberating the first state of matter. Ordinary painting, painting as it is commonly understood, is a prison window, whose lines, contours, forms, and composition are all determined by bars. For me the lines concretize our mortality, our emotional life, our reason, and even our spirituality. They are our psychological boundaries, our historic past, our skeletal framework; they are our weaknesses and our desires, our faculties, and our contrivances.

Color, on the other hand, is the natural and human measure; it bathes in a cosmic sensibility. The sensibility of a painter is not encumbered by mysterious nooks and crannies. Contrary to what the line tends to lead us to believe, it is like humidity in the air; color is the materialization of matter, matter in its first, primal state.

I can no longer approve of a readable painting; my eyes are made not to read a painting but, rather, to see it. Painting is COLOR, and Van Gogh proclaims: I long to be freed from I know not what horrible cage.1 I believe that he unconsciously suffered from seeing color cut into pieces by lines and by its consequences.

Colors alone inhabit space, whereas the line only travels through it and furrows it. The line travels through infinity, whereas color is infinity. Through color I experience total identification with space; I am truly free.

In the course of my second Paris exposition at the Colette Allendy gallery in 1956, I displayed a selection of PROPOSITIONS of colors in varying formats. What I expected from the general public was that Minute of Truth of which Pierre Restany2 spoke in a text written for the exhibition. Taking the liberty of making a clean slate of any exterior impurity, I attempted to attain that degree of contemplation where color becomes full and pure sensibility. Unfortunately this occasion made apparent that many spectators were slaves to their manner of seeing, and that they were much more sensitive to the relationships of the PROPOSITIONS to each other and tended to recreate decorative and architectural elements out of colors.

This forced me to go much further in my experiments and to present, in January 1957 at the Apollinaire Gallery in Milan, a show devoted to what I dared to call my Blue Period (it is true that for more than a year I had devoted myself to the pursuit of the perfect expression of blue). This show included ten paintings in ultramarine blue, all of them rigorously identical in tone, value, proportion, and size. The passionate controversies that arose from these and the deep emotions that they provoked among persons of good will, who were prepared to suspend the sclerosis of old conceptions and set rules, testify to the importance of the event. Despite all the errors, the naïveté, and the utopian ideals in which I live, I am happy to be in pursuit of a problem of such great significance. We absolutely must realize – and this is no exaggeration – that we are living in the atomic age, where all physical matter can vanish from one day to the next to surrender its place to what we can envision as the most abstract. I believe that for the painter, there exists a sensible and colored matter that is intangible.

I thus believe that color itself, in its physicality, can limit and control my effort towards creating perceptible artistic states.

In order to attain this indefinable of DelacroiELACROIx that is the essence of painting, I became a specialist of space, which is my ultimate way of treating color. It is no longer a question of seeing color, but rather of perceiving it.

Lately, working with color has led me, in spite of myself, to pursuit, little by little, the creation of matter with a support structure (that of the observer, of the translator) and I have decided to bring an end to the conflict; at present, my paintings are invisible and it is these that I wish to display at my next Paris exhibition at the Iris Clert Gallery in a clear and positive manner.