With painting as his starting point, Yves Klein extended the idea of art into almost every media in a way that was well-nigh visionary. His varied oeuvre, produced in only eight years, combined elements of performance, body art, and happening, anticipating the approaches of conceptual art and providing stimuli that had a sustained impact.
Klein believed that as an artist he had the ability to disseminate »sensibility« in material and immaterial form and could use this to enable participation in »life itself.«
He saw color as »sensibility in material form« and initially painted monochrome images in orange, red, white, yellow, violet, green, and gold. Between 1957 and 1959, he reduced his palette to lightfast ultramarine blue and collaborated with a chemist to develop a special binder—Rhodopas, a polyvinyl acetate—which retained the granularity of the pure pigment together with the luminosity and saturation of the intense blue color. In 1960, he had this discovery patented as IKB (International Klein Blue). Thereafter, he would soak sponges in IKB, which he saw as an embodiment of impregnation with a »sensibility« bound to color. He produced monochromatic blue pictures, sponge reliefs, and objects. In 1959, Klein began complementing blue with gold and pink to create a color trilogy, which he used for individual works in pure monochrome.
His first anthropometry was produced in 1957: in performances at Klein’s studio and in front of gallery audiences, naked bodies—predominantly female—that had been covered with IKB became living brushes, leaving imprints of their physical form smeared in paint on canvas and paper.
In 1958 Klein organized an exhibition and opening performance at the Iris Clert Gallery that becomes known as Le Vide (The Void). However, he actually claimed in his capacity as an artist to have filled the vacant space with »sensibility in the state of prime matter«—i.e., in immaterial form. As with the sponges soaked in paint, those present could be impregnated by this immaterial sensibility. Subsequently, as part of a special ritual, he even sold this sensibility in exchange for pure gold (half of which he then threw in the Seine).
In 1960 Klein jumped audaciously from a window and published a photo of this »leap into the void« on the cover of his »one-day newspaper« Dimanche (Sunday).
At the tender age of nineteen, Klein declared the sky above Nice to be his first artwork. He signed it in his imagination but considered the birds a nuisance.
Klein was described as a spiritual person. Influenced by the Catholic rituals of his childhood, he was fascinated by the doctrine of self-redemption and delved into the mythic Christian teachings of the Rosicrucians and into Zen Buddhism.
In keeping with Zen, his concepts of the void—creating a space of emptiness, and his own leap into the void—can be seen not as an immersion in nothingness but rather as a plunge into the full abundance of life. It implies the equality of body and spirit, material and immaterial.
From early on, Klein actively fostered the construction of his own myth and viewed his life and work as an inseparable unity. His Catholic wedding with Rotraut Uecker on January 21, 1962, which he planned in great detail, was performed, as it were, as a lived enactment of his artistic convictions.