Sometimes, blue isn’t just blue. Case in point: International Klein Blue, also sometimes known as Yves Klein Blue, or IKB. IKB is specific deep blue color that was intentionally created by French artist Yves Klein, who had an intense fascination with the color blue and a desire to give it even more visual impact. Thanks to Klein, we’re also fascinated by the color, how he manipulated it, and ultimately patented his own shade of blue.
Yves Klein was one of the first monochrome painters, making blue paintings as early as 1947. For Klein, this was a way to reject the traditional ideas of representation in paintings, and he considered himself having complete creative freedom. His earlier monochromes were rough and thick in texture, and his later work cleaner and more precise. These paintings remained untitled until after the death of Yves Klein, when his widow archived each blue painting with numbers ranging from “IKB1″ to “IKB194″.
His obsession with the color led him to travel the globe, searching for the most perfect shade of blue. Klein eventually teamed up with chemists to produce what would become International Klein Blue, a color so vibrant and so unmistakable, and one that he called “a Blue in itself, disengaged from all functional justification.”
“Blue was about venturing further, trying to reach the beyond. Blue was a colour you couldn’t get to grips with, you couldn’t touch it. The sky was blue, and it could not be touched, the sea was blue, but when you were in it, the sea became clear.”
International Klein Blue was achieved with the help of Ultramarine, a deep blue pigment made from lapis lazuli ground into a powder. Ultramarine is complex, and was the finest and most expensive blue that could be used by painters in the early Renaissance. The French pharmaceutical company Rhône Poulenc assisted in the creation of IKB, using a synthetic resin to make the final color have the same color brightness and intensity as dry pigments.
Yves Klein registered an patented his new blue formula under the name International Klein Blue, though it is often referred to as Yves Klein blue, named for it’s creator. By 1958, the color was he central theme of Klein’s work, allowing him to move beyond the restricting rectangle of the canvas. His monochrome experiments eventually became performance based, moving farther away still from traditional ideas about making paintings, with the artist painting nude women with his color and having them roll about on his canvas.
In a 1959 lecture, Klein talked about his obsession with blue. “Blue has no dimensions, it is beyond dimensions, whereas the other colours are not… All colours arouse specific associative ideas, psychologically material or tangible, while blue suggests at most the sea and sky, and they, after all, are in actual, visible nature what is most abstract.”
International Klein Blue has since become important part of both art history and popular culture. In Zero History by William Gibson, Hubertus Bigend has a suit made of material in IKB, stating that wears this because the intensity of the color frequently makes other people uncomfortable, and because he is amused by the difficulty of reproducing the color on a computer monitor.
In the music world, there is an Australian rock band, Yves Klein Blue, named for the famous color. In 1982, Danish rock band Kliche released an instrumental titled International Klein Blue. The color was also named an official color or entity added to the persona of Elijah Blue of American synth rock band Deadsy.
If you ask Yves Klein, or anyone else that has been equally fascinated and obsessed by International Klein Blue, blue is more than just a color.