We know that Yves Klein, who had much in common with my cousin Piero Manzoni, wished to create “Areas of Immaterial Pictorial Sensitivity”, gradually eliminating objects or subjects to convey exclusively the image of their absence. In the end, it was the spiritual and sacred he was after, and it was with this in view that he created first his famous fields of blue, then the Leap into the Void, silence, his discreet exit from the stage, so that his essence, his irrepressible (noble, aristocratic) energy might remain floating in the air (in fact the true cause of his death at the age of 34 is still cloaked in mystery). It was thus what we westerners call “the metaphysical” or indeed “the transcendental” which interested Klein: painting imageless pictures, writing wordless books, performing music on a single note. Blue, the colour of the sea and sky, was thus his first theme and the beginning of the challenge. That twitching of the eye, that catching of the breath, which swallows us up, projecting us towards infinity and, perhaps, into the ancestral terror of not knowing. The absolute synthesis of what constitutes human existence; indissoluble love for the “knights of the soul”…those who are always questing for secret things. Thus Klein’s art was overall immaterial; the body is annulled in blueness, then dilates its true essence into goldness (gold has always been the symbolic colour of divinity). Hence “primacy of colour which becomes art in itself”; purity; loss of physicality (he had started as a body artist); dissolution; and to close the circle, reunification with totality.
And here we have the “void” and the “nothingness” which are gradually filled with what was the original creation; that “lost sense”, that immanence which still resides in all of us, but which we are often, if not always, unaware of; which we forget, and never more so than in this age of “uninhabited flesh”.
We know that in 1947 Klein attended a Judo course (rapidly achieving levels of excellence in the discipline).Thus the Rosicrucian cosmological theosophy of Max Heindel, whom he considered his chosen master, was combined with Zen philosophy, so that he became an alembic in which West and East were mingled and in which conception, growth, evolution, parturition coexisted in a cohesive…eternally cohesive… spirit, which is in fact the spirit of the mother universe we live in and belong to.
In the notebooks of his youth we find written: “Physical science knows that whatever force moves the heart, it does not come from outside, but resides in the heart itself. The occult scientist sees a chamber in the left ventricle near the apex, where a small atom rotates in a sea of more elevated Ether. The force of that atom, like the energies in all atoms, is the undifferentiated life of the divine. Without that force, the mineral could not form crystal matter and the vegetable, animal and human kingdoms would be incapable of forming their bodies. The deeper we look, the clearer it appears fundamentally true that we live, move and have our existence in the divine. That atom is called Atom-Seed.
The force contained in it moves the heart and keeps our whole organism alive. All the other atoms of the whole body must vibrate in harmony with this one. The forces of that Atom-Seed were immanent in every dense body which was possessed by the particular Ego to which it is joined, and on its plastic tablet all the experiences of that particular Ego during all its lives are engraved. When we return to the divine, when we are again one with it, that memory which is particularly the memory of the divine will always remain, and thus we will keep our individuality. As will be written, we transform our experiences into faculties, evil is transformed into good and we retain good to be the capacity for an even greater good, but the memory of experiences is of the divine and in the divine, in the most intimate sense of the term”.
Then came his Peintures de Feu (Fire Paintings), combustions performed over a fire, an element of transformation and archetypical alchemical principle in which, according to the critic Pierre Restany, the “happy marriage between ethics and aesthetics” was consummated. Then came the Leap into the Void (total leaping as a choice) and from that photograph began the real contest, the real struggle with the unperishable, the perennial. The famous Leap into the Void shot is said to have been simply a manipulation, a photo-montage, and it may be so, but not everyone knows that thanks to his sport-sculpted physique (he also became an instructor and a supervisor at the National Spanish Judo Federation) and thanks to a practically monastic life, plus an abnormal capacity for concentration and an iron will (virtues which remind us of Mishima), Klein actually did use to leap off windows and balconies, places as much as four or five metres high, and land with a somersault like a parachutist without hurting himself in the slightest.
For Klein, this practice contradicted the idea of Man as being limited in his capacities, abandoned to naturalistic determinism and to all possible forms of conditioning. In this way he challenged the extremely precarious situation of a world shattered by the Second World War, a world attempting material reconstruction and a new knowledge in an atmosphere of uncertainty, often lacking any clear plan for the future. For Klein in fact, being of and in the world transcended Man and was manifested exclusively through structures which gave it meaning; these structures were the possible ways in which Man related to the world and acted functionally to it or against it, and the structures in any case constituted cages.
And those courageous “leaps into the void” derived from the reaction to these cages. They were also directed, uncoincidentally, at the whole of Existentialist Thought (so fashionable at the time). Actually, the only thing Klein accepted about Existentialism was the concept of life as a dimension of continuous, free possibility, hence not limited to mere rational processes. He also later accepted those factors and forces which thought excludes, creating a constant state of tension towards Being, which coincides with the Dasein of Man, i.e. “with the true and deep sense of being present” in the Cosmic-Divine Oneness. This is where Klein’s importance lies, in his break with Structuralism and the Titanic bridge between Tradition and Open Modern Vision of a Feasible (and Futurable) Reality.