Monochrome abstraction—the use of one color over an entire canvas—has been a strategy adopted by many painters, notably Yves Klein, who wished to challenge expectations of what an image can and should represent.
Klein’s blue monochromes (Fig 1. ) have the energy of Van Gogh’s Starry Night (Fig. 2)
(Fig.2) Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889
Klein’s other paintings—some pink (Fig. 3), some gold, some impressed with traces of the human body, some scarred by waves of flame—also offer moments of extraordinary beauty.
(Fig. 3) Yves Klein, Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) , titled ‘Le Rose du bleu’ (on the reverse),1960
Even as he was making these paintings, Klein staged a series of events rejecting conventional ideas of painting and sculpture:
In 1958, he exhibited an empty gallery.
In 1960 he published a fake newspaper.
In 1962, he sold certificates for non-existent works of art.
For Klein, painting and sculpture were means to a greater end. “My works are only the ashes of my art,” he proclaimed in 1960.
Born in Nice, Klein was the child of two painters. As a young man, he dabbled in that medium, but his main passion was judo. After seeking out advanced instruction in Japan, he returned to France in early 1954, expecting to be recognised as a leading martial arts expert. Discovering to his shock that the official French judo association would not recognise his Japanese degree! he decided instead to win fame as a painter.
Klein was convinced from the outset that he was bound for greatness. “I think I am a genius,” he wrote in his diary entry for Jan. 1, 1955, several months before he actually began to paint in earnest. That spring, he began making pictures with the assistance of his girlfriend Bernadette Allain, a young architect who had done extensive research on color perception.
Unable to afford a studio, Klein made his first works in the kitchen of his parents’ apartment. Almost immediately, Klein began creating the extraordinary monochrome paintings for which he is known today.
Klein likened monochrome painting to an “open window to freedom.”
He worked with a chemist to develop his own particular brand of blue. Made from pure color pigment and a binding medium, it is called International Klein Blue.
IKB 79 (Fig. 4) was one of nearly two hundred blue monochrome paintings Yves Klein made during his short life.
Although it is difficult to date many of these works precisely, the early ones have an uneven surface, whereas later ones, such as the work above work, are finer and more uniform in texture.
Klein did not give titles to these works but after his death in 1962, his widow Rotraut Klein-Moquay numbered all the known blue monochromes IKB 1 to IKB 194, a sequence which did not reflect their chronological order.
The letters IKB stand for International Klein Blue, a distinctive ultramarine which Klein registered as a trademark colour in 1957. He considered that this colour had a quality close to pure space and he associated it with immaterial values beyond what can be seen or touched.
The announcement card for his one-man exhibition at the Galleria Apollinaire, Milan in 1957 described IKB as ‘a Blue in itself, disengaged from all functional justification’ (quoted in Stich, p.81).
When creating work Klein would stretch his canvas or cotton scrim over a wooden backing, which had been treated with a milk protein called casein. This assisted the adherence of the paint when it was applied with a roller. Then he applied an industrial blue paint, similar to gouache, which he mixed with a highly volatile fixative. When the paint dried the pigment appeared to hover over the surface of the canvas creating a rich velvety texture and an unusual appearance of depth.
Klein’s practice was strongly influenced by the originality, irreverence and wit of the French artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) (Fig.5)
The production of monochrome paintings was probably conceived by Klein as both a spiritual and a marketable activity.
At his 1957 exhibition in Milan, he displayed a series of eleven identical blue monochromes, each with a different price which he claimed reflected its unique spirit.
Yves Klein died in Paris, of a heart attack in France on June 6, 1962
“Content arises out of certain considerations about form, material, context-and that when the subject matter is sufficiently far away”
– Anish Kapoor
Born in India, Anish Kapoor has a diverse cultural heritage through his Indian and Jewish ancestral lineage and his mainly British art education.
He has been one of the most acclaimed sculptors working in Britain since completing his academic studies in 1979. Although currently based in London, Indian materials and ideas maintain a strong presence in his work (I was lucky enough to experience this element of his work in 2010 whilst India!)
Kapoor’s sculpture is primarily concerned with the play of opposing concepts such as presence and absence, inside and outside, light and dark.
Kapoor became known in the 1980s for his geometric or biomorphic sculptures made using simple materials such as granite, limestone, marble, pigment and plaster. These early sculptures are often simple, curved forms, usually monochromatic and brightly coloured, using powder pigments to define and permeate the form.
“While making the pigment pieces (Fig. 1), it occurred to me that they all form themselves out of each other. So I decided to give them a generic title, A Thousand Names, implying infinity, a thousand being a symbolic number. The powder works sat on the floor or projected from the wall. The powder on the floor defines the surface of the floor and the objects appear to be partially submerged, like icebergs.” – Anish Kapoor
In the late 1980s and 1990s, Kapoor was acclaimed for his explorations of matter and non-matter, specifically evoking the ‘void’ in both free-standing sculptural works and ambitious installations.
Many of his sculptures seem to recede into the distance, disappear into the ground or distort the space around them.
In Void (#13) 1991-92, (Fig, 2) Kapoor has covered a deep concave shape with a dense blue pigment. The blue is highly evocative and has spiritual meaning in both Hindu and Christian beliefs.
Projecting outward into space and simultaneously drawing the viewer in, it is a work that invites the viewer to contemplate its dark interior while remaining aware of its overall form. With intense viewing, the play of inside and outside generates a profound optical effect.
Over the course of the following decade Kapoor’s sculptures ventured into more ambitious manipulations of form and space. He produced a number of large works, including Taratantara(1999), a 35 metre tall piece installed in the Baltic Flour Mills in England.
The use of red wax is also part of his “repertoire”, evocative of flesh and blood. In 2007, he showed Svayambh (which translated from Sanskirt means ‘self-generated’), a 1.5 metre block of red wax that moved on rails (Fig.3)
In September 2009, Kapoor was the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. As well as surveying his career to date it also included new works. On display were ‘Non-Object’ mirror works, cement sculptures previously unseen, and ‘Shooting into the Corner’ (Fig. 4) a cannon that fires pellets of wax into the corner of the gallery.
Throughout his career, Kapoor has worked extensively with architects and engineers. Kapoor says this body of work is neither pure sculpture nor pure architecture (Fig. 4)
The MCA have published a fantastic EPublication I would like you to explore:
Also here is a link to Anish Kapoor’s website:
A conversation between Anish Kapoor and Marcello Danetas:
Brett Whiteley, Remembering Lao Tse (Shaving off a second) 1967
“The most fundamental reason one paints is in order to see.” –Brett Whiteley
The art of Sydney-born Whiteley was intimately connected to his tumultuous, creative life. Largely a self-taught artist he was born in April 1939, a few months before the outbreak of WWII.
Whiteley came from a comfortable middle class background on Sydney’s north shore and had a great talent for drawing.
The budding painter was introduced early to the joys of smoking, alcohol and sex among his adult acquaintances, possibly a factor relevant to his addictive personality in later life.
In 1948, Whiteley was sent to boarding school. While there, he asked his mother to buy him a second hand easel and some books about Augustus John and Jacob Epstein. His father was involved in the reproduction of paintings, and this provided young Brett with an opportunity to meet famous painters like William Dobell, who taught him dry-brush technique. His pivotal moment of influence occurred at the age of sixteen, when he discovered a book about Van Gogh.
Whiteley left school in 1956 and went to work at Lintas Advertising Agency in the commercial art department. Here he attended life classes at the National Art School, where he met his wife to be Wendy Julius.
In the period up to 1959, he converted the glasshouse at home into an art studio and painted landscapes in the local area. Like his hero, Van Gogh, he associated with the poor and homeless.
In 1959 Whiteley concentrated more exclusively on painting for the Italian Government Travelling Art Scholarship, which he won, traveling to Naples in February 1960, and visiting London and Paris in the same year.
By the mid 1960s he had become firmly established as a leading young Australian painter. In 1969 he returned to Australia, settling in Lavender Bay, after two years in the US and five months in Fiji.
His last studio and home, at 2 Raper Street, Surry Hills in Sydney, is now a museum managed by the Art Gallery of NSW.
In 1976, he won the Archibald Prize for his painting Self Portrait in the Studio (Fig. 1) . This was clearly inspired by Matisse’s Red Studio (Fig 2).
In Whiteley’s self portrait in the studio, the colours transformed from Matisse’s red to Whiteley’s favourite ultramarine blue, which Whiteley favored for its ‘ecstasy-like effect’.
The sculpture depicted on the right and others in the background remind us that Whitleley was at home with this art form too. Self portait in the studio also includes a snippet of real hair as well as a self-portrait of Whiteley in a mirror. The mirror acts as an entry point to both a psychological space (revealing something of his state of mind) and a physical space (his home at Lavender Bay on Sydney Harbour). The tiny portrait also reflects the influence of Asian culture, in which people are often portrayed as merely part of a larger landscape.
Whiteley was a master of line. In the nude portrait of Wendy 1984 (Fig. 3), the influence of Matisse is evident. The inclusion of a drawing of the garden and small objects on the table adds to the intimacy of the painting.
Brett and Wendy divorced in 1989 after years of self-destruction and drug abuse.
(Fig 3)Brett Whiteley, Wendy, 1984
Whiteley exploited his talents by living life to the full, depending on a heady mix of alcohol, heroin and sex for inspiration. His life went beyond mere painting, trying to achieve greatness through integrating life with art. The result was a fine consolidation of great aspects of modern painting, from abstraction to meticulous practice and research into many techniques.
Brett Whiteley died of a heroin overdose in June 1992 in New South Wales at the age of 55.
To hear and see Whiteley have a look at this clip:
To view more of Whiteley’s work follow the below link:
Bridget Riley in the mid- 1960s – Photo: John Goldblatt
“The music of colour, that’s what I want” -Bridget Riley
Bridget Riley on Rhythm and Pattern:
Bridget Riley was born in South London in 1931. Her father was a printer, as was his father before him. In 1938, her father relocated the printing business to Lincolnshire and the family moved with it.
In 1939, when war broke out her father was drafted into the armed services. Bridget, along with her sister, mother and aunt went to live in Cornwall away from the dangers.
Here, Riley had great freedom as a child spenting hours watching the changing light, colour and cloud formations. She has later said that these early memories have had a big impact on her visual awareness throughout her life.
Whilst studying at the Royal College Riley struggled, this was were compounded by her having to leave to look after her ill father, her current situation led to a complete physical and mental breakdown for the artist resulting in her cutting ties with art.
In 1956 Riley saw an exhibition in London that had a significant impact and helped shape her creative thinking and sense of direction – an exhibition of American Abstract Expressionist painters at the Tate Gallery, the first exhibition of its kind in the country.
Riley moved into teaching and from 1957-1958, she taught art to girls introducing them to the sequences of shape, line and groups of colour, hoping to release their creative impulses and to discourage blind copying of the real world.
During the late 50’s Riley started to paint in a more exploratory style – the main influences being Matisse and she started to visit exhibitions again and renew contact with the art world.
Riley began her first Op Art paintings in the early 60’s, working only in black and white and using simple geometric shapes – squares, lines and ovals.
Although she investigated many areas of perception, her work, with its emphasis on optical effects was never intended to be an end in itself. It was instinctive, not based on theory but guided by what she saw with her own eyes.
Riley’s paintings came to International notice when she exhibited along with Victor Vasarely
Victor Vasarely, Keple-Gestalt, 1968 Acrylic on canvas 160x160cm
and others in the Museum of Modern Art in New York at an exhibition called “The Responsive Eye” in 1965.
Riley’s introduction of colour to her work was something she was cautious of. The black and white paintings depended on the disruption of stable elements. No such stable basis could be found for colour as the perception of colour is relative – each colour affects and is affected by the colours next to it. Over time, she began to accept this instability and made it the basis of her work.
From 1967 onwards Riley increasingly began to use colour. She also started to use more stabilised forms – often simple vertical straight or wavy lines. It was the positioning of the colour itself that produced the feel of movement she wanted to convey.
The colour groupings affected the spaces between them to produce fleeting glimpses of other colours and hence the illusion of movement.
Now in her late 70s Bridget Riley still continues to work.
When creating work, successful studies lead to full size paper and gouache cartoon which prefigures her final work. These are then enlarged, ruled up, under-painted with acrylic and over-painted in oils. Everything is painted by hand – no rulers, masking tape or mechanical means are used when actually applying the paints. Riley has worked with assistants since the 1960s because of the large scale and the need for great precision.
Bridgette Riley- Blue and Pink, 2001, Screenprint on paper, 282 x 1186 mm
This silkscreen print above is a horizontal frieze with alternating irregular forms in pale pink and vibrant blue. It is one of a number of works using repeated curved forms that Riley began making in 1997.
Since moving into pure geometric abstraction in the early 1960s, Riley has worked in series, paying attention for several years on a particular theme. The curvilinear paintings and prints of the late 1990s and early twenty-first century employ overlapping curved segments, typically in combinations of no more than five colours.
The works are structured on a diagonal grid. In Blue and Pink it is possible to follow a series of implicit diagonal lines moving from bottom left to top right, giving the print a sense of movement.
In its use of curved forms and harmonious colour scheme, Blue and Pink suggests the influence of the late work of Henri Matisse (1869-1954). The palette of Riley’s print particularly recalls the background colours of Matisse’s Paris Dance Mural, 1931-3 (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Villede Paris).
Matisse, Paris Dance Mural, 1931-31931–33, Gouache and graphite on paper, 11 x 29 7/8 in. (27.9 x 75.9 cm)
In Matisse’s mural a series of pale grey figures dance against a background in which wide diagonal pink and blue stripes are interspersed with areas of black. In Riley’s print the coloured shapes themselves appear to dance. Her fluid forms are accentuated by an irregular rhythm.
Riley’s carefully planned structure ensures that the colours contrast dynamically. The traditional gendered associations of pink for girls and blue for boys arguably give the interplay between the colours a gently romantic resonance.
To see further examples of Riley’s work visit this page:
Read an article on Riley here:
Have a look at a great blog here:
YouTube clip on Op Art
Optical Illusion Unit (rosdahlsclassroom.wordpress.com)
“Every man is a plastic artist who must determine things for himself. “- Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) is widely understood to be the most important German artist of the post–World War II period.
Highly provocative and always controversial, he and his peers reinvented a thriving ‘avant-garde’ after the long period of Nazi repression.
His influence is comparable to that of the American artist Andy Warhol, but whereas Warhol’s work features a style and imagery that is readily accessible, Beuys intentionally devised challenging work, layered with meaning and metaphor.
Coming to terms with his involvement in the war features in much of his artwork. Beuys often said that his interest in fat and felt as sculptural materials (Fig. 1) grew out of a wartime experience- a plane crash in the Crimea, after which he was rescued by nomadic Tartars who rubbed him with fat and wrapped him in felt to heal and warm his body. While the story appears to have little grounding in actual events (Beuys himself downplayed its importance in a 1980 interview), its poetics are strong enough to have made the story one of the most enduring aspects of his fascinating biography.
On his return from the war Beuys abandoned his plans for a career in medicine and enrolled in the Düsseldorf Academy of Art to study sculpture. He graduated in 1952, during the next years focused on drawing.
Beuys was introduced to performance art in 1962 when he encountered “Fluxus”, a nonconformist international group of artists who sought to upset perceptions of art and life. Beuys was a major pioneer of performance art. In his “actions,” (Fig. 3) as he called them, he used time, sound, and objects as sculptural materials. The “actions” also survive in photographs, films, and video that capture the power with which the artist used his physical and psychic energy to create unforgettable scenarios.
(Fig. 3) Joseph Beuys I Like America and America Likes Me, 1974
(Fig. 4) Blue on Centre,1984, Painted metal on card, 316 x 240 mm
The use of the square in Blue on Centre (Fig. 4) focuses attention on the simplicity of the shape and the colour, made all the more striking by the neutral cardboard background.
Beuys viewed colour as a ‘material’, using it deliberately and sparingly. As a primary colour, blue can be used to make other colours, and is often associated with spirituality.
Other examples of Beuy’s work can be seen at: