FC1: Art is made with love
Fifty years. Fifty years since this painting was created. Memory is transformative. What remains is no doubt more subjective than anything else.
Yves had received the boards which he had carefully framed. They were enormous and very heavy. Their transportation had to be organized, the models hired: Elena, Gilles; the photographers: Pierre Joly and Véra Cardot, the cameraman, the artist Alex Kosta as the fireman, and some assistants for the handling.
The setting in that industrial warehouse was surreal; the cold, the water and the noise of the flame-thrower which Yves manipulated with apparent ease even though it weighed over eighty pounds.
Seeing these photographs again, I seem all huddled up in a corner where I sat, 4 or 5 months pregnant. The atmosphere was tense: we were all aware that something of historical importance was happening. Nevertheless, nothing was left to chance. Yves was working methodically; his concentration was impressive, almost painful, on the edge of rupturing: we were all fascinated. He went from panel to panel, positioning the girls differently for each one, imagining choreographies and settings beyond our understanding, as obviously a wet body does not leave any visible traces until it is revealed by the magic of fire - just like the image which suddenly appears in the photographer's lab, except that here no cheating was possible. Looking at the short film and the many pictures which document this event, one becomes conscious of the sheer physical feat that the creation of these works represents.
"Art is made with love." The love of the parent who, after numerous months of sleepless nights, takes the child in his arms without any thought of his own pain, absorbed by his love for the other. I believe that, for Yves, much love was necessary throughout his career. That day was an extraordinary day, in every respect.
This painting, which for me is his absolute masterpiece, came close to not existing. The session was over; he had exhausted all his strength and was sitting down wiping off his sweat and trying to resume his normal breathing. In the left-hand corner of the studio I pointed out a panel which Yves had forgotten. The fire had to be rekindled and the models watched, fascinated as we all were, as this major work of Yves' - and I am convinced of 20th Century - was completed. I felt guilty about this for years afterwards. I should have told him to stop. I felt responsible for what happened a few weeks later.
Rotraut Klein-Moquay, to Christie's, March 25, 2012
"My aim is twofold; first of all to register the trace of human sentimentality in present-day civilization: secondly, to register the trace of fire which has engendered this very same civilization. And this because the void has always been my constant preoccupation and I hold that in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man, fires are burning" (Y. Klein, Chelsea Hotel Manifesto, New York, 1961, quoted in Pierre Restany, Yves Klein, Fire at the Heart of the Void, Putnam, Conn. 2005, p. xv).
FC1 (Fire Color 1) is one of the great masterpieces of Yves Klein's diverse, mystical and enormously influential art. An image of apotheosis, it is the largest and most ambitious of the artist's celebrated Fire-Color paintings - the consummate series of works that constitute what Klein's friend and collaborator, the critic Pierre Restany described as the aesthetic culmination of Klein's entire artistic practice (P. Restany, Yves Klein, Fire at the Heart of the Void, Puttnam, Conn. 2005 p. 52). Depicting the ethereal image of two female figures seemingly dancing or rising amidst the fiery blue, gold and red flame-licked surface of the work to the point where their bodies seem to hover on the borderlines of abstraction - between the realms of the material and the immaterial - FC1 is one of the most spectacular, moving and complete images of the mystic concept of human transcendence in all of Klein's work and in twentieth century art as a whole.
Today Yves Klein is widely recognized alongside Jackson Pollock in the USA and Lucio Fontana in Italy for example, as one of the leading artists of the 1950s and early'60s, responsible for enlarging the traditional field of painting into the wider realms of performance and conceptual art. Declaring himself to be a 'painter of space' and a pioneer of 'the void', Klein's pictures, like those of Pollock and Fontana were ultimately the product of gestural acts made in space and time rather than directly on the canvas. Where Pollock's fluid drips had effectively operated in and articulated the space above the canvas and Fontana's cuts and holes had opened up the picture plane to the infinity of space existing within and all around the material canvas structure of the picture itself, Klein's 'immaterial' pigmented color and adoption of nude models as 'living brushes' created pictures that were also a demonstrative material record of the essentially immaterial concepts, actions and gestures that had gone into their making. Klein's later adoption of fire as a painterly medium in Fire paintings such as FC1 in many ways marks the culmination of this direction in his work. Using the appropriate metaphor of fire and its material trace as an illustration of the immaterial nature of such creative actions, Klein famously described his paintings as being "only the ashes of his art". The real dwelling place of his art, he believed, like that of his true being or soul, lay within an immaterial domain of the spirit. The true nature of his art could only really be discerned, Klein insisted, within the fiery energy and action he put into his work and, in a wider and more profound sense, within the dedicated and often ritualistic manner in which he managed, organized and sought to live his entire life.
It was for this reason that almost all of Klein's artworks or materialized creations took the form of being mere traces of the invisible but all-permeating immaterial presence of the persistent subject of his work: the Void. From his blue monochromes - material crystallizations in pure pigment of the radiating immaterial presence of color - to the Anthropometries and Fire paintings in which the imprint or shadowy immaterial outline of the human figure is defined by the immaterial energy of either color or the flame of fire, Klein's aim, as Pierre Restany pointed out, was to attain images that showed the "mark of life that is diffused energy" (P. Restany, Yves Klein, New York, 1985, p. 210). Such 'paintings' as these or indeed Fire-Color paintings such as FC 1 which, as their title suggests, make use of both these immaterial elements, were intended to give material form to the omnipresence of the immaterial void, to articulate what Klein himself described as "the presence of absence" (Y. Klein quoted in P. Restany, Yves Klein, New York, 1985, p. 210).
Made using only the classical elements of fire, air, water, living flesh pressed against the picture surface and Klein's own sacred trilogy of colors, (red, gold and blue), FC 1 is a vast, holistic and all-encompassing work that in effect brings together and makes use of almost all the techniques of Klein's other great series of works - the Monochromes, Anthropometries, Cosmogonies and earlier 'fire' installations and paintings. A fire-born invocation of Klein's lifelong, religious and mystic ambition of transcending the material world to become one with the great immaterial realm of 'the Void', FC 1 is an almost devotional depiction of the sublimation of the human form within the great spiritual fire that Klein believed burnt eternally at the heart of 'the Void'. "Fire is the ultra living element" Klein declared in a lecture quoting the philosophy of Gaston Bachelard. "It is intimate and universal. It lives in our heart. It lives in the skyAmong all phenomena, it is really the only one to which there can be so definitely attributed the opposing values of good and evil. It shines in Paradise, it burns in hell. It is gentleness and torture. It is a tutelary and a terrible divinity, both good and bad. It can contradict itself, thus, it is one of the principles of universal explanation" (Y. Klein 'Le feu, ou l'avenir sans oublier le pass', quoting G. Bachelard,'Psychoanalysis of Fire' in S. Stich, Yves Klein, Stuttgart, 1994, p. 227).
As Pierre Restany has pointed out in his book devoted to the central importance of fire within Klein's entire aesthetic, in fire - this immaterial element, transforming energy and archetypal symbol of both the spirit and of transcendence - Klein ultimately discovered the consummate medium for his art. Klein had experimented with fire in a variety of ways throughout his career, but it was not until 1961 that he was to create his first fire paintings. Their genesis came about through the exhibition in Krefeld entitled Monochromes and Fire that Klein held in January 1961 where his Fire Fountains and the appropriately entitled Wall of Fire were first presented. These works comprised of 'immaterial' blue flames burning vertically and a rectangular wall of flame created with a sequence of carefully positioned bunsen burners. Within the apparently immaterial presence of these powerful blue colored flames Klein, in an apparent moment of revelation also recognized the flames' immaterial synthesis of his own sacred trilogy of colors - blue, red and gold - coexisting in the blue of the heart of the gas fire, the gold of its edges and the red in the sparks that they generated.
For the deeply religious Klein, a close follower of Max Heindel's Rosicrucian Cosmogony, the mystic trilogy of red, blue and gold held a special significance symbolizing both the holy Catholic trinity of Father (gold) Son (blue) and Holy Spirit (red) and also an alchemical trinity comprising of Sun (gold), Water, (blue) and Divine Blood (red) (P. Restany, Yves Klein, New York, 1985, p. 9). The simultaneous presence of these colors in the immaterial blue flames he had created at Krefeld seem to have prompted Klein into suddenly acting on a long-held aim of making a pilgrimage to Cascai to the shrine of his chosen religious patron, Saint Rita, the patron Saint of the Impossible and taking with him an ex voto offering he had made for her. This ex-voto was a unique work Klein had made which took the form of a Perspex case containing the blue-red-gold color trinity in the material form of pigment and real gold and a hand-written prayer in which he sought God's blessing and divine presence in all his future works. On his return to Krefeld and as a consequence of his realization of the synthetic expression of this trinity in the incandescence his flame, he set about, for the first time, attempting to fix its material trace by capturing on card an imprint of the burning flame. It was this action that led, a few months later to the creation of the first Fire paintings.
By March 1961, for the ground of his new 'fire' paintings, Klein had perfected a technique of using sheets of highly compressed Swedish cardboard covered with magnesium and cadmium-hydrate silicate and a magnetized surface that provided a greater resistance to combustion. These sheets which had the added benefit of being near gold in color were prepared for Klein in several sizes but, as the dimensions of FC 1 - the largest scale available - attests, they did not exceed beyond around three meters in length. For the creation of these radical new works Klein had also been allowed to use the testing center of Gaz de France at Plaine Sainte-Denis where he used the vast flames provided by the experimental laboratories' giant coke gas burners to burn and transform the surface of these paintings. "I made the flames lick the surface of the painting in such a way that it recorded the spontaneous traces of the fire," Klein recalled, "but what is it that provokes in me this pursuit of the impression of fire? Why must I search for its traces? Because every work of creation, quite apart from its cosmic position, is the representation of pure phenomenology - every phenomenon manifests itself of its own accord. This manifestation is always distinct from form, and is the essence of the immediate, the trace of the immediate" (Y. Klein, quoted in Yves Klein, exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London, 1974, p. 67).
In addition to the first Fire paintings in which Klein attempted only to capture traces of the flame itself - traces of its unique phenomenological presence - Klein also began to attempt to capture a similar momentary trace of what he believed to be the indestructible essence of human life in a number of Fire paintings that made use of his 'Anthropometric' technique of capturing the imprints and silhouettes of the human form using the nude. Unlike in the previous Anthropometries however, here, in these anthropometric Fire paintings, Klein sprayed water around and on his models so that when their naked bodies pressed against the cardboard surface of the work, its moistened areas were more resistant to the heat of the flames that Klein passed over it and the sense of an ineradicable trace of their living presence magically remained amidst the transforming traces of the flame.
Seeming to capture a picture of the moment of interchange between matter and spirit, many of these works, as with some of Klein's later shadowy Anthropometries appear to present the almost spectral-like human body floating in a state of spiritual transcendence, apotheosis or ascension. This effect was quite deliberate on Klein's part for with it he was attempting to articulate his long-held belief in the ultimate transcendent ability of the human spirit to be capable of fusing itself with the infinite immaterial realm of the void. It was a belief rooted in the ancient Gnostic quest of the alchemists of turning base material (or flesh) into sacred, spiritual gold (immortal, immaterial divinity) and one akin to what Carl Gustav Jung in his book on psychology and alchemy described as the process of Individuation. It was a belief that Klein himself repeatedly defined through his concept of the 'Leap into the Void' and a mystic aim that he actually sought, one day, to attain through a prolonged practice of levitation.
FC 1 is the consummate example from the series of Fire-Color paintings that Klein began making in the autumn of 1961 and continued to pursue throughout 1962 and provides the most complete pictorial expression of this mystic vision of the moment of interaction between man as flesh and man as spirit in Klein's entire oeuvre. For here, in addition to the alchemical elements of fire, water and flesh used in earlier Fire paintings, Klein has also added blue and red pigment sprayed and blown onto the golden card surface of the picture to create a trinity of color and finally added, over these, anthropometric imprints of each model's body. Made after Klein had been obliged to leave the Gaz de France plant after his use of nudes there had scandalized the proprietors, these imprints were made elsewhere by Klein's wife Rotraut and his favorite anthropometric model, Elena Palumbo, over their own sprayed silhouettes. FC 1 is the only example in Klein's series of Fire-Color series to incorporate such bodily outlines and imprints. In addition, in the company of his other great collective anthropometric visions of transcendence such as, People Begin to Fly and Hiroshima of 1961, FC 1 is also the only anthropometric painting on this scale to incorporate the added spiritually transforming elements of fire and Klein's mystic trilogy of color.
What FC 1 does share with such other great invocations of the momentary state of transcendence as People Begin to Fly and Hiroshima however, is the pictorial expression of the auspicious moment of transcendence or transmutation as a kind of ritualistic and celestial dance of figures into an abstract realm. Indeed it seems almost as if the demonstrably joyous physical essences of the youthful figures in these great works are dancing their way through the ethereal colored, and in FC 1 fiery, void like angels or hierophants at the very same time that their immutable imprints and outlines remain materially assertive and vivid on the shimmering and immaterial-looking surfaces of the pictures. Like Klein himself, and the energy that he expended on and gave to his work, the radiant and mysterious figurative images that remain seem to stand as haunting traces of the ineradicable energy of life that, at one time, magically entered into and passed through the work.
Robert Brown, International Head of Research, Christie's
FC1 (Fire Color 1)
Property from a Private Swiss Collector
Yves Klein , 20th Century, Paintings, France, Post War
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Yves Klein, October-December 1965, no. 40 (illustrated).
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, L'espace intérieur et extérieur, une exposition concernant un art universel, December 1965-February 1966, no. 198.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Yves Klein, March-April 1966, no. 40 (illustrated).
Lausanne, Galerie Bonnier, Yves Klein: Peintures de feu, 1966, no. 26 (illustrated).
New York, Jewish Museum, Yves Klein, January-March 1967.
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum, Yves Klein, February-March 1968, no. 29 (illustrated).
Kunsthalle Nuremberg, Yves Klein in Nüremberg, April-May 1968.
Prague, Narodni Galerie, Yves Klein 1928-1962, 1968, no. 34 (illustrated).
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Yves Klein, December 1970, no. 29 (illustrated in color).
Belgrade, Muzej savremene umetnosti, Yves Klein, slike, reljefi, skulpture, February-March 1971, no. 22 (illustrated).
Zagreb, Galerija Suvremene Umjetnosti, Yves Klein, March-April 1971, no. 45 (illustrated).
Berne, Kunsthalle and Kunstverein Hannover, Yves Klein, August 1971, no. 34 (illustrated).
Cagnes-sur-Mer, Château-Musée, Marie Raymond--Yves Klein, December 1972-February 1973.
Nationalgalerie Berlin; Neuer Berliner Kunstverain and Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Yves Klein, June-August 1976, n.p. (illustrated).
Houston, Rice Museum; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art and New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Yves Klein, 1928-1962: A Retrospective, February 1982-January 1983, no. 74 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Yves Klein, March-May 1983, p. 79 (illustrated).
Seibu Takanawa, Museum of Modern Art; Shiga, Museum of Modern Art and Fukushima, Iwaki City Art Museum, Yves Klein, July-September 1985.
XXé Biennale Internationale de São Paulo; Paris, Centre National des Arts Plastiques and Marseille, Centre de la Vieille Charité, Yves Klein--Alain Jacquet--Antonio Semeraro--Insights, October
1989-August 1990, p. 40 (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Yves Klein: the Fire Paintings, October-December 1992.
Oslo, Museet for Samtidskunst; Tampere, Sara Hildénin Art Museum and Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art Yves Klein, April 1997-March 1998, p. 185 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Regarding Beauty: A View of the Late Twentieth Century, October-January 2000, no. 32 (illustrated in color).
Nice, Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain and Prato, Museo Pecci, Yves Klein, Long Live the Immaterial!, April 2000-January 2001, pp. 180-181 (illustrated in color).
Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, Yves Klein into the Blue, September 2004-January 2005, p. 33 (illustrated in color).
Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum, Yves Klein, January-May 2005, pp. 176-177 (illustrated in color).
New York, Michael Werner, Yves Klein, Fire Paintings, October 2005, n.p. (illustrated).
Dusseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast and Saint-Étienne Métropole, Musée d'Art Moderne, Zero--Internationale Küunstler-Avantgarde der 50er/60er Jahre, April-July 2006, pp. 150-151 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou and Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Yves Klein: Corps, couleur, immatériel, October 2006-June 2007, n.p. (illustrated in color).
Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum, Declaring Space: Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, September 2007-February 2008, pp. 128-129 (illustrated in color).
New York, Sperone Westwater, ZERO in New York, November-December 2008, n.p. (illustrated in color).
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, May 2010-February 2011, pp. 242-243 (illustrated).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
55½ x 117¾ x 1 in. (141 x 299.5 x 3 cm.)
P. Wember, Yves Klein, Cologne, 1969, p. 134 (illustrated).
P. Restany, Yves Klein, Paris, 1982, p. 223 (illustrated).
J. Bory and P. Restany, Une vie dans l'art, Neuchâtel, 1983, pp. 28-29 (illustrated in color).
N. Charlet, Yves Klein, Munich, 2000, pp. 222-223 (illustrated in color).
G. Robinson, "Space explorers," Star-Telegram, September 2007, p. 4 (illustrated in color).
F. Colpitt, Spatial Overtures, New York, 2008, pp. 58-61 (illustrated in color).
K. Ottmann, Yves Klein, Barcelona, 2010, pp. 100-101 (illustrated in color).
Collection of the artist
Pierre Restany, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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