Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

"May all that emerges from me be beautiful."

What a great prayer, right?

Read this sharp New Yorker profile of Yves Klein - French modern artist, fellow blue-lover, interesting dude who died far too young, all the way back in 1962 - and find in it yet another inspiration to craft a life for yourself that is iconoclastic, artistic, beautiful. The guy was spiritual in a vaguely-religious kind of way, along with being bizarro in that fabulously obscure Warhol-Beuys-Hirst-esque modern artist kind of mold.

I've long loved Klein's famously-patented "International Klein Blue" works; the SFMoMA features one of his big, splashy, undeniably erotic body-art pieces. Once you know one, it's easy to recognize any others you come across. But did you know the guy was a master judo practitioner, or that he died of a heart attack at 34? Me neither. Art critic Peter Schjeldahl describes Klein's bluesy inspiration:
He dated his aesthetic from a day at the beach in Nice, in 1947, when he “signed the sky.” (He hated birds, he said, “because they tried to bore holes in my greatest and most beautiful work.”)
Ohhhh, sky. Yes. Now it all makes sense. And that provides a kind of lens through which to see the body of his work. But what's really interesting to me is how Schjeldahl touches on Klein's religiosity in his review of the current retrospective show:
But I think the inescapable key to Klein’s character is his religiosity. It set him apart, and still does, in the resolutely secular parishes—commercial, institutional, and academic—of contemporary art. He never spoke of God, that I know of; a compunction of intellectual taste seems to have forbidden it. Certainly, he was more Gnostic than fundamentalist in the drift of his beliefs. But there’s no separating the improbable power of conviction in his art from the worship of a cosmic principle. The problem points up a recurring blind spot in the reception of modern art, as when scholars duly note the Theosophical faith of Kandinsky or Mondrian and then make as little as possible of it, concerning the work. And let it be recalled that Andy Warhol, as revolutionary an artist in effect as Klein was in aspiration, was an observant Catholic, too. Will any thesis writer pluck this low-hanging fruit?
I wonder if Schjeldahl knows about all the work done on that little hill over in Berkeley in terms of Jasper Johns, Warhol, et al's, religiosity? Because those theses have been written, by scholars like Dillenberger and Adams and whatnot; some of the most enjoyable hours of my grad work in theology and material culture were spent poring over Diebenkorns and Warhols and Pollocks at the various Bay Area art museums that provide sanctuary for their scintillating and often heart-rending works.

I love this vaguely-subversive religious angle - it lends such depth to the sometimes ostensibly 2-dimensional art - and wish more critics would make use of it. Whether it's a matter of finding the sacred in art - as manifestation of an experience of or flirtation with the divine - or even using art to note the utter emptiness, the lack, the void that is life, that bleak existentialist observation of the absence of meaning in beauty - it's always an important undercurrent. For me, it's the difference between walking away from a work untouched or being shaken by a reminder of what it feels like to be alive. And isn't that the whole point?

Catch the Klein show if you're in DC. Soak up some of that blue for those of us who can't.

True Blue: An Yves Klein Retrospective (New Yorker)


shjohnson said…
Dear Rachel--I went to the Yves Klein show yesterday--it was unbelievably beautiful. His ultramarine blue is so gorgeous you want to live in it! The whole show was gorgeous beyond words.

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