The sinister blue sky

19.41, Monday 18 Jul 2022

I was at Tate Modern (London’s modern art museum) over the weekend and saw IKB 79 – my first time encountering International Klein Blue in the flesh.

Description in the catalogue: IKB 79 was one of nearly two hundred blue monochrome paintings Yves Klein made during his short life.

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.

(There are other colours owned by artists including Vantablack, the blackest black, under exclusive license to Anish Kapoor; and PINK, the pinkest pink, by Stuart Semple which is available to any artist for $3.99 except Anish Kapoor: Online buyers are even required to sign a sworn statement that they are not Anish Kapoor, are not related to him, and that the pigment will not end up in his hands.)

What I hadn’t expected about International Klein Blue:

IKB 79 is so large, and the blue is so deep. As I looked it filled my eyes and somehow, an illusion I guess, something happening in the retina, it saturated me, I stopped seeing it.

Instead after 30 seconds or so: I began to see a deep black together with IKB, both at once, behind it somehow. Beyond the blue, the void.

Yves Klein’s origin story (BBC):

One summer’s day in 1947, three young men were sitting on a beach in Nice in the south of France.

Klein, the third man:

The third man opted for the mineral realm, before lying back and staring up at the ultramarine infinity of the heavens. Then, with the contentment of someone who had suddenly decided what course his life should take, he turned to his friends and announced, “The blue sky is my first artwork.”

And, seeing International Klein Blue, I understand: it is the sky. Not so much in colour - though of course yes that too - but in a truer sense. Behind the sky there is the infinite depth, the darkness, the black of space.

Even the azure of the south of France, after the gazing up with the innocence of youth, after that, the reality of – well, everything.


ANYWAY: it’s hot in London.

The temperature today and tomorrow is forecast to hit 40C.

Here’s a list of the hottest day each year from 1900 in the UK. It’s never been 40C. It’s been 37C twice and 38C twice, that’s all.

Walking to the train station this morning, it was unnaturally quiet – people have been advised to stay home.

The birds sang. The trees are green and in full leaf. It’s summer. The heat.

The blue sky – threatens.

Hot days, blue skies, have changed since I was a kid, slowly. A mesofact.

It used to be that the blue sky was about bbq and the beach and hanging out in the forest with friends. Gorgeous days.

Now it’s that, but also the blue sky is sinister somehow.

Don’t you get that, just a little?

It’s a quiet reminder of the climate crisis. It’s not going to get cooler from here on out. This is a warning from the future: as I get older this will happen more regularly at first; then this will happen every summer. Wild burns and sea levels rising; fire and flood. The ghost of summers yet to come. A silent glance cloaked innocuously in a calm July sky; it’s blue right now with wisps of cloud. It’s always going to be there now, that feeling. I mean, I still enjoy it, it’s still a beautiful day, but.

An omen overhead.

It’s taken 30 years not 30 seconds but, same same, the black beyond the blue.

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