Le Grand Blue: The Blue Bar in the Berkeley Hotel

A night on the town at The Blue Bar, possibly the chicest lounge in London, will leave you feeling anything but melancholy.

Lolling on a beach in the south of France, staring off into the infinite horizon where crystal-clear cerulean waters segue into azure skies, three youths divvied up the spoils of existence amongst themselves. With the world their proverbial and literal oyster, this was one of those masters-of-the- universe pow-wows that bright young things without a franc in their pockets but hearts brimming with daydreams are apt to have. 'Earth,' declared Arman (Fernandez). Claude (Pascal) chose words. And Yves (Klein)? Yves laid claim to the intangible space that envelopes us all. Call it Nietzschean der Wille zur Macht ('will to power'), the Pygmalion effect, self-actualisation in the organismic theoretical sense, or what the wheatgrass smoothie-and-colonics crowd hail in their New Age spiritual vernacular - otherwise known as psychojabberwocky - as the 'Celestine Prophecy', there is much empirical evidence that supports the veracity of the postulate known as the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Here at this conquer-and-divide pact, Klein had foretold the story of his art, his mission impossible: to plumb the depths of the infinite yonder. From the early Monotone Symphony(a single 20-minute sustained chord followed by a 20-minute silence) to the intense monochromes, all paved the way to the 'Proposte Monochrome, Epoca Blu' ('Proposition Monochrome: Blue Epoch') exhibition, the culmination of one man's singular vision - 11 canvases, all identical, swathed in a startling, saturated, soul-stirring shade of bleu, a striking hue almost retina-searing, but by virtue of not and just almost, exquisite to behold. The show went on to become a critical and commercial success, Yves Klein an art-world darling, and IKB ('International Klein Blue') an art world byword for killer chic. Colour had arrived, so to speak, moving beyond depicting to the depicted, from being the central component to becoming the art itself. Created with the assistance of Edouard Adam, a Parisian paint dealer, IKB was essentially pure ultramarine pigment suspended in a clear synthetic resin known as Rhodopas, which preserved the visual impact and showcased the brilliance of the pigment far better than other binding mediums, such as linseed oil.

Why blue? That, ladies and gentlemen, is a damn fine question, pardon my colloquialism. Over 300 years ago, Sir Isaac Newton recounts being 'In a very dark Chamber, at a round Hole, about one third Part of an Inch broad, made in the Shut of a Window', where he cunningly 'placed a Glass Prism'. What a very understated and prosaic manner of introducing and imposing his personal paradigm of colour unto Nature, the sly old fox. For, my friends, that is the very prism scattering pure sunlight into what Sir Isaac arbitrarily, really, determined to be seven individual hues. Till this very day, it is through his prism we view colour, his paradigm we organise colour - orange betwixt red and yellow, indigo inserted between blue and violet. Talk about 'God complex'. Anyway, were Newton peering down from the pearly gates (or wherever it is physicists-cum-theologians with heretical-to-orthodoxy Christian faiths go to Requiescat in pace), he would surely have approved; what could be truer art than coaxing the ultimate blueness out of blue?

That stake on the intangible space that envelopes us all made by a 19-year old boy boastfully trash-talking whilst sunbathing on a beach in Nice? Yves had made good on his promise, for in his eyes, no other colour had a quality as close to pure space as his beloved luminous blue, could be as symbolic as the incorporeal realm that lay beyond the pale. To experience a work by Yves Klein - or for that matter Mark Rothko or James Turrell - is to experience the sublime. Ditching 19th-century Romantic representational models (read: fuzzy seascapes, rolling landscapes and other picturesque vistas, sometimes degenerating into formulaic sentimental tack) in favour of apparently simple and seemingly random permutations of abstracted colour, light and space, these artists and their art elicit in, nay demand from, the viewer a response that is no less gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, heart-stopping and all-round transcendental.


Joycelyn Shu


September 2015


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