David Jones, artist and poet (1895-1974) begins his PREFACE TO THE ANATHEMATA :

'I have made a heap of all that I could find.' (1) So wrote Nennius, or whoever composed the introductory matter to Historia Brittonum. He speaks of an 'inward wound' which was caused by the fear that certain things dear to him 'should be like smoke dissipated'. Further, he says, 'not trusting my own learning, which is none at all, but partly from writings and monuments of the ancient inhabitants of Britain, partly from the annals of the Romans and the chronicles of the sacred fathers, Isidore, Hieronymous, Prosper, Eusebius and from the histories of the Scots and Saxons although our enemies . . . I have lispingly put together this . . . about past transactions, that [this material] might not be trodden under foot'. (2)

(1) The actual words are coacervavi omne quod inveni, and occur in Prologue 2 to the Historia.
(2) Quoted from the translation of Prologue 1. See The Works of Gildas and Nennius, J.A.Giles, London 1841.

30 January 2009

Yves Klein and the secret knowledge of John the Evangelist


To complete this brief Yves Klein suite of posts, a 1951 image of Yves in Madrid looking at El Greco's Saint John the Evangelist. This photo appears on the Yves Klein Archive website where the caption merely says, "Yves Klein in Madrid in front of a painting by El Greco, feb-jun 1951".

bLOGOS/HA HA doesn't have any books about Yves Klein so what follows is mere speculation, perhaps already well addressed by others.

Was this was a casual day-at-the-gallery snap or did Klein have a particular interested in El Greco? Or in this particular painting? Maybe in its subject
Saint John the Evangelist?

There is a shadow in the photo, which I take to be Klein's, cast over a section of the painting. (Klein is strongly lit from behind but we see him from the side, so the shadow is either cast from a flash at 90 degrees to the camera, which seems unlikely, or perhaps there is a window or other strong light source behind him.) With the image thus obscured, we see Klein regarding
what appears to be a gesture of open handed offering by the Saint. As the reproduction below shows - the work is in The Prado Museum, Madrid - the open hand is in fact gesturing to the hidden other hand, the right, and to its extraordinary contents.

As well as the golden chalice having allusions to the Last Supper and
- following upon the earlier miracle at Cana in which Jesus transformed water to wine - to the promise of transsubstantiation.

The dragon rising from the chalice signifies another such conversion of material. The legend is that the Evangelist was offered a chalice of poison by
the high priest of the Temple of Diana at Ephesus who suggested to him that if his god was the true god then he, John, should be able to drink the poison without harm. Saint John then blessed the offering and the poison is said to have departed the chalice in the form of a dragon. Thus he was able to drink it safely.

Klein, too, was a performer of public acts of faith (Leap into the Void; performance painting with "living brushes") and was committed to a practice of material-to-immaterial transmutation (gold in exchange for Le Vide; the spirit of the monochromes; International Klein Blue; the monogolds; his 1961
ex-voto for Saint Rita of Cascia).

As Klein contemplates El Greco's Saint John the Evangelist perhaps he not only notes the alchemical transformation of the poison of the Golden Chalice, but considers also the Gold Frame and its content, the poison of illusion; and the Golden Label fixed to that frame, with it's dualistic poison, reverberation of Eden and Babel,

and determines that these too shall be purified : the Monogolds!
The Monogolds appeared at the same time as the Cosmogonies and the Anthropometries, in 1960, followed by the Peintures de Feu [Fire Paintings] in 1961. All these works, in which the painting appears to break free from its frame, evoke themes of passage and ritual. The passage from the visible to the invisible is embodied particularly in one of his last pieces, simultaneously artistic and religious: a box filled with gold powder and blue and pink pigments created in 1961 as an ex-voto dedicated to Saint Rita, the patron saint of the impossible. [below]

Why might Yves Klein in 1951 - who later, in 1960, would publish in his own one-off newspaper, Dimanche, his 'Leap into the Void' plus various writing and an advertisement for his judo school - have been interested, knowingly or otherwise, in the author of the gospels of Saint John the Evangelist?

The Gnostic Society Library introduces the Apocryphon (Secret Book) of John thus :

Among the several dozen ancient Gnostic manuscripts rediscovered in modern times, the Secret Book of John is generally agreed to be the most important. It has been called the locus classicus for the Gnostic mythological system – in sum, it is the preeminent “Gnostic Gospel”, a sacred reservoir for the defining essence of Gnostic myth and revelation. It breathes with the life of vision that vitalized early Christianity, a life suppressed and then largely forgotten in later ages. (More...)
They quote this extract from the Apocryphon of John :

I have come to teach you about what is, and what was, and what will be in order for you to understand the invisible world, and the world that is visible, and the immovable race of perfect humanity.

Sound familiar? This from Wikipedia :

At the age of nineteen, Klein and his friends lay on a beach in the south of France, and divided the world between themselves; Arman chose the earth, Claude, words, whilst Yves chose the ethereal space surrounding the planet, which he then preceded to sign:

'With this famous symbolic gesture of signing the sky, Klein had foreseen, as in a reverie, the thrust of his art from that time onwards - a quest to reach the far side of the infinite.'' [Yves Klein, Weitemeier, Taschen 2001]
This from Klein (1957) :

While working on my paintings in the studio, I sometimes used sponges. Very quickly they obviously became blue! One day I noticed the beauty of the blue in the sponge; in an instant this working instrument became raw material for me. It is the sponge’s extraordinary capacity to be impregnate itself with anything fluid that attracted me. Thanks to the wild living material of sponges, I was going to be able to do the portraits of the beholders of my monochromes, who, after having seen them, after having traveled through the blue of my paintings, come back totally impregnated in sensibility, like sponges.
And on gold :
Gold, Klein once said, “impregnates the painting and gives it eternal life.” Gold is the matter that leads to immateriality. (More here...)
Yves Klein looks at Here Lies Space.

Klein lying under Here Lies Space, 1960. The artist had this prescient photograph taken on 3 March 1962, a few weeks before his death. Half in jest, half in an attempt to ward off the inevitable, he asked his wife to scatter a wreath of roses on the grave.
[Yves Klein, Weitemeier, Taschen 2001]