I will never forget my first figure drawing class. As calm and collected as I tried to be, the moment the model disrobed and stood in front of me, I was nervous, embarrassed, and curious. In the name of art, I could stare at a naked man or woman and not be considered a pervert. How liberating!
Working in the fashion industry, I saw many parallels to the artist’s studio. Naked bodies are every present in the atelier – fittings, dress rehearsals, runway shows. After the initial shock value faded, I noticed that the constant exposure to nudity made me a connoisseur of the human form. In fashion and art, ideal beauty changes with time. (For more on this, you’d love my previous posts Moovies, Boobies, and Ideal Beauty and A Return to the Ideal) The only constant is the human desire to display the body in an appealing way.
Recently, I came across the work of Yves Klein (1928-1962). From 1960-1962, Klein did a series of paintings called Anthropomtries (Anthropometry in English). Anthropometry was Klein’s term for covering naked female models in blue paint and dragging them across or pressing them onto canvases. The models were “living brushes”, and their naked bodies made the images. Seeing photos of Klein slather his signature ‘International Klein Blue’ (IKB) paint on voluptuous French models was so overtly sexual I was almost embarrassed that I found the image while at work. Almost.
These works of art became public performances. Klein directed the models, covered in IKB to make imprints of their bodies on large sheets of paper in front of audiences. The “exhibition” was complete with blue cocktails and a performance of his Monotone Symphony a single note played for twenty minutes, followed by twenty minutes of silence. The resulting artwork is quite beautiful. However, I think this is one of the rare cases where the product must be accompanied with an accurate description of the process.
These shows were successes, both commercially and critically. Anthropometry is the study of human proportions, and by systematically directing the “living paint brushes” Klein believed his art was the most concentrated expression of vital energy imaginable. I would agree with Klein on that statement.
Anthropometry has some similarities with Veruschka’s Oxydationen series. However, Veruschka’s use of body paint serves more to obscure her naked body. Klein has managed to capture human sexuality and fling it on the canvas. It’s like being a novice in figure drawing class all over again.
You can watch a video of the Anthropometry performance below. Enjoy!