A Blue Fairy Tale

Posted by on Nov 24, 2017 in Blog, Inspiration | One Comment

Years ago there was an Yves Klein (1928-62) exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London. He was an extrovert artist who created ‘International Klein Blue’ which is, to be frank, very like ultramarine blue. As I walked into the show, plain Klein Blue canvases stood out, beautiful and bright against bare white walls. As I looked away plain squares of dazzling yellow appeared wherever I looked at white – that is, I wasn’t seeing the famous K. Blue, but yellow.

So what was going on? It’s simply that every colour has a partner which is opposite it on the colour wheel. And when we saturate our eyes with one colour they will often reproduce its opposite, best seen on a white background.  Red turns to green or green to red, orange to turquoise, yellow to blue. But it’s odd, isn’t it, that our eyes reproduce the opposite?  Klein Blue – Lemon Yellow. Ba boom.

Complementary Colour Wheel

There’s another brilliant trick the eyes play, called the Colour Fairies. My painting tutor at Bath was a formidable lady, but in all seriousness she told us students about the fairies, because they can affect how you see.

While you’re looking at a painting which has several colours your eye may pick out, say, a particular blue. That will be a colour fairy, a blue one. Instantly your eyes will take in all the other areas of blue in the painting, and for a few seconds they will stand out together from the painting.

It works like this: 

Blue colour fairies wear blue, including all the different blues the artist used, and it’s the same with the other colours in the painting – green fairies, pink fairies, wherever they have been painted (or danced to) and only one colour of fairy at a time will attract and hold your attention. How does it work? I have no idea.

Are area by Paul GauguinThis bright painting by Paul Gauguin is quite a good one for fairy spotting. One colour stands out easily from the rest in most of its positions but there’s another colour that will be less straightforward;  don’t forget, your eyes can pick up very small areas of the colour fairy you’re looking for, and different versions of it.


Blue Monochrome

Blue Monochrome (1957) by Yves Klein

This is Blue Monochome 1957 by Yves Klein, in the famous blue. Maybe off to the side you’ll see yellow like I saw. He said he was awakened by looking into a clear blue sky and realising the infinity of space, and this led him to create his blue.

Anthropométrie sans titre (1961)

Anthropométrie sans titre (1961)

Klein was an innovator. Here is his Anthropométrie sans titre (1961) painting, achieved by painting models’ bodies with Klein Blue and then having them press themselves onto the canvas. He staged a performance of this. He died young at 34 but, well done him! his paintings are held in major galleries of the world.


1 Comment

  1. philippa
    May 1, 2020

    I missed these last few… I love his work.
    I have a book showing him jumping off buildings ! insanity..

    PS I did see the yellow against the blus mass – like an aura.

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