I am standing on the platform of Cuzco Station in the Madrid Metro, waiting for the train in front of me to roll on. It is packed, and I’ve had more than enough of the human crush to fill one day.
As the train departs, another one in the opposite direction leaves at the same time. The last carriages of each train part like stage curtains, revealing the empty platform on the other side. A moment of silence comes as the train leaves. In front of me is an empty advertising unit, resplendent in its deep blue.
Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.
Blue is a common color for most metro and outdoor advertising spaces in repose between campaigns. The backs of most advertisements are a stock blue color, and a quick method of not giving free advertising beyond an ad’s contracted run is to flip a spare poster around and past it backwards, the blue backing filling the space until the next paid ad. Many cities have their own shade of blue space holder. London’s is a very pale blue. Beijing’s resembles the solid blue of a computer monitor when a program crashes. The color behind Madrid’s ads is special. Unique in my personal experience. Its blue is a perfect International Klein Blue.
International Klein Blue was created by Parisian artist Yves Klein and became his signature identity. For Klein, this particular blue was the universal portal, a limitless dimension for exploration and contemplation. I can say from experience that “Yves Klein Blue” is notoriously difficult to reproduce accurately. Madrid nailed it, yet keeps its achievement tucked away on the backs of its posters, showing it off only in the gap between paid advertising campaigns.
Blue is the universal love in which man bathes – it is the terrestrial paradise.
Years ago, I projected International Klein Blue onto the flytower of The National Theatre in London. The rich, solid blue wash of color was meant to create a public monument visible for miles along the Thames for remembrance on World AIDS Day. The audio of Derek Jarman’s BLUE, his narrative tale of his own slow fade into the disease, was broadcast to headsets worn by those standing the theatre. It took weeks to get the exact blue color of the projection right, to honor Klein, Jarman, and the heavenly nature of this particular blue.
Now I’m sitting across from an empty advertising frame filled with this perfect blue. I know it is nothing more than the back of a previous advertisement. It is a perfect moment for the same reason. A color so loaded with history and significance, reserved for display in the most mundane gaps between commercial messaging.
I smile realizing that the Madrid Metro’s International Klein Blue placeholder could reshape one of Klein’s quotes about the color into a critique of advertising. “At first there is nothing, then there is a profound nothingness, after that a blue profundity.”
My train comes and I get on. Immense joy reframes my entire day and I no longer mind the crush of people with the memory of that blue in me.
You say to the boy open your eyes
When he opens his eyes and sees the light
You make him cry out. Saying
O Blue come forth
O Blue arise
O Blue ascend
O Blue come in
– Derek Jarman