Walking out of Julio le Parc's 2013 solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Pierre-Alexis Dumas trembled with impatience. 'I was thinking, I have to meet him,’ he recalls. Dumas, the artistic director of Hermès had a specific reason in mind.
In 2008, he had launched a project called Hermès Éditeur, producing rare collections of the house’s iconic silk scarves in conjunction with renowned contemporary artists. 'I dreamed of collaborating with artists on limited editions,' he explains in the June 2015 edition of Wallpaper* (W*195). 'I wanted something spectacular, exquisite, challenging, that would awaken curiosity and awareness of the art of printing silk.'
Each Hermès Éditeur edition takes two years to realise, and the latest collection numbers 60 unique pieces in all. The project’s first iteration was based on works by the late Josef Albers; this was followed with editions by living artists – Daniel Buren in 2010 and Hiroshi Sugimoto in 2012.
When Dumas entered the Palais de Tokyo and saw Le Parc's work, he immediately knew that the artist should design the fourth edition. ‘He is a great master of abstraction and colour – of using colour to enter the language of our emotions,’ he explains.
Born in Argentina in 1928, Le Parc attended the School of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires, where he studied under Lucio Fontana. Fascinated with colour, in 1959 he chose the 14 prismatic shades he felt represented all the possible variations of chromatic mixtures, and has restricted himself to this palette ever since. Though his rules are strict – he applies colour using pre-determined systems, repetition and geometry – they allow for an almost unlimited amount of combinations.
Several weeks after seeing Le Parc's exhibition, Dumas visited the artist at his family home and studio in the Paris suburb of Cachan. He realised there was a chance Le Parc might decline the collaboration (in 1972, he refused an invitation to show a retrospective of his work at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) but, luckily, the two hit it off right away. It was, says Le Parc, a 'coup de foudre' – love at first sight.
The two men spent hours looking through the artist's paintings and archives, searching for the best work to adapt to silk. In fact, Dumas already knew which work he wanted for Hermès Éditeur. 'I was thinking of La Longue Marche but didn’t dare ask,' he admits. Fortunately, when it came up, Le Parc agreed.
The artist originally created La Longue Marche in 1974–75: it was a monumental horizontal work of ten panels of two sq m. Le Parc’s 14 colours, lined up in parallel bands on a white background, enter each frame from the right or left and exit again on the other side, weaving and twisting into diverse shapes across the canvas and forming an original composition in each square. 'The title worked well,' he says. 'It’s a long, open-ended progression with stages.'
For Hermès Éditeur, the artist opted to research new variations rather than simply copying the original work. Dumas already knew what potential his atelier could offer. 'The strength of silk printing is in the permutation of colours,' he says. 'Once we chose La Longue Marche, I knew we would really have fun.'
Le Parc riffed off six of the square paintings in La Longue Marche, plus three 'non-colours' (black, white and grey), ultimately coming up with ten series of six motifs. The first series is true to the original work. Another is similar, but with backgrounds that vary from light to dark grey. In others, the parallel strips of colour change position, or become black and white bands on solid backgrounds. The ninth series is all black and white – as is the tenth – but with very finely drawn lines.
Dumas says he has no idea who the next artist for Hermès Éditeur will be. He claims he has no wish list, but knows instinctively when he comes across the right person. 'I hope in 20 years we’ll look at all the different editions and say "it's like a literary collection, novels with their individual expressions that can stand next to each other",' he says. 'This,' he adds with a smile, 'is my own personal longue marche.'
For the unabridged version turn to page 094 of W*195