• Variations autour de La Longue Marche
  • Domitille d’Orgeval
    Art historian and curator

The Path of Colour

For its fourth edition, Hermès Éditeur invited the artist Julio Le Parc, a major exponent of kinetic and optical art, to appropriate its emblematic silk scarf. A veritable hymn to colour, his proposition, Variations autour de La Longue Marche, resulted in an edition of ten series of six silk scarves, each one unique.

As Pierre-Alexis Dumas, who initiated Hermès Éditeur, points out, each encounter is a new and singular adventure. It was seeing the artist’s large solo show at the Palais de Tokyo in 2013 that made him want to meet Julio Le Parc. The score of small gouaches lined up along a picture wall particularly fascinated Dumas: “Those gouaches, done on squared paper, were incredibly fresh. I immediately thought of the way we experiment with colour in our printing workshops in Lyon.” The studies in question reflect an interest in colour that has marked the artist’s career ever since its beginning, in 1959. They represent the core of his work, the source of future developments and, in particular, the historical source of the Variations autour de La Longue Marche.

Le Parc explains the reasons behind his methodical approach to colour as follows: “I started my experiments with colour in 1959, taking care to not just do colourism. […] Although limited, it seemed to me that these fourteen colours could sum up all the possible variations of chromatic mixes.” Even as early as 1958 Le Parc felt the need to objectify his creative resources, to use neutral, anonymous means of execution in order to create an art of exactitude rather than something reflecting the artist’s creative personality. Some ten years later, in 1970, Le Parc started working in larger formats, with a view to making his experiments more legible. Among the results, La Longue Marche (1974–75) stands out for its monumentality. It works through the system of the fourteen colours of the chromatic prism in a suite of ten square paintings, all with sides of two metres.

As its title indicates, Le Parc’s project for the fourth edition of Hermès Éditeur is a set of variations on six of the ten square paintings and not a simple transposition of La Longue Marche: as the artist explains, the original work “could be used to develop other possibilities with new forms; to change scales, the order of colours. This led me to discover new visual situations. I needed to find something new, to make suggestions, think and imagine. It’s very exciting and stimulating.” The result is something quite new, because Le Parc has divided the sixty pieces of the edition on silk into two categories: those that go through the fourteen colours of the prism, and those that were elaborated from the three non-colours. Another liberty taken with regard to the original model is that the web of lines is no longer developed solely on a white ground, but also on coloured monochrome grounds: yellow, green, blue, two hues of red, orange or shades of greys in the various series. Each time the result is different, and surprising. Here, Le Parc plays on chromatic saturation; there, on the strength of the contrasts, or again on the vibrant, harmonious, proximity of shades. The transposition of Le Parc’s pictorial system onto the smooth, satiny support of the silk is a real challenge: it is not always easy to clearly delimit the surfaces without outlining the colour, to achieve mastery of the material without drawing attention to the technical process. This is where the Hermès artisans show their skill, in printing on silk without recourse to the serti technique, using the edge-to-edge method. The exercise is all the more demanding in that the principle of Hermès scarves is that the back should show as handsomely as the front: the drawing must “traverse” (traverser) as the established expression has it. As Pierre-Alexis Dumas foresaw, Le Parc’s rigorous and systematic working method really does resonate with the craft of textile-making.

As Le Parc makes clear, this work is a metaphor that can apply to many different fields. It perfectly embodies the artist’s cyclical creative mode, but also sums up the long path of his artistic career. Looking back over his past, Le Parc reveals, with a touch of modesty, that “My long march began when I was a child in a tiny little village. I used to go out to the edge of the village, to the desert. I always looked out to where the sun was rising, that is to say, to the east. I looked to the other side, where I could imagine the sea being. I had no idea that one day I would travel a thousand one hundred kilometres to reach the sea, to cross the Atlantic, to come to France and develop things there. That is my long march. But the end of this long march is not when I die. This long march will continue. It is then, a metaphor for the human condition, but a happy metaphor.”