Cultured Magazine

Winter 2012

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HermesCulturedMiamiDec_REV_Layout 1 11/19/12 5:37 PM Page 96 HermesC COLOR THEORY Hiroshi Sugimoto moves from black and white to pure color in a new line of limited-edition scarves for Hermès. The Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto is renowned for his mastery of black and white—and what he considers to be a near-infinite array of silvery tones in between. He has used the palette to capture seas, horizons, static bursts and flickering lights. His expertly lit black-andwhite portraits of historic figures rendered in wax at Madame Tussauds (Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Princess Di among them) are so rich and volumetric it seems as if he traveled back in time to take them. And his black-and-white renderings of taxidermy wolves, rams and vultures at the American Museum of Natural History have such drama and depth it seems they could have only been snapped from life. But when, two years ago, Hermès contacted the artist about making a limited-edition line of silk scarves, the iconic fashion house found that he had been working in a different vein entirely. His subject matter: pure color. Sugimoto had been toying with the idea for quite a while. "People say I'm a master of black and white, and I always want to betray people's expectations," he says, sitting in the office area of his Chelsea studio (the artist splits his time between Tokyo and New York). "To master black and white you have to be already master of color. Black and white seems to have a very narrow tonal range, but it is actually unlimited. To me, color is very easy. I just want to prove that I can do it as well as black and white." Taking Sir Isaac Newton's prismatic breakthrough (i.e. splitting a ray of light into the many hues of the rainbow, now known by the acronym "Roy G. Biv") and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's subsequent refutation (Goethe argued that color is an emotional phenomenon, interpreted and experienced via the brain) as starting points, Sugimoto concocted a sort of experiment in his Tokyo workspace. He built a tall, totemic prism that refracted the morning light into its elemental colors and onto a nearby white wall. He has been building and tweaking the prism for about a decade now, but this particular series was completed over the course of the winter of 2009-10, when the air in Tokyo was cool and crisp and the sunlight cut through it in pure beams. Using what would be some of the last available batches of Po96 CULTURED laroid film (he phoned suppliers throughout Tokyo, he says, and bought out just about every pack that was left after the company's 2009 closure), Sugimoto snapped the colors projected on the wall daily at dawn. "It was like shooting a moving object," he says, recounting mornings spent busily tracing colors as they blended in and out of one another, essentially trying to catch and capture the sun. Polaroid was the perfect medium for a project like this, he adds. It doesn't allow for the kind of sharpness he requires in much of his figurative work, but here, the soft focus creates a painterly, abstract quality. Yellow bleeds into chartreuse, then an acidic green; orange, red and aqua swaths butt up against black horizons; and deeply saturated monochromes are, in fact, anything but, bearing an organic blend of dozens, if not hundreds, of different hues. Sugimoto and Hermès artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas selected 20 such images to be emblazoned on panels of silk using the most advanced inkjet-printing technology in existence. The resulting scarves, collectively titled "Colors of Shadow," were made in editions of seven and are available exclusively at The scarves were first exhibited at Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland, in June alongside a selection of the Polaroids upon which they're based. The show then traveled to the Hermès flagship store in Tokyo's tony Ginza district, where it remains on view through the end of the year. A special showing of the exhibition will take place in Miami from December 7th to 9th at Hermès' new temporary Design District location. Sugimoto is the third artist to lend his work to the French luxe label's classic carrés. Past editions bore the work of Josef Albers and Daniel Buren. The artist says he is pleased with the way his colors were preserved and reproduced on silk and that the painterly look of the original Polaroids remains intact. He also says he's tickled by the works' association to that of another artist who doggedly studied the sublime and transformative potential of pure color: Mark Rothko. "But if this was a Rothko, it would maybe cost $50 million," he joked. "Colors of Shadow," December 7th-9th, 175 NE 40th Street, Miami PORTRAIT BY TADZIO BY RACHEL WOLFF

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