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3 July 2013

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Couleurs de l’ombre

From late-2009 to the beginning of 2010, my daily routine saw me rise at 5:30 every morning. First thing, I would check for hints of light dawning above the eastern horizon. If the day promised fair weather, next I would sight the ‘morning star’ shining to the upper right of the nascent dawn. Only then did I ready my old Polaroid camera and start warming up a film pack from the long winter night chill.

Sunlight travels through black empty space, strikes and suffers my prism, and refracts into an infinite continuum of colour. In order to view each hue more clearly, I devised a mirror with a special micro-adjusting tilting mechanism. Projecting the coloured beam from a prism onto my mirror, I reflected it into a dim observation chambre where I reduced it to Polaroid colours. Of course, I could further split those prismatic colours by adjusting the angle of that long tall mirror so as to reflect only the hue I want. I could split red into an infinity of reds. Especially when juxtaposed against the dark, each red appears wondrous unto itself. Moreover, colours change constantly. As the sun climbs on its arc, the colours from the prism vary moment by moment. It only takes a few minutes for red to turn orange then yellow. Cranking the worm gear by hand to adjust the mirror angle to compensate for the rising sun, I managed to keep the colour band within my field of vision.

I thought I had finished this project, but I availed myself of the opportunity to buy up the last existing stocks of expired Polaroid film from the final ebb of production. Consistently clear Tokyo winter mornings found me swimming in a sea of colours.

Hiroshi Sugimoto


For the third edition of Hermès Editeur, I chose to call on the talent of Hiroshi Sugimoto, I met when travelling in Asia a few years before. Sugimoto’s approach to his art, constantly exploring the resources of age-old craft skills so as to set up an inventive dialogue between history, traditions and a contemporary mode of expression, is very much at one with Hermès’ own philosophy. This realisation only confirmed my desire to appeal to this artist’s incisive, brilliant vision.

I can still remember very clearly the day I visited Hiroshi Sugimoto at his studio in Tokyo and he showed me his project, Colours of Shadow. At the centre of a large, light-filled room, rising like a column from floor to ceiling, there stood an optical glass prism of immaculate clarity. Hiroshi Sugimoto spent some months methodically taking Polaroids of these subtly varying gradations which were different every time. This was the chromatic epiphany that the artist suggested we could capture on our silk scarf.

The importance in this project of colour and abstraction, two notions close to my heart, made it perfectly coherent with the two previous editions by Hermès Editeur: Hommage au carré by Josef Albers (2008) and Photos-souvenirs au carré by Daniel Buren (2010).

The vocation of Hermès Éditeur projects is for this house of traditional craftsmanship to push its know-how further, beyond its limits. Together, we made a selection of 20 Polaroids to transpose onto silk: 20 carrés, each in an edition of 7, a total of 140 squares measuring 140 cm x 140 cm.

So it was that Couleurs de l’ombre came into being.

Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Artistic Director, Hermès

Exhibition venue : Église Saint-Blaise, Rencontres d’Arles 2013.