Karim Ghaddab, Renverser la peinture, 2020 (French)
Subito Radio, Un entretien avec Sylvain Roche et Jérôme Boutterin, 2019 (French)
Gabriele Chiari’s watercolours, 2014
Weaving Colour, Essay written by Clément Dirié, translated from French to English by Charles Penwarden and coedited by the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès and Actes Sud as part of the 2013 Cahier de Résidence
Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, Artist's residencies #4, Gabriele Chiari - Holding Textile Hermès, 2013 (French)
Éric Suchère, Aquarelles, 2013 (French)
Gabriele Chiari, 3 récits en couleur, 2012 (French)
François Durif, Un texte pour se souvenir, 2011 (French)
Cédric Loire, Surfaces de passage, 2007 (French)
Gabriele Chiari, Aquarelles, dessins d'après aquarelles, 2007 (French)
Marielle Barascud, Ordonner la peinture, 2006 (French)
Cédric Loire, Kaltes Klares Wasser, 2005 (French)
Marielle Barascud, Communiqué de presse, 2005 (French)

Clément Dirié
Weaving Colour

It’s a certainty: the vision of Gabriele Chiari standing barefoot and pouring paint onto a printing table will remain a highlight of her residency at the Ateliers AS, the frame-printing division of Holding Textile Hermès.1 This action subverted the traditional method of colouring used on this site dedicated to Lyonnais-style printing. It also automatically metamorphosed a textile manufacture into a place of creation because she was using the printing table as if working alone in the privacy of her studio. Finally, with this gesture she underscored the approach that underpins her practice generally, that of an artist for whom corporeal contact with the material constitutes an essential component of her experiments. For while this posture over the table and the action that it enables may seem surprising, or indeed sacrilegious, they are no less natural when we take into account the way in which Chiari usually conceives her works and takes possession of the supports and surfaces on which she intervenes. Proposed by Susanna Fritscher as a participant in the Hermès Foundation artists’ residencies,2 Gabriele Chiari approached the experience from a twofold perspective characteristic of her work. Demanding and rigorous, she began by carrying out several experiments, each one prompted by what she had observed in earlier phases, leading to the definition and then implementation of her project. Open-minded and curious, she did not shrink from reconfiguring, via the possibilities offered by the Ateliers AS, an artistic practice that she has been developing for over ten years.

Since the beginning of the 2000s Gabriele Chiari has been working exclusively in watercolour on paper (satin finish Arches Aquarelle), which she defines as a “halfway house between drawing and painting”.3 At a rate of about ten sheets a year she is producing a corpus that never strays from the same horizontal format: 73 x 110 cm. This immutability, which ensures great overall coherence, is countered by a way of applying the colour and approaching the support that is constantly changing. “I am careful never to create two identical works,” confirms the artist, underlining that her rigorous production protocol – further denoted by the use of ascending numbers as titles – is simply the necessary condition for extending possibilities. Gabriele Chiari thus either acts on the support – by bending it, crumpling, shaping it into particular volumes – or uses a variety of techniques for infusing colour into a surface that has been made into a relief, by changing the density of the ink, using stencils, channelling drips, or controlling the drying. For Aquarelle (réf. 76) from 2011 and Aquarelle (réf. 59) from 2009, she chose to occupy one of the two halves of the sheet. For the Lukas, Schmincke, Rembrandt series (2012) she stencilled three paints, all with the same name, by three different manufacturers, giving rise to chromatic variations. For Aquarelle (réf. 79) from 2011 she placed the sheet on a garden hose in order to make the paint drip in an unexpected way. Of course, the mixing of approaches is what ensures the richness of the artist’s vocabulary: from one sheet to another there is endless variation in the intensities of tone, the volumes of the folds and the handling of the reserve. Marielle Barascud elucidates this “economy of means” thus: “Technique, support and tool are, for each piece, meticulously chosen or invented, then tested and put through their paces and mastered so that they can finally be adopted. Once the process has been established, it is sculpture rather than painting which comes to the fore. The paper is first copiously wetted, then worked, folded, compressed, pleated, formed. ... Chance can come into play, or not. The essential thing is that it can follow the thread, impart the movement. In the end, there are no qualms about the subject. The dry sheet is once again wetted and laid out at to return to its original form.”4

Chiari’s work is therefore the result of a weave of decisions and surprises
in which “chance and control are essential vectors”.5 “The specific status of watercolour is autonomous, that is to say that it produces a drawing independent of my intention,”6 she explains, putting the notion of authorship at a distance. “Being receptive, following the movement, giving randomness its proper place. [The action must] give voice to the material and what it records in passing.”7 Thanks to this approach, in which constraint gives rise to great freedom, she creates a repertoire of resolutely abstract forms, with organic and decorative associations. For Éric Suchère, “her works never refer to a figurative element – except perhaps in an analogical relation that is fundamentally reductive or is merely the product of the beholder’s unconscious. More than images, it is a matter of ‘themes that concern me: austerity, folds, sensuality, strangeness’.”8 Each colour is studied in relation its every component, its dilutions and sedimentation. Each action is reassessed in accordance with the creative needs of the moment, as was the case with her experience at Les Ateliers AS.

Quite logically, Gabriele Chiari began her residency with the study of the materials, techniques and colours used at Holding Textile Hermès in order to better understand the parameters and issues. During her immersion period in November 2012, she learned about the crafts practised at the manufacture, discovering the “carréothèque” which holds the archive of Hermès silk scarves, and acquiring a passion for the “Colour Kitchen” in which the tones are elaborated. She quickly decided to use a creative protocol transposing into the world of silk, and more precisely into the process of warp printing, the method she devised in her studio: organizing a series of gestures and actions, sometimes controlled and sometimes autonomous, which are repeated until she obtains a result in which the association of the different parameters gives rise to a “harmony”.

The protocol is as follows: on a first piece of textile in white silk, the artist pours colour which spreads into a form whose size and contours are related only “randomly” to the way in which the pigment spreads into the weave. Once the colour has dried, the warp – the set of threads running lengthways along the fabric – is separated from the filling – the threads running width-wise – using a precision knife, applying a technique called détissage (unweaving).9 The warp is then rewoven using the principle of duchesse satin,10 then “rolled” – the technique applied to edges. These successive operations of unweaving and reweaving serve to de-structure the drawing obtained by the spread of the colour over the fabric. By its specificity – “liberating” the warp threads from the mesh of the filling – warp printing enables a blurring, a gradation which the artist exploited in order to introduce an extra dimension of randomness, an effect of vibration and melting of the colour and form.

During the four months of her residency, Gabriele Chiari worked on four successive weaves – each 50 metres long and 140 centimetres wide – in order to carry out the experiments needed to establish her protocol. Each of the weaves was divided into an area of about 2 metres, on which the artist poured colour, then observing its spread. As their titles indicate, Chaîne 3.1 and Chaîne 3.2 belong to the third weave and are the first two attempts, the ones that the artist, once the piece was dry, selected as the most complete expressions of her protocol.11

Obviously, each parameter, each gesture in this process was precisely developed.12 The colour, first of all: given the possibilities that were available – as attested by the many trials – Chiari decided to delegate this choice to one of the artisans, who suggested a shade called “erionyl red”, one of the forty-four “mother colours” used at Hermès. Its intensity was to her liking. Its composition then had to be modified slightly in order to obtain a liquid that merged rather than setting immediately on the fabric. Next came the action of “painting”: the artist soon decided that, rather than use a brush, she would prefer to pour the colour – a method which invokes one of her favoured themes, fluid mechanics – and thus to subvert the manufacture’s traditional mode of production. All the motifs were thus drawn and determined a priori, and the printing needed to maintain the neatness and precision of the process. Next, the amount of colour to be used had to be determined. After a first series of tests, all recorded and analysed in notebooks, Chiari decided on 180 millilitres as the quantity best suited to the width of the fabric, to her action and to the degree of spreading required over the fabric. That done, she had only to repeat each stage many times over in order to empirically test and improve the protocol, until she attained the “harmony” of Chaîne 3.1 and Chaîne 3.2.

The works created by Gabriele Chiari at Les Ateliers AS result from
a process in which the precision of each decision made by the artist encounters the “uncertain chemistry” of the pictorial matter’s seepage into the textile.13 Organic forms, the two red discs are a celebration of colour, playing with our imagination and scales of magnitude, between the infinitely small that is disproportionately blown up and the infinitely big in which the grain of the cloth tinged with pigment fills with fragility and vibration. Hung on the wall like free-standing canvases, Chaîne 3.1 and Chaîne 3.2 bear witness to uncompromising research whose alchemy resides as much in simplicity as in the clarity of the experiment.

Clément Dirié

1. An integral part of Holding Textile Hermès, Les Ateliers AS are located at the heart of the Pierre-Bénite site in
Lyon. Since the start of the residency programme, the Hermès textile division has welcomed Benoît Piéron in 2010 and Andrés Ramirez in 2012.

2. With Anne-Charlotte Yver at John Lobb, Marcos Avila Forero at the Maroquinerie Nontronnaise and Marie-Anne Franquenville at Cristalleries Saint-Louis, Gabriele Chiari took part in the fourth edition of the Hermès Foundation residencies programme in 2013. It was initiated in 2010 in order to give young artists access to rare materials and specialist craft techniques. An exhibition documenting these residencies is being held at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in 2013.

3. Quotations without footnotes come from conversations with the author or unpublished writings by the artist.

4. Marielle Barascud, Ordonner la peinture, text for an exhibition at Galerie Municipale, Vitry-sur-Seine, 2006.

5. According to a text by Cédric Loire in Art 21, December– January 2005–06, pp. 58–59.

6. Interview with the artist by Marielle Barascud in Gabriele Chiari, Vraisemblance du perméable, Éditions Méridianes, Montpellier, 2011, n.p.

7. In Gabriele Chiari, “3 récits en couleur”, in Principe de légèreté, Éditions Lienart, Montreuil, 2013, pp. 222–25. This text is emblematic of the artist’s approach and of her sensual relation to colour.

8. Éric Suchère, quoting the interview with Marielle Barascud. The artist herself can sometimes be “seduced” by free associations. In “3 récits en couleur” she writes: “I imagine it: a horizontal form between a mollusc and a cloud, a deep black colour, a velvety deposit of pigments with light borders”, but then comes back to “material” considerations.

9. Made here by an independent craftsman drawing on a rare skill used, notably, in haute-couture.

10. That is, the weaving in a single action of the painted warp thus obtained, which has just been separated from the weft, and of a white weft and warp.

11. For each residency of the programme, the artist creates two versions of their work: the first is kept by the Hermès Foundation, the second by them. In the case of Chiari, the two works are not two identical versions – that would have been impossible to achieve – but two complementary forms. Two expressions of the same process.

12. This rigour is also manifested in what might appear to be simple “details”. For example, ensuring the exact position over the printing table, so that its orientation does not influence the distribution of the colour.

13. This first experiment with printing on silk gave the artist a host of ideas and she is now eager to follow up these experiments. One of them is to weave duchesse satin while crossing two painted warps.