Out of the Blue


21 March 2017

Blue might not be the warmest colour, but it is the most mysterious. The last colour to appear in most ancient languages and a latecomer to Western art, its relative paucity of appearances in the natural world lend it the quality of belonging somewhere extraterrestrial. It is the colour of the sea and the sky, and thus metaphorically associated with the infinite.

Screenshot, a new wall panel by the product designer Martino Gamper and the photographer Brigitte Niedermair, is amongst other things an exploration of blue. Produced for the family-run Milanese textile brand Dedar, it comprises six framed fabric panels printed with blocks of colour, the majority of which are blue. Slender white lines divide each rectangle. It is Dedar’s first collaboration with figures from the realms of art and design, and was instigated on the advice of the creative consultant Helen Nonini.

The concept for Screenshot came about by happenstance. Gamper and Niedermair began by combining the Dedar archives, before heading off to brainstorm on Lake Garda. “One evening,” recounts Gamper, “we began to look up some images on a phone. There wasn’t much reception. So these patterns, these slow-loading blocks of colour, kept coming up.” Now using an iPad, the pair decided to look up artworks on Google Images to see what resulted, capturing these momentary loading screens with the device’s screenshot function.

The designers then asked Caterina and Raffaele Fabrizio, Dedar’s owners, about the sort of artists that they liked. Presented with an extensive list, Niedermair decided to focus on five figures renowned for their use of the colour blue: “700 years of blue period.” So there is Giotto’s Scovegni Chapel (1305) in Padua, renowned for its extraordinary use of the colour and Van Gogh’s Starry Night (1889), in which the post-impressionist interwove dash-like brushstrokes of different hues into a galactic swirl. Picasso was represented by his melancholic blue period (1901-4), while for Matisse they searched for “blue collage.” They also chose to search for Yves Klein, the post-war Niçois artist who painted monochromes and sculptures in his patented International Klein Blue (IKB), a unique suspension of ultramarine that retains the pigment’s potency.

Screenshot thus dips a toe into art, and knowledge of art history certainly enhances it. Niedermair shows me an unused composition created from Matisse’s Bacchanalian masterpiece Dance (1909), in which fleshly oranges and pastoral green interrupt the blue. But there is more at play here than simple reference. IKB is remarkable for its consistency and its resistance to fading. Search “Yves Klein blue” on Google, however, and you’ll find quite the variance of shade, indicative of the way in which reproduction and digitalisation distorts the appearance of artworks. When beholding Screenshot, we are seeing a printing on fabric of a screenshot of a loading search engine screen of a digital conversion of a photographs of pieces of art, a concatenation of mediations between the artwork and our perception of it.

“We thought at first,” says Gamper, “that maybe it was too simple. But when we tried to decompose it, turn it into smaller squares, create endless patterns, we realised we had to keep the image the dimensions of the shot.” Each canvas, at 140cm x 170cm, has the proportions of an iPad screen, and like the tablet can be rotated to sit horizontally on its side. “It is,” says Niedermair, “a sort of unsophisticated iPad, an analogue iPad.”

Gamper and Niedermair planned to use a different fabric for each piece: a velvet for Klein, silk for Van Gogh, a woven jacquard for Giotto. “But we found,” explains Niedermair, “that we needed to have the same quality for the whole system.” So, for the initial release, each panel is printed on Tabularasa satin cotton, whose smooth sheen grants the pieces a certain airy lightness; the designers hope to use the other materials eventually.

Gamper designed a simple brass frame to enclose the panels. When juxtaposed together on a wall, the panels feel as if they could be slid, as if on rails – another idea that was jettisoned during the process. One of the panels, representing the Scovegni Chapel, has been augmented with a pair of simple wooden shelving units, inserted around two of the colour panels. “The project started,” says Niedermair, “at conceptual photography, delves into art, goes onto fabric and then becomes a piece of furniture design. You can’t just put this on one level.” Screenshot's virtue is masking these layers in elegant simplicity.