A collaboration with artist Imi Knoebel adds a multi-tonal twist at Akris
Glow wild for a multi-tonal artist collaboration
A collaboration between an artist and a fashion brand often results in little more than a print slapped onto a sweater or sneaker. But when Akris’ creative director Albert Kriemler partners with an artistic heavy hitter – be it German photographer Thomas Ruff, Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto (see W*203) or centenarian Cuban-american artist Carmen Herrera – he goes deep, looking for new creative threads and a kind of synthesised design philosophy.
‘The collaborations are about the culture of creating,’ says the Swiss designer, whose S/S21 collection celebrates the colourful and materiality-focused world of German artist Imi Knoebel. Kriemler first came across Knoebel’s work at Galerie Wilma Lock in 2004, when he was struck by the exploration of colour in Face 50, a small geometric collage made of acrylic paste on plastic, part of a series of 12. ‘He shares Matisse’s desire to “make colour sing”, or as I would rephrase it: he lets colour shine,’ Kriemler says. After visiting a solo exhibition by the Dusseldorf-based artist at Zurich’s Museum Haus Konstruktiv in 2018, Kriemler invited Knoebel to collaborate. In May 2020, after being turned away at the German border twice due to Covid-19 restrictions, Kriemler finally made it to Knoebel’s studio, arms brimming with fabric samples.
Knoebel worked strictly in black and white until 1977, when the death of a close friend, painter Binky Palermo, encouraged him to create an artistic ode in full colour, titled 24 Colours – for Binky. The work features a series of polygons in bold monochromatic hues. It alerted Knoebel to the potential of colour. ‘Knoebel’s studio is draped with over 700 colour swatches,’ Kriemler says. ‘He remains a seeker, trying to create something new within his reality.’
Akris’ collection references a variety of Knoebel’s kaleidoscopic works, from his 1970s Messerschnitt
or ‘knife-cuts’ series, featuring jagged assemblages of paper cut-outs, to graphic acrylic and aluminium works from the 1990s. The tones and textures of these pieces have been translated into layers of 3D sequins and panelled embroidery, which adorn zesty green column dresses and are patchworked in primary colours on crepe blouses. Kinderstern, an acrylic and wood hendecagon created by Knoebel in 1989, is used as an angular motif, tessellated across transparent dresses and transformed into metal buttons, tulle cutouts and leather patches on clutch bags.
Knoebel’s recent Zurich show featured Raum 19
(1968), a modular installation formed from 184 pieces of raw spruce, and square and cylindrical Masonite boxes, which he created as a student under Joseph Beuys, and Batterie (2005), a cube of aluminium panels clad in phosphorescent paint. When the two pieces are exhibited together, the unpainted elements of Raum 19 become charged and emit a luminescent light.
In celebration of this material dynamic, Akris’ offering features glow-in-the-dark pinstripe suiting, sequin gowns and sleek sportswear – results of months of fabric testing. ‘Imi was most fascinated by our luminous techno material,’ says Kriemler. ‘The sequin was the biggest challenge. Our manufacturer in St Gallen had to develop a new metallic foil to cut them from.
‘A Knoebel line, colour or form is instantly recognisable,’ he reflects. The same individuality can be attributed to Kriemler, who, in his dual role of designer and seasonal curator, has brought an art-infused identity to Akris. ‘For me,’ he says, ‘these inspirations filter down to a single thread.’ *
‘Imi Knoebel: Recent Works’ is at White Cube Bermondsey, London, until 27 February, whitecube.com; akris.com