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Jean Philippe Lenclos 

The Editors

Jean Philippe Lenclos was born in France in 1938. He has had a long and distinguished career as a leading authority on the use of colour. One writer described him as a ‘new kind of artist required by modern society; a colour designer.’ 

As a young man Lenclos travelled to Japan to study architecture. During his two years in Japan he became enthralled with the symbolism and rhetoric of colour. It was an interest that was to lead him to devise a theory based on the Geography of Colour. His profound knowledge of colour brought him commissions in many areas including advising international car companies on the use of colour in vehicle design, and devising colour schemes for entire towns. 

Although Supergraphics was only one of many professional activities undertaken by Lenclos, he nevertheless created some of the finest and most beguiling examples of the genre.


It couldn't have been easy to study in Japan at that time. How did you arrange it?

In 1961, I had the chance to obtain the only grant that the Japanese government gave to French students. I went to Japan for two years, and studied traditional architecture. I lived in Osaka where I studied the Japanese language, and then entered the architecture faculty of Ecole des Beaux Arts of Kyoto. I met architects and designers such as Kunio Maekawa, a student of Le Corbusier, and Kenzo Tange. To immerse myself more deeply in Japanese culture, I also studied calligraphy. This allowed me to discover the notion of graphic and pictorial space where the white has as much importance as the black. These experiences have profoundly influenced my creative thinking and my desire to deepen my research into the representation of space. 

When did you first develop a deep interest in colour?

Before leaving for Japan I had been freelance at the Societe des Peintures Gauthier, an institution that specialised in the painting of buildings. This experience led to the discovery of colour in architecture, the countryside, the folklore and the traditions of France. Since childhood I had been immersed in the countryside of Northern France, with its bricks and red tiles; in Japan, I was plunged into another universe, with other architectural materials: wood, paper, roof tiles in grey or blue. I also discovered the colours of the kimono and, for example, the importance of violet. In Europe at that time, violet was a colour reserved for older women, or for those in bereavement. But in Japan it is the imperial colour. I started to note that there is a symbolism in colours, and the functions they perform in different countries.

Your work has always encompassed strong graphic elements, where does this interest come from?

From the start of my studies at the Ecole Boulle, I was fascinated by the graphic elements I found in the urban landscape, such as signs and road markings on the street. The broad stripes used in road markings, for example, are graphical elements that I admired: despite their extreme simplification, I liked their strength of expression. Furthermore, we would go to the aquariums in Paris to draw all sorts of strange fish, which, by their colours and their fabulous ‘graphisme’, made me aware of the extreme freedom of patterns on their bodies. Similarly, the rhythms and forms found on the surfaces of minerals and plants have always inspired artistic creation. I have always observed my surroundings. This brings us also to camouflage used in military hardware. All these observations are at the source of my own research and contribute to a visual mythology that has fed my work.

When did you create your first Supergraphics?

I collaborated with several interiors magazines in creations for rooms that demonstrated the living application of colour. I had the chance to be published in 1968 in the Italian magazine Domus, for my first conception, a kind of manifesto of colour in architecture. It showed an auditorium of a cultural centre in a university, which I had presented in 1967 at the Salon des Artistes Decorateurs, in Paris. The asymmetric disposition of the interior of that auditorium had been inspired by a tea ceremony room in Japan. Having not met an architect with whom to collaborate, I conceived this space myself as a ‘habitable sculpture’. My objective was to demonstrate the architectural role of colour and its ability to transform the volume and visual scale of a space. At the heart of the auditorium, I had placed a Baschet brothers sound structure which proposed a futuristic idea of the role of sound in interior design. In addition, I had a lighting device programmed to bring a mobile dimension and scale. The interest shown by Domus helped me to develop other projects for various buildings, equipment, hospitals, factories, libraries, for example. At that time, the works of the American Charles Moore and his associates Lyndon, Turnbull and Whitaker at Sea Ranch in California (1965-69) started to broadcast a new concept of Supergraphics, whose chief protagonist was Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, who I met in San Francisco.

In 1968, the magazine ELLE asked me to show how Supergraphics could also be applied to domestic interior. Simultaneously, the architect Jean-Claude Bernard asked me to do the graphic colouring of his architectural office in Paris, l’Arc.

Is colour theory now ingrained in the thinking of big manufacturers?

Colour has taken on an importance in consumer behaviour that has become essential and indispensable for the design of objects. Indeed, whether in the areas of equipment such as automobiles, home management, or in the fashion world, the consumer always wants to have a choice colours.

This is the reason why the Groupe SEB, leader in the world of small appliances, asked me and my team to establish colour charts for their different brands (Calor, Rowenta, Moulinex, etc.) as a way to control and define their respective identities in the marketplace. It was to avoid confusion between the brands and destructive competition for the industry. It should be noted that in this strategy, the same object takes different price levels not only because of its performance but also thanks to its values in respect of colour and materials that indicate its use, and promote its attractiveness.

The concept of the Geography of Colour that began with the finding of the specific colours in regional habitats was then extended to the field of industrial products and consumer goods. In fact whether it is the car, household appliances, interior design or fashion, colours are not seen and appreciated in the same way according to countries and their socio-cultural traditions. It is the reason why the brand L’Oreal charged us in the 1990s with a study on the colours of makeup used in European countries.

There are major differences in the appreciation of colours and their use in various different countries in Asia – Japan, China, Korea. Today, these countries apply the concept of the ‘geography of colour’ propagated in particular by the Colour Planning Centre of Tokyo, then by the publication in China of the book Yan Ming Sung 1999 on all of my research and work.

We also worked in the sport sector, another area which touches a large public. Whatever the forms of expression, the world of sport is a prodigious vector of graphics and colours in motion. Colour has an immediate use on the field of play, or on television screens, for the identification of teams, brands and various sporting figures.

Today colour in architecture is a fully integrated dimension. The most innovative architects are using new technologies where the intangible dimension of colour has a growing place, with materials changing aspect thanks to their texture and the sophistication of new pigment. The infinite richness of effects obtained on the screens of computers has undoubtedly transformed the sensitivity of creative designers. The most operational among them work to implement these propositions in the architectural space.

This is an edited version of a longer interview that can be found in the book Supergraphics – Transforming Space: Graphic Design for Walls, Buildings & Spaces [Unit 02]


217 x 280mm, 320 pages, paperback
ISBN 978-0-9562071-1-1
Editors Tony Brook & Adrian Shaughnessy
Design Spin

Only available here and in restricted bookshops.



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