If you ever get a chance to share a Hennessy cognac with sculptor and “feeling” artist Arik Levy, do. Levy is a most celebrated and successful multidisciplinary artist best known for his “Rock” sculptures (composed of mirror-polished stainless steel), furniture and light designs, public sculptures and Hennessy crystal designs. Levy puts deep emotion into both his work and his conversation with the purpose of bringing out your own.
I sat down with the artist in Shanghai during the Discovery Tour of the reintroduction of Hennessy Paradis Impérial to talk about the philosophy and inspiration behind the creation of the stunning new crystal decanter and the service ritual.
Levy’s introduction at the reveal:
I have been working now with Hennessy for over 10 years. I’ve been a part of many different and fantastic projects, each a special journey. The first time I tried Paradis Impérial, I noticed it was the beauty, the experience, and the knowledge which was hidden within the elegance, the modernity of it. These words are like the impressions, the starting point for me. For the inspiration, the challenge was how to bring the carafe (the decanter) to the same level as the Paradis Impérial blend. As an artist and a designer, I’m bound to deliver the precision and the truth of every act I’m doing. There is no beauty shot on it, there is no one line that should not be there. There is a moment where you cannot add anything, and you cannot subtract anything from the creation. And like a sculpture, there have been thousands of hours of shaping and reshaping until this very exquisite moment appeared. And that is the result of where light becomes material and reflection become liquid and the liquid becomes the stage and the stage becomes experience.
JETSET: You have said the world is about people not objects. How did you incorporate this philosophy into the design of the new Hennessy Paradis Impérial decanter?
AL: We are here because of people. We are here, this event is here, because we have a relationship with the Maison but not necessarily with the object. If the relationship with the people is good, there will be a frequency between them. While the bottle itself is just an object, it’s a vehicle to the service ceremony. For this, you need a container—it could be a plastic bag—somehow you have to bring that liquid from here to there. How do you do it? This is one way.
But when you come into action with it then you are igniting the whole system of generosity, exchange, feelings, friendship, family, tension or relaxation and this is through the ceremony, through the different tools in the design [crystal vials, tulip glasses]. Each tool is treated like a sculpture. They are all standing on their little podiums like Greek statues.
JETSET: Last night during the reveal party, you were telling me about the significance of the number 8 in your design. Can you tell me more about that?
AL: In spiritual geometry, 8 is a circle—a circle is a perfect geometric form—which has a twist in it; 8 is a lucky number here in Asia for many different reasons. And 8 in Hennessey—it’s the 8th generation of the master blender. Many of my sculptures have sides related to 8. The Paradis Impérial carafe has two polygons in it—one has 8 faces and one has 6 faces so you can read the light in 16 different angles.
JETSET: I’m interested in the craftsmanship of the bottle, what kind of work went into the design?
AL: It started from drawings, which went into models. Reflection of glass is very complex compared to the amount of liquid. As the bottle changes, the identity changes, so it has to look good all the time. And that’s very tricky. The liquid itself enhances the surface so you have the reflection behaving differently depending on the amount of liquid. When I make a sculpture, I work and work and work in three dimension, in two dimension, in low dimension until I cannot add anything to it and I cannot subtract anything from it. It’s a special moment between me and myself that I know—this is the right moment.
To help somebody feel becomes a big task that is hard to achieve. But when I feel right about it, everybody feels right at the same time. So, it really brings the craft of science and the science of craft together.
JETSET: What’s your favorite drink?
JETSET: What is your favorite material to work with as an artist?
AL: Emotions. Intelligence, if you want a second one.
JETSET: I like that. I thought you were going to say, “crystal” or “steel.”
AL: Those are just vehicles; those are just bridges.
JETSET: Can you tell me about the service ceremony/ritual at the reveal dinner?
AL: The ritual is that moment of intimacy that you can share. For me, the greatest moment of the dinner was when everybody had their own crystal vial on the table in front of them and everybody poured their own Paradis Impérial into their own crystal glass. We served ourselves. It was the most fantastic moment and, for me, the turning point in the history of Hennessy. The moment you serve yourself, you are creating intimacy between you and yourself, and you are agreeing. It’s a very powerful moment. For me, yesterday I had goose skin when that happened, because I knew the service ritual was going to be a turning point.
JETSET: Let’s talk about the Hennessy Paradis Impérial Trunk and Nomad Case crafted by the artisans at Louis Vuitton. What part of it excites you?
AL: What I really like about it is this trunk’s portable idea. Because the drinking comes forth from one place to the other without displacing. It’s the dream of molecular displacement. You drink it, you close your eyes. The moment when you close your eyes for a fraction of a second, it’s that moment where you feel what you can’t see. You can feel the white flower flavor. You can feel the taste.
It’s a good joint venture and for me it’s another mark in the history of Paradis Impérial. You don’t have to buy the case to have Paradis Impérial or vice versa—you can if you wanted to.
JETSET: What can we look forward to from you in the future?
AL: I have a fantastic project I’m finishing now—the official outdoor sculpture for the new Hermitage Museum [satellite]. It’s a sculpture put in their urban environment that will be installed at the end of the year. It’s an outstanding piece and beyond monumental for me. It’s probably my biggest to date, not necessarily in size or weight—which it is—but in its volume, presence and aura.
I practice that every day is a new day; there is beauty in everyday experience.
For more on Hennessy and the reveal in Shanghai, read my interview with Hennessy Chairman and CEO Bernard Peillon.