In 2017, the French port city of Le Havre, in celebratation of their 500th anniversary, commissioned Dutch artist and graphic designer Karel Martens to create a large scale work. Martens is known for exploring language, mathematics and colour as part of his experimental Dutch modernist style. Using a palette of just ten colours, he applied stripes of six different widths on the exterior of the city’s traditional white beach cabins. A different pattern, consisting of the same colours, enlivens the interiors of a selection of these privately owned huts. “I see it as a kind of choreography, a composition of the whole panorama, with all the cabins. A unity through diversity,” says Martens.
Colours on the Beach is based on a complex code that references Le Havre’s founding decree written by King Frances I and was developed in partnership with a computing research team from the local university. The enhancements bring a smile to sunbathers’ faces even though some of the beach cabin owners opted to forgo the addition of the playful stripes. Marten respects the pristine white structures and feels that they add a “silence” to the overall harmony of the installation.