The special Chinese New Year editions of the Hennessy collection by Zhang Huan will be available from January 2020

Photos and Information Provided by Hennessy

Before 2020 the Chinese Year of Rat, Asian Fusion Magazine was been invited to join Hennessy for an exclusive press trip in Cognac, France to preview the brand’s dynamic collaboration with renowned Chinese artist, Zhang Huan, ahead of global celebrations timed with Lunar New Year 2020.

One of the most celebrated contemporary artists of today, Huan burst onto the international art scene in the 1990s by staging provocative performance art events in NYC. Since returning to China, he has a renewed focus on sculpture, drawing, and painting, with a distinct style that blends Western artistic techniques with traditional Chinese concepts.

A 3-day immersive experience will provide a discovery of Hennessy’s 250+ year legacy, savoir-faire and rich history with Asian and Asian American communities across the globe, culminating in the reveal of a new dynamic artwork by Huan. The inspired visual pays homage to The Year of the Rat and will be prominently showcased as part of a special Lunar New Year release of Limited Edition bottles across the Hennessy Collection, available starting in January 2020.

Activity is tentatively planned as follows: Travel to Cognac, visit Hennessy’s vineyards, distillery and Founder’s Cellar, tasting with Master Blender Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, artist meet & greet, artwork reveal and gala dinner, Interview opportunities with Zhang Huan, lunch at Hennessy’s private estate. Here are we sit down and talk to the Master Blender.

The 2020 Chinese New Year is particularly special because it marks the start of a new cycle with the Year of the Rat. In that spirit, the Maison Hennessy for the first time commissioned a monumental work of art, called Eaux-de-vie, from Zhang Huan in addition to a design for its special Chinese New Year editions of the Hennessy collection.

As the Maison Hennessy and Zhang Huan became better acquainted, they found in each other a kindred spirit. For both the cognac house and the artist, modernity lies in honoring one’s heritage while always seeking to explore new frontiers. For Hennessy, a sense of adventure has defined the House since its founding, and yet it has upheld its tradition of transmitting savoir-faire for eight generations – a unique feat in the history of cognac. For his part, Zhang Huan came into his own as an emerging artist while living in New York City, in the Nineties.

For the Hennessy commission, Zhang Huan sought to create a work of art that would express a sense of joy and celebration as well as a reflective quality that captures the essential mediations every New Year brings. “Making art is about using an object as a vehicle to express inner thoughts, or a spiritual side”, the artist explains.” Eaux-de-vie is intended as a natural, living expression”.

A vibrant and resonant dreamscape, Zhang Huan’s Eaux-de-vie captures a universal spirit. Measuring over five meters long, this original painting was directly inspired by Hennessy’s world famous library of eaux-de-vie, which the artist recasts as a mystical metaphor with layers of meaning.

Distilled through the artist’s signature visual language, Hennessy’s precious eaux-de-vie appear like individual cellules that come together in a unique whole. Upon closer viewing, red lanterns, grapes and amber cognac become apparent within each cellule. The longer the viewer gazes at the work, the more the cellules seem to take on a life of their own, floating freely through space like so many symbols of each individual’s place in the universe. A strong color palate underscores the season’s joyful mood.

The special Chinese New Year editions of the Hennessy collection by Zhang Huan will be available from January 2020.

Q&A with the Artist Zhang Huan

Q: How does that inform this project with Hennessy?

A: Painting is never about just the object, it’s about using the object as a vehicle to express your inner thoughts, or a spiritual side. For Hennessy, I was thinking about the New Year, so it is a time of joy and celebration, but also a time of reflection on essential questions and the cycle of life.

Q: Your painting for Hennessy depicts a universe of very small, free-floating cells. Are you celebrating the spirit of small things on a monumental scale?

A: It is my hope that I can express the life of “ordinary things” through a kind of universal form in my creations. This is the water of life, on the most basic, cellular level: it represents freedom, hope, prosperity and harvest. They can carry people’s wishes and blessings, inclu- ding mine.

Q: How do you see today’s dialogue between Eastern and Western cultures? Do boundaries even exist anymore?

A: When I lived in New York in the Nineties, I encountered a completely different social system and cultural back- ground. Such a cultural melting pot offers a unique, rich and vibrant experience. I wanted to make sure to hold on to who I am, but at the same time my reality was New York. You want to get close enough to it to grasp its nuances without being swallowed up.

The West absorbs many cultures; that’s very enriching. When I returned to China, I had a deeper understan- ding of my tradition and faith, the things you expe- rience in everyday life. Maybe it was because I had to see myself from far away, but I came to understand my tradition and ancestors more clearly. The unique Chinese tradition and modern desires become the sources of my creation.

I believe that Chinese and Western cultures are sup- posed to collide, influence and integrate with each other. Spending eight years in New York expanded my horizon and broadened my path forward. Most impor- tantly, it made me more independent and confident.

Q: What synergy do you see between Chinese New Year and Hennessy?

A:Hennessy’s eaux-de-vie were the direct inspiration for my artwork. I saw each eaux-de-vie like an individual cell, and they come together to create something unique. If you look closely, inside them you can see red Chinese lanterns, grapes and amber wine. The synergy between Hennessy and China is rooted in an unders- tanding of the harmony as well as the festive atmos- phere we celebrate during the New Year. This visual language uses strong colors to express the joys of the spirit.

Q: What made you decide to accept this project?

A: I accepted because I admire Hennessy’s spirit of ho- noring the past and being anchored in the present even as it looks ahead. I also accepted in the spirit of friendship.

Q: What inspired you about Hennessy? What was your biggest challenge?

A: I was attracted to the brand’s mystique, and I was cu- rious about the cognac making process. The biggest challenge was how to blend Hennessy’s spirit and soul with ancient Chinese philosophies, and express the idea of the endless cycles of the universe through my art. In fact, the life cells in this painting are inspired by eaux-de-vie, but they are also a metaphor for every in-dividual being in the universe.

Q: What were your impressions following your visit to Hennessy in Cognac?

A:Cognac is a very beautiful place with an aristocra- tic spirit. I think of Hennessy like an elegant and very charming aristocratic lady. In China, the wine that I like most is “maotai”. After visiting Cognac, I have a new understanding of Hennessy, so now I am hoping for a «xuan mao» (Hennessy + maotai) in the future.

Q: What inspiration did you draw from your visit to Cognac? How does it inform your work?

 Watching the cognac making process firsthand touched me deeply, and the «eaux-de-vie « inspired me a lot. The cell-like images of eaux-de-vie reveal red Chinese lanterns, grapes and the amber wine, which is Of Hennessy’s values, which speak to you most strongly?

A: Cognac has a very pronounced regional specificity: the product earns the appellation cognac only if it strictly complies with the Cognac specifications : wine harvested in the Cognac delimited area in southwes- tern France, double distillation in copper stills and ageing at least 2 years in oak vessels. I appreciate that purity and uniqueness.

Q: What can art bring to a house such as Hennessy? What can Hennessy do for art?

A: Art can bring a brand new spiritual and visual dimen- sions. At the same time, a brand can offer an artist inspiration and new challenges. It’s a kind of interde- pendent and interactive relationship. It also opens a door to future possibilities. I believe that the coope- ration between brands and artists will open up new creative paths. Each informs the other in unpredic- table and exciting ways.

Q: How do you see your relationship with Hennessy?

A: We are like lovers. We fell in love without saying a word. What are your biggest wishes for this new cycle? Freedom, prosperity, peace.

Renaud Fillioux De Gironde Master Blender For Maison Hennessy  

Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, previously the Winegrower Relations Manager, a key position for ensuring raw material supply, he has been groomed for the role of Master Blender by his uncle for more than fifteen years.

In Cognac, Hennessy’s historic seat, Renaud Fillioux de Gironde followed in his predecessors’ footsteps by mastering the art of selection, becoming a guarantor of eaux-de-vie’s excellence, ageing and quality. As the leader of the prestigious Tasting Committee, a group of in-house experts, the Master Blender samples and selects the best eaux-de-vie through daily tastings conducted with discipline and discernment. Only Hennessy has this multigenerational Tasting Committee. Each of its members is specialized in a facet of cognac making and is appointed by in-house connoisseurs.

Renaud Fillioux de Gironde embodies the new generation of Master Blenders who know first-hand the issues winegrowers and wine-growing regions face, keep up with technological evolution and make a point of being open to the world. He stands ready to enter the creative process without ever sacrificing quality and a long-term outlook.

“I am at once very honored that Maison Hennessy has entrusted me with this mission, and also very conscious of the responsibility I have been given as the 8th generation of Master Blenders in the Fillioux family,” says Renaud Fillioux de Gironde.