Benoît Astier de Villatte
Meet this craftsman and artist, as he talks about his work and shares his most special place, in images and words.
A dyslexic child who disliked school, Benoît Astier de Villatte daydreamed and drew a lot, while devouring paperbacks. Did he take À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) literally? Since 1996, he has been creating ceramics, colognes, natural-wax candles and notebooks in Paris under his own name (or, rather, that of his mother). His brothers and sisters are no longer involved, but Ivan Pericoli is still there. Like curiosity cabinets, their shops are lined with shelves displaying the house’s creations and finds. Benoît makes objects out of his imagination that he might have put in the canvas he would like to have painteda memory from the Beaux-Arts, where he studied under sculptor Georges Jeanclos: at the time, the students would hunt for a table or other discarded objects in the street to use in their work. Drawn to endangered causes and impossible ventures, he bought a former print shop and published Ma Vie à Paris, containing his favorite addresses (bookstores, restaurants, acupuncture, lawyer, osteopath and so on) with commentaries. Although he felt the lure of Rome, his future lay in Paris. Benoît and Ivan receive advice from a Tibetan master and an astrologer, but they listen only to their shared intuition. At Astier de Villatte, time seems to beat to the rhythm of dreams.
“The place where I feel most at home . . . is the Villa Medici in Rome [his father, the painter Pierre Carron, winner of the Grand Prix de Rome in 1960, was in residence there from 1961 to 1964]. I was born there, lived there for four years and spent all my vacations there. Today, after just one night there, I feel as though I’ve grown younger. Sometimes I sleep in the Turkish Room, created in a tower by Horace Vernet in 1833 and restored by Balthus. It is more a place for working, with its high windows and narrow benchesyou have to stand on them to see Rome. The bed is in an adjoining room. On the street facade, the fortified wall has a huge gateway with a small door that you have to stoop to pass through. The entrance hall is a cool ‘grotto’ in the summer (the coolness of antiquity?), warm in the winter, and was bathed in a colorful half light in the time of Balthus. It is a comforting spot, a source of culture. Malraux had asked Balthus to restore the Villa Medici, and although the latter did not find it to his taste, he carried out the job, in keeping with his fantasized idea of a Renaissance villa. He researched the colors and worked seriously and conscientiously with the resident students and restorers. On the garden side, during the renovation of the facade, Balthus hauled up bins of paint onto scaffolding and produced extraordinary glazes. But his work, which was natural and fresh, only lasted while he was there (1961-1977). After he left, everything was changed.”