Fantastic Beasts

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CHRISTIAN ASTUGUEVIEILLE’S NEW COLLECTION FOR PIERRE FREY FURTHER ENLIVENS HIS IMAGINARY WORLD

Artist and designer Christian Astuguevieille’s empire of the imagination began nearly 30 years ago with the introduction of his now iconic biomorphic furniture. Whimsical sculptural shapes wrapped in rope and painted cord, the pieces evoked ceremonial consoles and thrones for “dignitaries” of his invented world. Astuguevieille later evolved his fictive culture with a pictorial writing system that was inscribed onto rugs, and now the artist has expanded his civilization with Les Coquecigrues, a collection of fabric and wallpapers for venerable French house Pierre Frey that is alive with earthly and imaginary beasts. Among the seven papers and nine fabrics in the collection is the namesake design, populated with coquecigrues— fanciful chimeric animals sprouting leafy wings and serpentine bodies—and Fontaines et Animaux, an update of an 18th-century print on which fauna abound. The collection also includes designs that bring Astuguevieille back to his roots, featuring motifs from his pictorial language and rope designs.

Christian Astuguevieille and his Amphore 02 wallpaper panel.

Astuguevieille’s work often delves into and tweaks the past in order to capture the current l’air du temps, balancing tradition and craftsmanship with reinvention, innovation, and experimentation. Astuguevieille drew his inspiration for Les Coquecigrues from an 18th-century archival print of the same name, modifying the scale and hues of the original hand-blocked toile de Jouy into an explosion of teeming life and contemporary colors—including his beloved Yves Klein blue. In a second interpretation of the print, Symboles Les Coquecegrues, he brushed over the pattern with his own set of symbols. To create Fontaines et Animaux Barbouillage (Scribbled Fountains and Animals), Astuguevieille adapted an 1803 copperplate print by Jean-Baptiste Huet adorned with peacocks and rabbits, neoclassical maidens and amphorae by highlighting elements with India ink and abstracting them into graffiti-like vessels and follies. The sharp contrast between the original and his interpretive version illustrates his comfort with imperfection, and his discomfort with any form of idealized beauty .

Fontaine et Animaux Barbouillage wallpaper, Moucharabieh fabric (drapes), Totem fabrics (pillows and cushion), and bronzes and objects by Astuguevieille in Pierre Frey’s Paris installation of the new collection.

Here, Astuguevieille shares insight into his new collection.

PLAY AND WIT SEEM TO BE IMPORTANT PARTS OF YOUR PROCESS, AND THEY COME ACROSS STRONGLY IN THE WAY YOU REINVENTED 18TH-CENTURY DESIGNER JEAN-BAPTISTE MARIE HUET’S DESIGN FONTAINES ET ANIMAUX.  |  Play is freedom, and my creativity  is centered around that, so it’s essential. Taking over his designs involved me being irreverent, so it was a bit of a sacrilegious act. I got nervous before I started painting, because his drawings are so admirable. Nevertheless, I took liberties when I applied my strokes in India ink on top of his motifs.

CAN YOU SHARE HOW YOU ADAPTED THE PANORAMIC AMPHORAE PANELS?  |  I found 18th-century engravings that reflected a magnificent English collection of amphora. I automatically wanted to take them over, draw on them, do them differently, and give them another life, another soul. And again, true to nature, I was sacrilegious when it came to the beauty  of the drawings. In other words, I played with India ink and simply had fun.

Astuguevieille at home in Paris.

YOU HAVE DESIGNED FURNITURE, OBJECTS, JEWELRY, PERFUMES, RUGS, TEXTILES, AND NOW WALLPAPER. ARE THERE SIMILARITIES IN THE WAY YOU APPROACH EACH PROJECT?  |  Every encounter with a new material is a discovery, an adventure. I listen, I notice the constraints and the good points. Then I try to divert and transform these particularities, to give them a new appearance, a new interpretation, and a new life.

AFTER DESIGNING THREE-DIMENSIONAL OBJECTS, WHAT CONSIDERATIONS DID YOU BRING TO DESIGNING TWO-DIMENSIONAL SURFACES?  |  I didn’t design the collection just for walls—I envision the wallpaper covering lots of objects in lots of places, and I see the fabrics as multidimensional. I hope that clients will be bold and extravagant and make something else out of them. I’m sure I’m due for lots of surprises when I eventually see how they’ve been used!

Coquecigrues fabric on chair. Fontaine et Animaux Barbouillage wallpaper (in foreground).

YOU ARE A STORYTELLER BY NATURE. AS A PERFUMER FOR COMME DES GARÇONS, FOR EXAMPLE, YOU DEVELOPED NARRATIVES TO INSPIRE SCENTS. IS THERE A STORY UNDERLYING ALL THE PIECES YOU ASSEMBLED FOR THIS COLLECTION?   |  Olfactory research is very different from design in general, but we do start with words, concepts, and memories. For the Pierre Frey collection, the story is a happy one of sharing, enjoyment, and humor.

YOU ARE ALSO AN INVETERATE COLLECTOR.  |  Yes, I collect lots of unusual things with little value—everyday objects, from our time or from other eras. I recently found a manufacturer’s stockpile of shirt collars and cuffs in their exquisite original green boxes. I generally like to find a way to take over new acquisitions—I sometimes paint them with India ink—sending them on a journey with a new look and a new function. They’re like small pieces of imaginary writing.

Totem wallpaper, and bronzes and objects by Astuguevieille.

IF YOU HAD TO LEAVE TOWN IN A HURRY, FROM ALL OF YOUR BELONGINGS, WHAT WOULD YOU GRAB ON THE WAY OUT?  |  I wouldn’t take anything with me, because wherever I’m going, I’ll definitely find other things, other fascinating objects that will pique my curiosity. So I would leave unfettered and arrive in a state of discovery.

The work of Christian Astuguevieille is available at Kneedler Fauchère, kneedlerfauchere.com

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