“We see the sea every morning and, as in all Mediterranean cities, its presence always embraces you. With such lovely words, the stage is immediately set. It was as if each letter in their words contained a colour, which, when spoken, ended up blending together to form a picture. That of the landscapes of Marseille. According to Guy Yanai! The painter’s infinite love for the city “that allows you to be yourself without having to conform to it” is shared by his wife, the art director and graphic designer Aurore Chauve. After dreaming of living there for many years, the couple and the artist’s children moved their paintings and books to the Bompard district. Into a small house, just 40 m2, part of a group of three small terraced houses built on the rock about two hundred years ago as brothels. A scandalous past for a property that had suffered the ravages of time and, above all, of modernisation. The artists wanted to strip that away to give it back its true value, with its wealth of original materials. Their wishes became reality thanks to their providential meeting with the architect Manon Gaillet. Entrusted with the renovation of this “secret hideaway where no one can find us”, the co-founder of the agency Marion Bernard applied herself to redrawing all the lines and curves, expressing in the process her sensitivity to materials such as red brick, tadelakt and other lime coatings. Her intervention saw the vaults once used to store water transformed into rooms, the water tank into a staircase and the old ‘lavoir’, once used for washing, transformed into a bathtub, thus restoring the simplicity of the interior. A modest approach, maintained even in the decoration – the founders of the magazine Yundler Brondino Verlag own very little furniture – which, above all, lets you discover “the story of their lives and the people who are involved in it”.
Aurore, Guy: can you introduce yourselves, please?
I’m a freelance graphic designer and art director, born in Aix-en-Provence.
I am a painter born in Haifa.
What is your background?
After studying graphic design in Aix-en-Provence, I moved to Paris, where I worked with Cléo Charuet (Cléoburo) and then for different agencies. On a trip to New York, Partners & Spade asked me to stay. It was the richest and most beautiful professional experience. I learned everything, or rather, I unlearned everything! I lived there for three years and became a freelancer. I worked both for agencies and institutions, including Apple and Facebook, and for fashion clients like Ulla Johnson and Andy Spade for Sleepy Jones and in the design world for Domino Magazine. I met some great people there, and it was also there that I met Guy.
I studied at Parsons School of Design for a year and then went to the New York Studio School the following year. I survived it for a year and then went north to Armherst, MA, to read more books and hone my personality. I was quite unhappy there too, but my father forced me to finish and graduate. Then I moved to Tel Aviv, where I worked as a graphic designer and opened a very small gallery for artists who were not being shown in Tel Aviv. In 2006, I realised that I could make a living from my own practice as an artist, and I have done so ever since.
Art director, artist, and founders of the publishing house Yundler Brondino Verlag: your respective activities show a heightened sensitivity to images and colour. Where does this come from? And how do you, in turn, make your children aware of this?
The fascinating thing about Aurore and me is that our upbringing is 180 degrees apart. She was born in the same apartment where she lived until she was 18, and where her mother still lives. I had lived in four different apartments in Haifa before I was seven years old. In Boston, we moved three more times before we got to know New York. Aurore has been immersed and is steeped – probably unconsciously – in the history of French painters, French cinema, French literature and, most importantly, the French lifestyle. I borrow and edit my sources from so many different directions. The establishment of our publishing house, which combines historical awareness with being completely contemporary, results from a combination of us both, the down-to-earth and the ephemeral. As a teenager, before social networks and technology, I was passionate about skateboarding, graffiti, counter culture and punk rock. All of this led me to art. I don’t try to influence my children by saying that one taste is better than another. Our home is filled with the kind of books, art, music and food that define us. I hope it’s the air they breathe.
I grew up in my grandmother’s bookshop / stationery / perfumery / leather goods shop, and everything I do today is drawn from that world. My memories of old books, postcards, notebook covers, perfume labels and papers in their thousands. It was a magical place with custom-made wooden bookcases from floor to ceiling and a spiral staircase leading to the galleries. Display cases with mirrored backs filled the walls, displaying Guerlain and Roger Gallet bottles. Every month we went through the distributors’ stocks to buy books. Paper became an obsession. This is my favourite part of making a book, the transition from the conceptual idea and its content to the translation into an object. I feel completely at home in any print workshop anywhere in the world. Being born and raised in Provence is also an incredible source of culture for me. I grew up among the fields of cherry trees and at the Sunday flea markets in all the Luberon villages that my mother and I used to go to. Later, I worked as an usherette in theatres, contemporary dance centres, and at a Lyric Art festival to pay for my studies. It was very inspiring to be able to attend the performances every night.
The modest space - 40m2 - resonates with us like a secret hideaway where no one can find us. Most of the works are by our friends (...) The house shows the history of our lives and the people in it.
What about designers and artists: whose work has had a particular influence on you and your work?
Cy Twombly as a poet, Henri Matisse as a colourist, Pablo Picasso for his passion, John Zorn for the depth of his work, Jean Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, and Paul Cézanne as the father of contemporary art and life.
All the New Wave, Duane Michals, Anne Collier, Bas Jan Ader, Peeping Tom, Roméo Castellucci, Alex Da Corte, Karla Black, Wolfgang Tillmans, Elad Lassry, Talia Chetrit, Sophie Calle, Luigi Ghirri, Henri Matisse, Charlotte Perriand, Sam Moyer, Imi Knoebel, Nathalie du Pasquier… And so many others!
Why have you chosen to settle in Marseille?
I was born and raised in Aix-en-Provence, but I’ve always had an abiding love for Marseille. After living in Paris, New York and Tel Aviv, it was my dream to buy a property there to rediscover my Mediterranean roots.
Somehow, unconsciously, we realised that we were attracted to cities that were considered ‘provincial’. Our aesthetic decisions are freer than they were in New York, Paris or London, where, paradoxically, we see a lot of conformity. It’s also harder for the gallery owners who represent me to come and see me, so I can work in peace! (Laughter)
How does this city inspire you?
We travel a lot, but when I arrive in Marseille, it’s a holiday even though I work there. There’s the light, the good mood, the morning swims in Malmousque, the chirping of the frogs at nightfall, but it also has to do with the interweaving of the town with the rocks and nature, the multitude of views over the Mediterranean…
We like the relaxation and the ruggedness of the city. The fact that it gives us the space to be ourselves without having to conform to it. Of course, we see the sea every morning, and as in all Mediterranean cities its presence always embraces you.
Tell us the story of your first encounter with this house.
We love the Bompard area. The frogs at night, the swallows, the south-facing aspect which means that there is never a mistral wind, the little corner with a view of the sea, the garden…
We started looking for a place to buy in Marseille three years ago. I had just inherited some money, and my dream was to use it to buy a house here. I visited properties on my own for a year because it was difficult at that time for Guy to come to Marseille frequently as there was no studio yet. Then after a year of searching, he came with me one weekend, and we visited three houses, including this one. He was the one who immediately saw the potential. I wasn’t 100% sure! I find it very difficult to make this kind of decision, but within 24 hours, the offer was accepted. It is located on the Bompard hill, opposite the Roucas Blanc hill. The south-facing terrace with a glimpse of the sea is my favourite place.
It is part of a group of three small, terraced houses built on the rock about 200 years ago as a brothel. Over the years, the ones next to ours have changed drastically, with altered facades, new windows and doors and extensions. But this one had remained intact except for an Ikea kitchen and bathroom, PVC double glazing and plasterboard covering all the walls. The idea was really to strip the space and give it back its true value, with its wealth of original materials. To replace the lino that had broken up in some places with old terracotta tiles, the metal shutters with Provençal-style shutters, and then to remove all the plasterboard: my absolute enemy in this so-called “modern” world. The big surprise was finding the original old windows of the house the neighbours had just thrown away and replaced with PVC! Pure chance. Before we found this place, we had rented the same house, which we liked very much, several times during our stays in Marseille. We had asked the owner which architect had done the renovation, and that’s how we discovered the work of Manon Gaillet. Manon has a particular sensitivity to materials. She designed all the lines and curves of our interior. She worked with different craftsmen skilled in red brick, Tadelakt and other lime coatings. The biggest job was making the outbuilding under the terrace habitable. The vaults used to store water in the past have become rooms, and the water tank is now a magnificent staircase designed by Manon, which leads to the old ‘lavoir’, once used for washing, now transformed into a bathtub. We are also lucky enough to be good friends with a great architect (François, to name but one) who has given us lots of valuable advice on interior and exterior design. And especially the garden.
We have very little furniture. Among the items we do have is the sideboard Charlotte Perriand made for her Les Arcs project (which we found antique hunting), Borge Morgensen chairs, a table and bench by our friend Marina Bautier, a Paola Navone sofa, some Alvar Aalto stools and an antique marble column we came across.
The modest space – 40m2 – resonates with us like a secret hideaway where no one can find us. Most of the works are by our friends – François Halard, Nathanaelle Herbelin, Camille Vivier, Nathalie du Pasquier. The house shows the history of our lives and the people in it.
It’s a place that reflects us, sunny, intimate and lively.
Rapid couture, Chez Michel, Le Café de la banque, the Calanque, Maldormé beach, and the swimmers’ circle.
I’ll add to that! The Legionnaires sea bath at sunset, the Auffes valley, the Baie des Singes, the port of Malmousque, Frioul, Morgiou, Chez le Belge, Maison Empeureur, the Cité Radieuse, the Vielle Charité, L’Épicerie L’Idéale and its restaurant, Jogging Samena (where we got married!), and La Maison Marseillaise.
Guy has an exhibition in Berlin entitled In the shadow of young girls in flower from 25 May to 26 June at the Koning Gallery, and then he will be taking part in the Armory Show New York in September. With our publishing house Yundler Brondino Verlag, we are participating in “The Other Book Fair” in The Hague from 27 to 29 May, then in the “I Never Read Art Book Fair” in Basel during Art Basel from 15 to 18 June and finally in Art-O-Rama in Marseille from 25 to 28 August. And in the next few months, but also in general, we are constantly moving between Marseille, Paris, Tel Aviv and Italy.
Photographies : Eve Campestrini – Texte : Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily