Artist Paulin Paris was raised in France and once owned a 35-room chateau largely built in the 15th to 18th centuries. But five years ago, he moved into a postwar beach cottage in Venice, and the change in scenery couldn't have been more jarring. Staring at rooms of plain white drywall, the homesick Paris did what he does best: He took out his paintbrushes and went to work.
Five days later, Paris had transformed the L-shaped living and dining room into a personal space full of color and whimsy. The walls glowed pale lavender and were alive with faux highlights and shadows in a storybook-like depiction of an 18th century wood-paneled chamber. More theatrical abstraction than photorealistic trompe l'oeil, the mural infused the drab bungalow of less than 1,000 square feet with larger-than-life character.
"My idea was to create an image of French sophistication in the simplest, most economical and minimalist way. Right away, it made the house feel much more familiar," says the artist, who prefers to go by his last name, which happens to be where he was born.
Paris attended the École des Beaux-Arts in the French capital and trained in faux painting at the Van Der Kelen-Logelain institute in Brussels. He is a descendant of the early 20th century French portraitist Carolus-Duran, whose work hangs in the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Now a fine artist in his own right, he is sought out by top interior designers such as Adam Tihany, Robert Couturier and Christian Liaigre. His clients include Cartier, Valentino, the sultan of Brunei and chef Thomas Keller's new Bouchon restaurant in Beverly Hills.
Paris' creativity extends to fine-art paintings, high-end wallpapers, folding screens, mirrors and lamps. He was part of a two-man show with Ed Moses at Caché in Santa Monica this winter, and Frank Pictures Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica is planning a solo show of his marquetry-like artworks that will open April 11.
But murals have been and remain Paris' specialty. They're what turned the unassuming brick-colored house that he shares with his wife, actress Carmen Thomas, and their two children into an unexpected gem inside.
"A lot of people thought we added decorative molding in the front rooms, but it was always there," Thomas says. "It's just that no one ever noticed it before Paulin did the painting."
Nine-year-old Sabine, an animal lover, requested a horse, so Paris painted the lilac silhouette of an English racehorse alongside her canopy bed. For 4-year-old Georges, who likes to play with a toy pirate pistol, Paris came up with the dark purple silhouettes of a pair of antique firearms.
"I know guns are not politically correct," Paris says, "but it's what he wanted. He'll outgrow it and want something else later. Sabine is already asking for John Lennon because she loves the Beatles."
To make his murals, Paris prefers Benjamin Moore latex house paint. If a project calls for a more transparent finish, he relies on Liquitex and Golden Artist Colors acrylic paints and glazes from the Pearl art supplies store in Los Angeles.
Paris starts with a scale drawing, eventually expanding it to actual size. Then, after outlining the design on the wall in chalk, he completes the painting freehand.
The mural in the master bedroom is the pièce de résistance.
"The shape of the room helped us decide that it would be a warm log cabin," Paris says, referring to walls that resemble stacks of chopped timbers and a pitched ceiling painted to look like rafters. "Since the bedroom used to be the garage and is always a bit colder than the rest of the house, the idea was perfect."
The rustic theme suits Thomas as well. She and Paris met in a snow-covered cabin in Aspen, Colo., years ago and now, thanks to her husband's clever handi-work, they have a charming reminder of that romantic time and place.
"At night, with candles glowing," she says, "golden light reflects off the walls, and the room really does look like a cabin."