I feel confident in attesting that Alexander Benjamin Navet is the visual equivalent to a Lewis Caroll, or an Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He conjures entire worlds, space where the ordinary is somehow transformed into the astonishing, where you shrink beside towering household objects, or where colours take on the sweet, sugary jewel-glint of a dream. Navet takes ordinary life and squeezes out its power, its daily emphasis, to make the world seem newly fashioned again; as if the vases and pots and chairs of his work grew and evolved over hundreds of years beside birds of paradise and fruit trees, as acceptable and yet extraordinary as a bumblebee taking flight.
Interview tak­en from METAL Magazine issue 48. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here.
Alexandre Benjamin Navet, a multimedia artist and designer from Paris, truly brings a distinctly decorative gesture to our conversation. When I speak to Navet over video call, he occupies the space of the two dimensional screen in a way that seems to, somehow, magically bring depth and expanse through his very energy. He is as wild and restless as the white rabbit with the fob watch – he jumps off screen to retrieve monographs to show me, gestures towards the paintings and objects that surround him, flicking through bundles of papers in glee to find just the right image to support his point. The flat world of the screen suddenly propels backwards, the air seems to lift, and Navet conjures every conceivable dimension of the bold interiors of the room he’s sitting in hundreds of miles away. I might as well be chatting to him right outside his studio, the thin Parisian breeze greeting me as I lean on his windowsill. Having studied his work, it all seems to harmonise – only Navet could be the composer of such rich, bright, radiant art, given the palpable delight I can feel through the screen. His art brought to mind a quote from French author Jean Giono – “imaginer c’est choisir”, to imagine is to choose. Navet’s art proposes a choice to its viewer – remain in the world you know, with its dull tones and f lat personalities, or enter a place where colour becomes restored, objects are refreshed, nature grows out of the shimmering pools of human imagination. Stay where you are, or take a leap down the rabbit hole.
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Photo by Michael Ferire.
Tell me about where you are right now – the colours, the objects, the environment, the space that you’re in. How does the space you’re in make you feel right at this minute? Does it appeal enough to your artistic sensibilities to feel conducive for this discussion about your art?
 Absolutely, so I’m actually at the studio. I’m surrounded by art books here, I have my ceramic objects, some wooden objects. I like to collect them. When I work here at the studio, I love to grab references from my everyday life. So, it’s nice to have this living environment and for me, actually, it’s very important to my work. I grab these vases and I begin drawing – I like this everyday life, this exploration at the studio. Here we are at the level of my art studio, but I work in my home. This is really something important for me, to be in a space where I feel really confident and where I can find all these objects to get my inspiration.
Yeah, absolutely. And you’re talking about this being a living environment. This is a space for you that has a kind of life of its own; it seems to me that you can give any environment life by projecting your own creativity onto it. You’ve spoken about your relationship with colour – and art, to an extent – tracing back to childhood, where you decorated the hallways of the home you grew up in with a box of crayons, something you’ve wryly noted is ’what I continue to do today.’ Is there something more about childhood, or this idea of unbridled creativity and freedom which we might associate with it, which informs your work today?
Yeah, it’s a really funny story, this story about childhood and the box of crayons. I told this story to one show that was in private, and now I see we’re going to continue with it! Yes, the relation I have with colour and art has always been important to me; even if my projects are well organised and technical with many aspects to consider in advance, I leave a space to spontaneity and in my sketches and with the choice of my colour – I have to bring the sketchbook, I will show it to you. I’m still very astonished about the beautiful projects I’m working on. So, all of this keeps me really amazed – all of this really every day for me is quite a surprise.
My mother was an art student and my father used to work on French radio. I never tell this, but they also held a gallery. So, I guess they have always been very supportive. They encourage me to pursue this creative potential. Drawing, as I said, was always part of my everyday life. As drawing was part of my everyday life, I decided to start studying Industrial Design [laughs].
Oh wow, I didn’t know that.
Applied Art. I think it’s applied art; Applied Art and Industrial Design. And this is how I started my scholarship.
And I think from what you’re saying, your parents and your childhood was definitely infused with this sense of joy in the creative, and this is something that you’ve managed to continue on into your adult life. Was this just very natural for you to continue this sense of creative freedom that you have had as a child or a young working artist into your adult life?
I mean, there is joy in my everyday life. Of course, sometimes not, but I try to have it maybe just for a minute every day. But to maintain this artistic expression of joy, I think it’s important to be curious with what is all around and this is how I play. I mean, I travel. Travelling is always something important for my inspiration. It helps me keep this freshness you’re talking about. Thank you so much for this compliment, but I hope we don’t lose this joy in our everyday life and we have to continue to believe in this.
Absolutely – and where do you enjoy travelling the most?
I like Japan a lot. It’s been difficult to go there since three years ago but I’m sure I will go to Japan maybe at the end of the year. Japan; I’m really in love with this country, so it will be the seventh time I go there. But then I’m also really open to new countries, a new area. I was in Costa Rica and I fell in love – you wake up early, you’re looking at nature and you try to catch the bird in the sketchbook. So each time I travel I find something new, something interesting to also bring back in my sketchbook, of course, but also to just discover. For me you don’t need to travel to the other side of the world. Of course, I like that. But even on the corner you can discover something new and it starts something new in my project.
I know you work a lot with Japanese watercolour, sourced from Japan. So there is this sense when you’re travelling that you’re not just collecting material as in subject material, but actual physical, artistic material to bring back.
I like to bring back material each time, when I’m travelling I’m always asking, where is the art supply shop? I need to find it before we take the plane! I leave space to bring back new colours from Japan. I brought back a special brush that is beautiful.
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Carte Blanche - Galerie Derouillon - Assemblée Nationale.
Wonderful! In your work I love this idea of the home, you’re expanding your sense of what can accommodate the home from all over the world really. The home expands to accommodate imagination, wonderland, reverie, and fantasy, words associated with your work, and often noted by yourself. Are your internal imaginative worlds the ones we get to see represented in your art, in a kind of fantastical mimesis? Or are they constructed as a kind of public, external fantasy, a kind of blissful, escapist environment we can lose ourselves in as we encounter your work?
Vases and objects are present in my work. There are often vases or flowers in architecture, but they can be interpreted as a character. So it starts something, you were talking about my imaginary word and I guess it’s a synthesis. I’m talking about my drawing and my canvas. I guess it’s a synthesis of my feeling, of course, because I feel that today is going to be in green and blue, I will use these vases in front of me to put on my canvas. So this feeling I have and also, of course, my internal imaginative world and maybe to make it more clear for me, I try in my drawing or in my painting to open a door to my imagination. So maybe you were right when you said that, but it’s not wholly who I am.
Yeah, exactly.
It’s an open door. Maybe each piece constructs a story about this fantastical imagination that I have. I don’t know, it’s really difficult!
I think that’s a very beautiful answer to quite a tough question!
I really love bringing viewers somewhere else. So this is the idea. This one [gestures to an incredibly special-looking painting behind him] is not that special, but it’s a preview from the exhibit that is going to happen next week.
Oh, yes! For the Art fair in Paris.
We will talk about it later, probably! But to bring the public, to bring you somewhere else is really important because it creates surprise. So maybe this is what I try to translate, this imaginary world, this fantasia I want to share. I want to share this because I really love to transform our daily life by creating joyful space – space can be really solemn sometimes. I used to work for Van Cleef & Arpels, so a jewellery boutique or public space, they can be quite solemn. For me, I like this idea of connecting the public to another world, to this imaginary world because we are taken to somewhere else, or maybe it creates a joyful surprise.
I think that’s something that’s so invigorating about your art that you can take everyday objects like vases and mugs and flowers and make them new and exciting again. You take a lot of inspiration from the everyday, and I was wondering if you had any possible memories or anecdotes of when you realised that there was the potential for surprise in the everyday. You looked at a vase, you looked at flowers and thought, I can make that fresh, I can make this enchanting again.
It’s an anecdote, but when I go to my friends and places where my friends live, at some point I start looking at their white objects, the objects that are white in their home and I’m thinking what would happen if I just drew on it? And it’s becoming really curious to me, but I can’t stop doing this right now! And sometimes I’m looking at their white door or looking at their white rugs, and for me the absence of colour on objects is really a problem! But we live in this world, talking of the previous question, we talk about those imaginary worlds, but of course I like to use objects that we have all around us because it’s our everyday life. So it’s a better solution for me to transform them into something different, to create those surprises and to invent something new, some other shape. I think it’s more relevant to me to create those surprises.
Absolutely. And I think as well as there being such a sense of originality in your work, I sensed influence, thinking back to different still life artists like Morandi, Braque and Samuel Peploe...
I took a look at Peploe and I like the work, no one told me about this artist so I need to find a book and have it at the studio!
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ABN artworks - Photo © Gregory Copitet - Courtesy of the artist and Derouillon Gallery.
That would be thrilling!
You’re right, thank you for all these references. I have a few books about Morandi, and I like his work, the way he also transforms the ordinary object, for me they are landscapes. When I look at the painting of Morandi, I see a desert, I see an ocean, I see really different things, not just this bottle colour.
Do you look at some of these artists and go, I could do what they do, but just make it my own? Like, how can I reintroduce this sense of surprise and joy in an art practice that has a very long history and a very long tradition?
It’s really not easy to analyse my own work. I try with you, but it’s not easy for me! I’m really happy when my work is linked to the French arts décoratif, or, as you said, still life or interior design. And I really like the reference you see echoes of in my work. Of course, Braque, Morandi, Hockney, I adore them. But I also want to talk about Shirley Jaffe, maybe you know this artist? I have the book. You know Shirley Jaffe?
I’ve heard of them, although I’m not entirely familiar...
She’s an American. She came to Paris. [Navet leaps off camera to retrieve an art monograph of Shirley Jaffe. He returns, and leafs through Jaffe’s paintings from the book, showing them to the screen – reds and golds and deft, sharp lines, with Navet smiling broadly from above the page.] All her life spent in Paris, sharing this way to express imaginary language.
Oh, that’s gorgeous. Yeah, I’m going to write that down.
It’s beautiful. Before doing this, she was a painter and she was doing still life, nature. It’s totally different. And then she translates. I’m always quite emotive when I’m in front of this work. She’s really trying to recreate everyday life, how she sees a garden. I wanted to share it with you because I wanted to bring her into life. She died last year or two years before.
I’m so glad you brought that into the interview. I can entirely see how it has a relationship with your own work. She’s fantastic.
You know Fernand Léger? When I was young, I visited some exhibitions of Fernand Léger. He also inspires my work at some points.
That’s fascinating – I need to bring up your sketchbook, which also connects to another one of your remarks about your own installations – that they’re designed to feel as if the viewer is wandering through a giant sketchbook. I feel curious to know, what does your sketchbook look like? Does it resemble the finished artworks we get to see, or does it contain wilder and more irreverent pieces? Do you use it every day?
 It’s an everyday practice! At the studio, or when I travel, and I always have it with me. The sketchbook is always in my bag. All the time it is spontaneous. So the final result or the medium, it may vary. It’s okay, sometimes I forget my childhood box of crayons! So I have to find something when I’m travelling, maybe some new crayons. But the final result is not really important. What is much more interesting for me is catching ideas when I get inspiration, when I’m in front of a temple and I see a detail of decor. I like to collect some details on architecture when I’m travelling. And also, as an artist, for me, it’s a way to express an idea. When you see my sketchbook, there are all of these detailed drawings. Sometimes when I’m in front of a place – I’ll show you, I’m not sure this is the best one.

[Navet draws a sketchbook from beside him, and starts to flick through the pages.]
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Carte Blanche - Galerie Derouillon - Assemblée Nationale.
I’d feel very privileged to be able to see anything.
I was working on a landscape fresco. These are some from the seaside.

[Navet displays a page from his sketchbook – a seaside landscape rendered in broad lemons and blues and sweet oranges – I can’t take in everything all at once, the gleaming starfish and the waxy folds of the waves.]
That’s amazing!
It’s for a hotel in the south of France. I also try to draw the architecture, and the swimmer from the beach and everything, but also with imaginary elements, it’s mixed!
Oh, that’s fantastic. I’m so glad to be able to see those. That’s wonderful.
[Laying down the sketchbook, Navet retrieves a sheaf of beige coloured papers.]

But these are the sketches for the Assemblée Nationale... They are much more technical. It’s not in the sketchbook. You see, a sketchbook is just about drawing, and taking ideas from my travels. Or sometimes in this one, when I try to express how we’re going to hang the flowers [picking up another sketchbook, to show me drawings of flowers bursting with colour, like the fragrance was melted between the pages] when I was working for Van Cleef, this one was much more how are we going to connect stuff. You see, sometimes it doesn’t look like a beautiful drawing, it’s sometimes just information, or how shadow is going to work.
Do you get surprised by your own creativity sometimes? Do you ever think, oh, wow, that’d be fantastic to do, and you surprise yourself by your own creativity, your own imagination?
Sometimes I leave space for that. So maybe in the sketchbook, on the page, I just leave a blank space and then I will come back and I’m like, oh, I see this beautiful vase in this shop. Okay! And I finished the drawing with it, even if it’s not connected to the original drawing I was starting in. But my travelling books, they are really separate, one of each. Every trip is precisely organised.
Fascinating. I think it’s a really good time as well to talk about your work at the French National Assembly or the Assemblée Nationale. How did this come about? How were you approached to do this?
So this project is really crazy. I just realised right now what is going on and that it is real! We are talking about imaginary life and reality. So I realised that we made it! [laughs] It’s more than a six month project. We started visiting the space, discussing with the team of the Assemblée Nationale. But really the idea is to create something special, something dedicated to the space. So I was discussing with a production team to help me realise the sculpture, because it was also the first time – it’s an emotional project, because it’s the first time I translated drawing and my drawing and this language we were talking about, and my sketches, into sculpture, three dimensional sculpture. And for me, this was something really new. And thanks to my gallery. It’s really important to thank the gallery, because Galerie Derouillon worked a lot on the preparation for this project. And it’s public space, so we have technical details to manage, you can understand that!
And am I right in saying you primarily draw a lot of inspiration and creative ecstasy from nature in terms of colour and composition, even when the forms themselves are objects? Is this your first time designing for a natural or organic space, the space of your inspiration itself ?
The last exhibition at the gallery was about the garden. It was called Gardens. It was a co-exhibit, one in Paris and one in London, the previous exhibition. In London I presented the French Garden, and in Paris, I presented the London Garden! I really love those places and I wanted to share it with everyone, especially people who don’t have access to those gardens in Paris, because they live in London. It was a funny idea. So we made this, and then when I visited the Assemblée, it’s a carte blanche, so I really had access to all the places, practically, to decide on which site I will put the project. And I found this garden so lovely. I realised that after that, it’s a place where everyone talks after the assembly. They all join in the garden; the press is here, the journalists, there is everyone around. So I felt really comfortable, like I’m having my own garden party to put these sculptures in! I felt really at home the first time when I was in this garden – there is a bench, there is a wooden chair. And actually we did something with the chair – I presented the project and everything, we put up the sculpture, and Yaël [Braun-Pivet] the President of the Assemblée, she found it lovely if I continued this idea with their official bench. Of course, it continues this connection with the space, it continues to transform objects from everyday life. The garden... We were talking about the garden! I’m very inspired by nature and I’m very, very happy with those sculptures. I’m happy also to think that those sculptures will finish their life in the garden. Since that’s intended. Nature, the flowers, it all started with my collaboration with Van Cleef & Arpels [Fifth Avenue Blooms, in New York]. We first met, and they told me, you draw vases most of the time – we know they are characters, they do their job. But, why not put flowers inside? Of course, I started travelling, bringing back books, several books from the UK, some from France. We have some really nice books on flowers and nature. Nature is everywhere. I’m next to a garden, so I like to see the flowers. Just before the interview today I was just walking around my flat to enjoy nature. I will continue to have this connection with nature, I hope.
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Hotel des Arts, work in progress. Photo by Luc Bertrand for the Villa Noailles, June 2020.
Where did your creative relationship with nature begin?
It’s a beautiful word, fertile. I’m born in Paris, so this city is quite special with nature but we have some, and I think maybe when I was young and going to gardens is where I found colour in the city. Not all the time. But it’s Spring right now, since yesterday! So now you can find beautiful colours all around you. For free, you can just enjoy it. So it makes me really happy, and I’m happy that this sculpture project at the Assemblée is starting now for the Spring season, it’s really gorgeous. There is a Japanese tree that is starting to bloom, to add some more colour around my sculpture.
Yes, fantastic.
And nature creates a lot of joy. There is scent, of course, but you discover some colour and sometimes I’m quite jealous about nature, like where can I find this beautiful orange? And I tried, after being outside, to take a look at my supplies and find it and try to draw the f lower I see in the same colour sometimes.
You’ve spoken about wanting to apply colour in the same pigmented purity as it is found in nature - your colours don’t clash or mix, but are adjacent to each other, as if they’ve grown naturally beside each other.
Absolutely. For me, it’s important for two things. I don’t mix colour because I’m so in love with colour and pigment that I don’t want to mix them. They have their own language. 
Like personalities?
Exactly, I was going to say personality, but they are not alive, not right now! But they have quite strong personalities. So yes, this is the idea. Also, natural colours are so vivid that I don’t want to change drawing with natural pigment right now. It’s direct, vivid colour. They are strong. At the moment, I like to leave space between them. There really is a lot of white space between them. They make their dialogue, but they don’t fade into one another.
Yes, it’s beautiful. You complete a pretty extensive material research of the spaces you are asked to design for, consulting documents, photographs and histories – was it the same process for the Assemblée Nationale? It’s a space of such extensive historiography; how did you navigate the immensity of spatial value you had to work with?
It all starts with this first visit. And I spend time in the library, I spend time in the building. I draw in this space. So I collect some inspiration in detail about some of the vases, and some ornaments inside the building. I like to create those connections. I take a lot of pictures and then we decide on the place I will put this sculpture, and I adjust my colour specifically for the place. The garden had some special green that is not particularly in my drawing, but I found it interesting to add to create this connection, because I wanted to create something really special for this place.
Yes, absolutely.
You are in a specific place, so why not use it and find inspiration from it? The place was really inspiring to me.
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Carte Blanche - Assemblée Nationale, Sketch,2023.
The politically loaded dimension of this space is something unavoidable – did you want these sculptures to speak to that, or do you tend to avoid any political or ideological notions in your work?
When you add the Assemblée, you never escape from politics! [laughs] Of course, it’s a political place, but this garden is really special. The Jardin des Quatre Colonnes, in Paris, is also. It’s a quiet space, everyone talks louder inside, just in the building, after the steps and the column. When you’re in the garden, you instantly feel something quiet. There are all these benches, people are relaxing and it’s interesting to find. I was happy to find this specific place inside this building, inside the Assemblée. This is why I wanted to bring everyone there. I created a connection between two seats Grand Cordonnier and between the Jardin de Quatre Colonnes, on the connecting path. And this path allows you to see some of my inspiration. They are also the places where people meet, share.
I’m getting a sense of connection being really important to you, bringing people together, your art being a focal point in a space that people can come and congregate around, and it gives a sense of community to the public, I think. Would you mind speaking a little bit more about connection, specifically, possibly in terms of people that view your art? Or do you look at your artwork as something that can bring everyone together in a sense of joy, in a sense of wonder, and bring people out of their own isolation to enjoy your work as a community?
 I think it’s what I tried at some point, to bring people around a place or to stay a little bit more longer in a place they usually just cross. The Cordonnier is a place where people are crossing by constantly. When I visited for the first time, I just stood on the corner watching people running from the entrance to their office, running. Now that we have installed this institute sculpture, those three sculptures do something to their everyday life. People stop by, they have dialogue. It creates new connections between people.
Yes, absolutely.
At Assemblée, it’s a place where decisions are taken. For me, I’m really happy to have my work shown here because it’s a place where every opinion is represented. And I really like this idea.
Where is the space that you find the most inspiration? And I’m maybe not talking in generalities like the garden or the city, but for a specific garden or a specific public space that you find to be a really joyful, cheerful, inspirational place for you.
To get some inspiration from my home is really nice. There are books, objects, everything. But I need to get out of the house, away from the studio. The place I adore the most – and I’m living in Paris – is this in-between space, it’s cafes, it’s libraries, it’s where you feel comfortable without being home. Maybe because I’m a talkative person, but sometimes I start conversations with strangers and it’s nice! And it’s also what I try to make with my artwork, when I put sculptures in the public space. We also have nice gardens in Paris, when it’s spring and when the weather is really nice, I spend time in these beautiful gardens. But the cafe and library, I like so much. I spend a lot of time there. If you see me in Paris, I will probably be in those two places!
I can see that in your work, because there’s a sense of in- between places, the places that aren’t closed off but are still public. In your art, you’ve got vases and flowers which are usually kept inside on the outside. So you’re breaking down these boundaries between settings.
There’s always a window open on my canvas. So this way you don’t know if you’re looking from the outside or from the inside of the studio or the room. This interior/exterior notion is really important. When you sit in the garden where the sculpture and the bench are transformed, you can really feel at home.
Yes, and I think that also makes that when you’re talking about the differences between interior and exterior space, it almost makes the viewer an artist or feel like an artist. If they feel like they’re in the studio, surrounded by all these artworks, looking at it, they’re not sure whether they’re a viewer or a participant.
I like to encourage all my friends each time we see each other, when they are in the studio, to take crayons and to draw with me. I like this idea that everyone can try this experience with the colour, especially my friend’s kids. Each time I go to their place, I’m like, this crayon is for you. Do something!
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Prise photo a l’atelier - Galerie Derouillon, Art Paris 2023.
What’s the thing about creating art, making art that gives you the most joy? Is there a specific point in the process where you have a moment and you think, this is really what makes me happy, this is what I want to do?
I feel joy at all the steps of the project. I feel joy, of course, when creating I feel joy when I find a new way to express an idea. I’m actually feeling joy because I’m trying to make something new with new material, just right now for an upcoming project. And I feel joy when I visit new places, of course.
So every step in the process has its own, differently accented joy?
Yes! Because it’s always nice to realise that the project and the process is going well and this is going to happen! At the end of each project, I’m like, we did this! I did this façade, we did this avenue!
That’s how joy as an emotion keeps surprising you as an artist, because it’s a different kind of joy. It’s a surprising kind of joy every single time you create something new, which I think is such a wonderful thing to experience as someone who practises art, it’s amazing.
But in the meantime, after all of that, I’m never really confident about the reception of my work. And so it’s always also a joy when my work is well received. I have to say, at each step there is joy, but at the end, I’m really happy when the work is well received.
Yes. I think the final question I’ve got to ask you is, what was the last thing that brought you joy? And I feel I might know the answer to this, given what you’ve just installed in the National Assembly last week...
Well, there is something that brings me a lot of joy – I just got the key to my new studio in Palais-Royale!
It’s really new. And after those few weeks of construction work, and there’s a lot of things we have to do, issues with the construction, but now I have this blank page and I’m very excited to select and create specific objects for the place. I’m doing the carpet, I’m actually doing the drawing that we are going to make for the carpet. It’s a new project. It’s much more personal, but of course, it makes me really feel happy.
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Lothaire Hucki © Villa Noailles, 2018 .
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Façades chromatiques, Une invitation aux voyages imaginaires. Place du Commerce, Le Voyage à Nantes, 2022 © Martin Argyroglo.