Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni steps inside Arik Levy’s universe

Open House

By Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni

One never quite knows what to expect when arriving at Arik Levy’s Paris studio. This is mainly due to the Israeli-born artist’s versatility. While he is best known for his ultra modern Fractal lights and facetted, nature-inspired Rock(s) sculptures, Levy is prolific, and his work ranges from industrial design and jewelry to interiors and contemporary dance stage designs. The main constant, it seems, is his relentless enthusiasm: “I feel rewarded every time I create,” he says.

Not too surprisingly, his light-filled atelier, buried in the heart of the 20th arrondissement—a gentrified working class neighborhood popular with artists and architects—is a hive of activity. Levy’s creative team consists of nine people whom he describes as being “half in design and half in art,” and they are too concentrated on the tasks at hand to notice an intrusion. Looking around the 360-square-meter space—a former textile factory in a 1920s red brick building—one quickly realizes that it is filled exclusively with Levy’s designs. Employees sit on his chairs, work at his desks, and even drink from his cups. Levy prototypes cover most surfaces, and a gallery area exhibits his photographs. It’s a mini Arik Levy universe, which might come across as megalomania, except that meeting the fifty-year-old artist-designer immediately crushes any such impression.

Levy’s warmth, humor, and lack of complacency—“no self-criticism, no growth,” he insists—make him a winning and accessible character. True, he relishes his craft. “I work 16 hours a day and I’d do more if it were humanly possible,” he says with a broad smile. He takes it to such an extent that he has little time even for accidents; case in point when he cut off his right forefinger with a circular saw while perfecting a mock up in December 2002. “I wasn’t devastated when it happened,” he says. “I was more pissed that I had to go to hospital because I had so much to do.”

The tall and lanky Levy is refreshingly uncomplicated and active; there is no anguish to his game. “You need to be strong and start again, if necessary,” Levy opines about design. “And know not to fall in love with your work.”

His childlike obsession with surfing is also endearing. “The only thing that can distract me is wind and waves,” he says. He and his wife, son, and daughter take three-and-a-half months of holiday a year, usually to hit the surf, with Hawaii being the usual destination of choice. He explains, “I decided a long time ago that recharging yourself is a good formula.”

Levy appears to be leading an exceptional existence, one guided by his creative passion and need for a challenge. Severely dyslexic—“I find it really hard to read a book; the words just scramble in front of me,” Levy says—he thanks his maternal grandfather for his persistent “drive and motivation.”

I was more pissed that I had to go to hospital because I had so much to do. “He owned an electronics shop in Tel Aviv where he sold radios and irons.” Every Friday afternoon, Levy would be left alone with him. “My grandfather was a very difficult, hardworking guy, and he’d say, ‘Bring me something that you invented and built. If it’s good, I’ll give you a chocolate bar.’” After such training, Levy assumed the confidence to create. In fact, before exhibiting his first sculpture as part of a group show in Jaffa in 1986, he had already painted and sold over 2000 surfboards. “It’s not Hawaii, but you can surf everywhere in Israel—in Haifa and on the Red Sea.”

In 1988, he left Israel and attended the Art Center Europe in Switzerland. “The weirdest department was for car design,” he recalls, “and I applied there even though I had never seen a Porsche in my life. I came from Israel!”  Ultimately Levy switched his attention to industrial design, and graduated with honors. In 1991, he did a stint at the Seiko Epson design center in Tokyo and Lake Suwa in Nagano. “I’d been warned that there was Japan for the foreigners and Japan for the Japanese,” he says. “So my first morning, I put Prince very loud on the sound system, and everyone jumped out of their seats. Then I said, ‘Hello, Arik is here!’ and we all became friends.”

In 1992, Levy decided to move to France. “I knew no one and I taught in a design school,” he says (Levy taught at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle in Paris between ’92 and ’94). “My first apartment was tiny, just six square meters,” he continues, “and I used to eat on the roof and dream.”

He began to make contacts in the city, and his first exhibition—the 1998 Light Light show at Jacqueline Frydman’s Galerie Passage du Retz in the Marais—featured several lighting concepts and sculptures and drew great attention from the art and design worlds. Several work opportunities soon followed, including a project designing the offices for Cartier in 2001. “It was 20,000 square meters, and (with the Swiss company Vitra) I created the entire space’s tailor-made furniture,” he says. In 2009, Levy designed the perfume bottle for A Scent by Issey Miyake, and last year he presented his Tuile de Cristal light fixture for Baccarat, which he describes as “a new chandelier concept.” When questioned about his most treasured design, Levy gets ruffled. “That’s like asking a mother who her favorite baby is,” he says. “My favorite is what’s coming next. It’s all about the process.”

  • Text by

    • Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni

      Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni

      Paris-based British writer Natasha has covered fashion and interiors for 24 years. After working for Karl Lagerfeld, W, and Harper’s Bazaar, she now contributes to the likes of British Vogue, Vanity Fair and Another.
  • Images by

    • Stefano Candito

      Stefano Candito

      At home everywhere, Stefano grew up in Italy and—after Germany, China and the U.S.—he now lives in Paris. Architecture and people are unquestionably the muses of his work.