François Perrin, man of air

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Francois Perrin speaks after receiving his knighthood at the French Consulate, June 6, 2018. He is accompanied by wife Eviana Hartman and their daughter Clarisse. Photo by Robin Bennett Stein

He was so happy.

The last time I saw François Perrin -- who died Monday, April 1, of brain cancer -- was in June last year at the French Consulate in Beverly Hills, when the Consul General bestowed on the Paris-born François the “insignia of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.”

This knighthood was for his significant contributions "to the enrichment of the French cultural inheritance" through his avant-garde art and architecture projects with a French lilt.

These included his “Yves Klein-Air Architecture” exhibition at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture and his series of “Architectones” -- site-specific installations by Xavier Veilhan, curated by François, and installed in architectural landmarks including the Sheats Goldstein residence.

The joy at this recognition from his native country was enhanced by the presence of his young family -- wife Eviana Hartman and their daughter Clarisse, whose ecstatic father kept the baby in his arms for much of his acceptance speech, leavening the formality of the occasion.

I’d known François since at least 2004, when he talked on DnA about his Klein exhibition -- an exploration of the French artist’s “immaterial architecture." François, who named his own LA studio Air Architecture, described environments made of fire and water, where you could live totally nude, in a new Eden that would fuse a return to nature with technology that could modify the elements, like warmed air walls.

Sometimes months, even a year or two, would pass when we didn’t run into each other and then he’d pop up, often with news about a new project he was involved with -- typically something very French and existential sounding like “What is your Utopia?”, a seven-hour marathon of talks and performances around the topic of Utopia(s), past, present and future, that took place at Bergamot Station in early 2017.  

Or something wild like his PAS House where every surface was for skateboarding.

It may have been the PAS House that was borne of an encounter he had while surfing -- another great passion of his -- on the West coast of France.

Somehow he got chatting to a guy at the beach who turned into a client. I remember laughing with him in astonishment at this story that was bizarre and yet characteristic of the way in which François led his life -- with warmth and gentleness combined with singular commitment to his ethereal and materially inventive art and architecture, while letting chance waft him -- like the blown air in his hero Klein’s air architecture -- to new opportunities and, ultimately, to a family that brought him midlife renewal.

How very, very sad that illness came and cut that full life short.

Read more about François Perrin in Curbed LA and the Architects Newspaper.

A memorial will take place Sunday, April 7 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the MAK Center (guests are asked to wear navy, as Perrin always did); a surfer’s circle will be held on Saturday, April 6 at 8 a.m. at Topanga Beach.

A fundraising campaign has been set up to support Perrin’s family.