The Unlikely King of the Paris Brasserie

The Unlikely King of the Paris Brasserie
What do “Barbie Live: The Musical” and Brasserie Floderer in the 10th arrondissement of Paris have in common? Both “sets” or walls surrounding actors on a stage, or diners enjoying a meal, were decorative painted by Benjamin Craig, who calls himself the “unlikely king of the French brasserie.” This past summer, Craig finished painting his 18th brasserie worldwide while working with British designer John Whelan. “It’s amusing to think that a Franco-American painter who has spent half his life in the U.S. and half of it in France has teamed up with Whelan to dash a coat of paint on the most French of all institutions – the brasserie,” said Craig. Decorative painting is more than a special coat of paint. It’s a well-respected fine art where painters replicate the appearance of materials such as wood, stone or marble but also includes many other decorative and colorful finishes for walls, floors, ceilings and even furniture. It’s about simulating recognizable textures and surfaces to create a faux (fake) finish. Decorative painting covers up the plain wood of a structure and brings the elegance of expensive, rare materials to rooms that would be very plain otherwise. The art even includes trompe-l’oeil (fool the eye) which replicates architectural details and depth. Terminus Nord, courtesy of Benjamin Craig Although decorative painting began in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago, it took the Art Deco trend of the 1920s to make it popular for commercial and public spaces. That’s when many of the brasseries in Paris and the rest of Europe decorated their walls to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the brasserie experience and add a specific personality to the restaurant. The art of today’s decorative painting is complex and uses two processes. Glaze uses a mixture of paint and glaze applied with tools such as brushes, rollers, rags or sponges to mimic textures. Plaster uses tinted plasters or earth pigments applied with a trowel or spatula. Both can be flat or textured. Some of the finish techniques using these two processes are marbleizing to create faux marble, fresco which adds mottled color and texture to walls, graining or faux bois (fake wood) to imitate wood textures, color wash to create subtle variations of color using multiple hues of glaze blended together, rag painting to create textural patterns and strié (stripe) which creates thin streaks of color using a paint brush to imitate fabrics. As wallpaper fell out of fashion in the late 1980s/early 1990s, decorative painting became popular again. This is about the time when Craig entered the profession. He earned a BA in Fine Arts and ultimately a degree in decorative painting from the Institut Supérieur de Peinture Decorative in Paris (IPEDEC). He started his career in Brooklyn painting theater sets in a set shop where he painted sets for the Barbie musical along with the TV shows such as “The Sopranos”, “30-Rock” and others.

Lead photo credit : Terminus Nord, courtesy of Benjamin Craig

More in Art Deco, benjamin craig, Bofinger, Boullion Julien, brasserie, Brasserie Floderer, Brasserie Rosie, restoration, Terminus Nord

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Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives part-time on the Île de la Cité and part-time in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization. She also works as the San Francisco ambassador for France Today magazine.