He is the protector of the Faubourg’s (Saint-Antoine) soul, this bubbly and dynamic district full of craftsmen cabinetmakers where he grew up and learned his trade in the best tradition. And today he is one of the last to defend a living heritage that he conveys with passion and conviction to an entire generation in search of knowledge and authenticity. Father of a multitude, Vittorio Serio is above all an artist, a pure and a wonderful one, who dares an unlimited creativity in unique works that mark his time. He’s a confidence man in the image of his cabinet of secrets, and the friend whose signature crosses borders, because he constantly renews his art, holding high the banner of his profession and constantly arousing new talents in a craft that he wants to carry primary emotions, sharing and human communion.
Rebel, with a difficult start
In this historic district, he is indeed the last cabinetmaker. Yet, when Vittorio Serio began his learning in 1975, “they were 275, and it was a swarming ant-heap”. His father worked as a master craftsman for several workshops of the Faubourg St Antoine, supervising the the making of stylish furniture. This is how the young Vittorio, who was bored at school, turned to cabinet-making. “I started at 15 and it was a steep learning curve because my father was very demanding with me. He wanted me to be the best!” He will complete his vocational qualification (CAP) and start to learn the traditional production that made the Faubourg Saint-Antoine was renowned for. “I learned this unique know-how, which is a living heritage that I am defending today. This work with dovetails, drawers and sides in oak, assembled with mortise and tenon joints. All that makes the specificity and the French excellence. “As it is a profession where the gesture is acquired by repetition, Vittorio Serio will have to make and redo furniture in small series: chest of drawers Louis VI, cabinets and side cabinets Louis XVI. “Until the day where the hand manages to forget the tool”. It is a sign that we have moved on to the creative movement. ”
In parallel with this, Vittorio quickly became thirsty for independence. “This need for freedom, with the refusal to obey or to give orders to others; I could not stand that either in the army or in the first workshops where I practiced.” Then the opportunity arose. In 1983, at 22 years old, he bought a former studio on rue de Montreuil, to settle there. He first produced stylish furniture, but the sale was quickly disappointing, due to competition from Spain and Italy. And he felt the need to express his creativity by making something else. “I was bored with these classical objects and I suddenly had the urge to create my first piece of furniture. It was a cabinet with doors that open: in ebony, Ceylon lemon and Coral wood.” This inspiration was an inner movement because he clearly exclaimed: “since I am a cabinetmaker of my time, I also want to make furniture of my time”. The turning point will be laborious and complicated, for his vision is disturbing. But he stood firm, despite the unkind comments and the negative outlook of his profession. “I was told that this was hopeless and that is was not a good way to work. But I kept creating pieces and managing my workshop in my own way.” He focused on restoring furniture and custom pieces to order. He also took a worker from the first year – then up to 10 at a time, “to release this precious time for my personal creation with unique pieces, all of which are numbered in a register and sold most often to collectors.”
Allowing creativity to express itself
The young cabinetmaker began to show his creations in craft exhibitions. Then, he launched his own art gallery in the workshop to exhibit his works, but also those of others. This gave him the opportunity to meet all Paris’ remarkable decorators, antique dealers, artisans and artists of all sides. “Everyone knows me and I know everyone, but it has happened over time.” His curiosity and his creativity are overwhelming. “Furniture is for me a pretext to create a work of art, to tell a story in which I put all my joy. I also like to help, to stimulate others and to appreciate their creations.” His style remains elusive but his works stand out in a unique way and more and more recognizable by the exuberant baroque, innovative and offbeat style. For the master cabinetmaker loves to surprise and explore virgin lands “like Prehistory, precisely because there is nothing written on that time and everything is to be invented.”
In 1995, his father found himself unemployed but he joined the workshop of his eldest son and accompanied him to the end by training the young apprentices. “We really lived all the time together. He was my father, my teacher and my best friend.” Today, Vittorio claims this demanding high standards that he learned at the beginning, and which he continues to cultivate with himself and the work done at the workshop. This excellence and his search for ways to convey this knowledge will be rewarded in 2005: the Serio Workshop will become a Living Heritage Company and he will be named a Living Treasure of Crafts a few years later. In 2013, he will also be awarded as Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite by the French Government.
More and more daring works
There are always two movements in Vittorio Serio’s work. First, to create the furniture for oneself and at the same time, to create it for the others, whether to satisfy a customer’s desire or to exchange and inspire other creators. He will then associate, in the manner of a sculpture, the noble materials with all kinds of inspiration, including new techniques, objects of recovery or vestiges of history and art.
An example is his Medina office. “At the beginning, the customer arrived with Orientalist bronzes of the Art Nouveau era from Tunisia and Morocco”. The bronzes represented Muslim or Persian scenes. “I suggested that I to create a table to let her be closer to these objects. And, as they were small characters of the daily life, I had the idea of making a table that would become a city, a medina with its souk and its different minarets.” His fertile imagination artist is inexhaustible. He will eventually propose a customized desk with the representation put upside down to have a functional surface to the place. A feat, both in making and creation, because it will be necessary to choose the lighter and hardest woods to produce the plateau that was more than 2 meters long. He will even create a support with a secret that unfolds to unveil the erotic bronzes, those she does not want to expose. This work of art “is a city beneath and a city above that are built as they live together”. The client has in fact planned to make the city grow again with other elements as soon as she will get more bronzes.
For his personal creations, it is the natural elements that inspire Vittorio Serio first. Like his last work, an amazing monolith, which asked him for nearly a year and a half of work. “There are three different readings. The mineral is a lying stone, a dolmen and a menhir. The vegetal then, with a tree trunk that rolled to the edge of the sea and that bleached with sand and sun. Finally the animal life, and it would be a white whale with the shape of its rostrum, which jumps from the water.” The inside of the piece of furniture is blood red indeed, like the inside of a whale. “Thus furniture is no more than the expression of this movement.” As for the artist, the function no longer exists. It is only a tool to make a piece of art. And as in a museum with continued contemplation, we could notice that he has dared to leave the naked furniture, in a raw form and we could see all the assemblages. “It gives the impression of being done without being tackled.” And when one looks again, one discovers that it is curved like the furniture of Louis XV. “This is the last piece of furniture I made with my father and I dedicated it to him because he liked this style.”
A fertility in community life
The creator cabinetmaker also has a second job. In 1998, he decided to make himself known by helping others and he will take over an Association of Craftsmen from Bastille, then Paris, to create the Biennale of Decorative Arts, the very one that inspired beautiful exhibitions as Revelations at the Grand Palais in Paris. “Since the time I have been doing this, I have given cravings. I met all the craftsmen who dared to do otherwise and they have become friends. “They will exhibit in Russia, New York and Monaco… The maestro will also train students in cabinetmaking skills. “A lot of young people are going into creation because I did that.” Then, this father of two girls adds with a satisfied smile: “So I have a lot of sons now. They learned the trade at the workshop or discovered their call during the exhibitions. “Indeed, fine crafts are also a question of people to people relationships.”
One will go from surprise to astonishment when meeting the master cabinetmaker Vittorio Serio. Like its furniture, he is full of contrasts and surprise with an immense potential and a great variety of scales. Reserved, he is no less spirited and inventive as an Italian. Friendly, he remains tenacious and demanding when it comes to the concern for excellence. A drawer opens and he is in his studio of the Faubourg, transmitting with passion his unique know-how. A door unfolds like the wing of an insect (one of its creations) and he see him at an exhibition or defending this living heritage surrounded by his friends: customers and craftsmen. Then we will find this secret opening and here it is in its intimacy: a happy man and an accomplished artist who has been creating tirelessly for 35 years listening to the inspirations of his heart. For he could stamp its own imprit with a piece of soul!
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on May 22, 2017, in Paris