By Hugh Garvey
Published in Playboy South Africa 2012
When you pull up to the gates of Michel Comte’s Mediterranean revival-style mansion in the hills above Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, it’s impossible to find fault. Even the vintage Bentley in the circular drive seems not so much parked as curated; it is beluga-black, all the better to reflect the grand cypress-tree-flanked entrance and the gently burbling fountain. You might bump in to a naked model by the pool. That’s because Comte, who was born in Zurich, is a major fashion photographer and shoots many of his spreads at this estate.
A year ago, Comte opened the doors of this sun-drenched redoubt to 25-year-old itinerant street artist Alec Monopoly to use as his home and studio. By day this is where Monopoly (who, like the street artist Banksy, keeps his real name and identity secret) paints his pop art images of the Monopoly Man, Jack Nicholson and Bob Dylan, which are collected by the likes of Robert De Niro and Seth Rogen. By night Monopoly descends into the city to plaster billboards and construction sites, using LA itself as his gallery. Join us on a tour of this high-low mash-up of an art house, courtesy of Comte’s magical lens.
Michel Comte’s Beverly Hills house is the quintessential retreat of a gentleman artist, melding a distinctly Californian vibe with classic European style. Behind the stately stuccoed walls, Comte has filled the grand oak-panelled room with an eclectic world- class collection of art and iconic mid-century modern furniture. The house is a refuge designed to inspire – both for Comte and for graffiti artist Alec Monopoly. “Being surrounded by all this art is amazing,” says Monopoly, seen at right painting one of his signature portraits. “I’ll just wander the halls, and around every corner there’s a piece from one of my heroes.” Like Joan Miro, for example, and Alexander Calder.
While any high roller can buy a print of Warhol’s Last Supper or one of his Marilyn Monroe images, Comte has the silk screens used to produce them ( right and above right). “It’s a crazy contrast,” says Monopoly. “I’ll be out all night hitting downtown with my prints and bumping in to homeless people having sex. Then I’ll come here and forget I’m even in Los Angeles.”