The glass-blower extraordinaire Jean-Claude Novaro has swapped his idyllic Cote d'Azur estate, with its menagerie of creatures, for a humble abode in Ras Al Khaimah.
"I am enjoying my life here. It is very peaceful," he says. "I absolutely love this emirate, the hospitality and the environment I am in. Of course, I miss my farm and animals but I cannot move everyone here and will reunite with them very soon."
The 69-year-old French artist dubbed the "King of Glass" has signed an exclusive three-year deal with RAK Ceramics to create a Luminous range of designs, and plans for him to teach glass-blowing to UAE residents are also being discussed.
To celebrate his arrival, more than 100 of Novaro's precious handblown pieces will be on display at the Royal Treasures Gallery in Dubai from tonight until Saturday.
"They vary from fashion and haute couture bottles to Grand Dame bottles, fish-shaped glasses, vases and ashtrays," he says. "There will also be a special seven-foot clown at the exhibition, which is my favourite commission.
"I have also created a lot of pieces related to the colour of the UAE flag - black, red, green and white - which will be displayed. Plus, some special pieces shaped as horses."
Novaro's love affair with glass has spanned five decades and his trailblazing use of enamels, paint and the inclusion of gold and silver between the layers of his creations secured him a long and varied list of famous clients from Sheikh Tariq Al Qassimi of Sharjah to the boxer Mike Tyson.
In the early 1980s, Novaro received critical acclaim for his art-deco-inspired lamps, and in the years that followed he began to experiment, pushing glass to its extreme limits in size, creating extra large and small-scale objects. He later entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest handblown coupe ever made, and his work has now been shown at more than 125 individual exhibitions throughout the world from France to Japan and Saudi Arabia to the United States.
"The acclaim and success I enjoy today didn't come easily," he says. "I went from selling small glass animals to tourists for a few francs apiece to having my works in museums, galleries and private collections worldwide. And it was purely my love of the craft, combined with hard work, unwavering drive and determination that allowed me to become a maître verrier, or master glassmaker, by the age of 20."
The secret to Novaro's enduring success might have something to do with his unique method of manipulating his materials.
"I use my protected hands to shape the molten glass, which is different than cooling and shaping the glass on a marver, for example," he says. "Instead of this, I use wet newspapers to guide and form the glass. The coolness of wet papers absorbs the heat of the glass and allows me to shape it, creating my own art form."
Novaro's hands will be kept especially busy in the coming months as news of his relocation to the dedicated factory in Ras Al Khaimah has triggered a slew of orders.
"The UAE and the greater GCC region are just beginning to embrace glass-blowing," he says. "And we find that our customers in this region have an eye for quality and beauty."
Should you commission one of Novaro's masterpieces, don't expect to be granted access to see the master at work. It is a time-consuming, solitary process that requires the artist's sole and undivided attention, he says.
"My work's basic uniqueness is a direct reflection of my desire to master the glass in my own inventive way. I let every piece be a creation of my own hands.
"I developed these techniques as a solo glass artist and I still love working alone."
• See Jean-Claude Novaro's exhibition at the Royal Treasures Gallery, Jumeirah Terrace Building, Diyafah. For more information, call 04 386 0837 or visit www.royaltreasuresantiques.com
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