Meet Aristide Najean
French painter Aristide Najean learnt the art of glassmaking from some of the greatest masters in Murano but his work is anything but traditional. He brings a new artistic flair to the craft with his colors and sense of light, and the pictorial research behind that seems to infuse each piece with poetry and energy. His glass factory in Murano is a place of wonder and sitting with us, he tells us his story.
Meet Aristide Najean
GLH: Hello Aristide. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few of our questions. For the people who may not be familiar with your work…yet, could you quickly introduce yourself?
Aristide Najean: My name is Aristide Najean, and I am a French painter and sculptor. I started my artistic journey with oil painting, in other words, working with minerals and pigmentation, and the reason I find myself here, in Murano, is because of a deal I made with a master glassmaker many years ago. He wanted to learn oil painting and I offered to teach him in exchange for glassmaking ones. This saved me a lot of time because each workshop in Murano is unique and they all have their guarded secrets.
I was not completely unfamiliar with this environment because I’d studied the pigmentation of frescoes in Florence and it is, in fact, the same technique for glass and minerals. So what I lacked was the opportunity to train in the making of the glass, which I did over 10 years.
GLH: What drew you towards this craft or was it something you already wanted to do?
Aristide Najean: I was looking for something to render the colors in my paintings with more texture and dimension, something that would be more voluminous, and glassmaking happened to be exactly what I was looking for. I was looking to make an object with a part that would be more opaque and a part that would be more translucent; which you can do in painting but not really in sculpture, nor with wood, whereas with glass, it is possible. When you light up the glass, it is even more amazing because you’re breathing soul into the object.
GLH: And what would you say is unique about Italian glassmaking?
Aristide Najean: The minerals, the colours and the lightness of the glass. This is called artistic glass because the glass must be very fine and blown without a mould, and the thinner and more bubble-free the glass, the lighter it is.
It is also interesting to know that it was the Italians who invented the glass foot. This was to keep the fingers away from the chalice.
GLH: Can you walk us through the steps of how you work? What is the creative process you go through to create a new commission?
Aristide Najean: Our workshop does not produce en-masse…only unique pieces. We have 10 people working in the shop as craftsmen and I am the artist, so I take the orders and evaluate the new requests. Then the craftsmen actually make the object.
It’s usually the clients who direct my creative process. We work on the design together and let our imagination run wild. For example, for the last 3 weeks, I have been working on a new project which is preparing a perfume bottle for the Guerlain brand, a prototype for which we will be making 25 pieces.
My idea for this project was to create a bottle in the shape of a flower bouquet and I’ve been thinking about how the glass can be fashioned in order to express this idea and to represent the bouquet.
GLH: And how do you choose the colors to use?
Aristide Najean: You have to know that the colour changes as you work it. When you work with red, for example, it becomes dark once it cools down. What is fantastic is that you can never see the final product when you’re working the glass, when it is hot, because once it cools down and sets, the colours are different.
We always try to balance the cold and warm colours in a sculpture.
The production cycle of the kiln is continuous, day and night; t is never turned off except when the kiln is closed for maintenance. At the end of the typical working day in the kiln, the master glassmaker prepares the “crucible” or the set of different substances needed to create Murano glass. Throughout the night, at a temperature of 1200° C, the different components of the glass are mixed together evenly to be ready for processing at dawn on the following day. All of this is an extremely complex process. The training of the craftsmen that we work with is also very important because that’s unique knowledge and know-how that we pass down to them.
GLH: Considering the weight of the history of Murano glass, is there even the possibility to innovate or do something new?
Aristide Najean: In my opinion, innovation comes from the expression of art. Otherwise, in order not to lose the technique and to keep in touch with the ancestral aspect of the work, an artisan comes to the workshop once a week .
When I first arrived in Murano, they hated me. So, I persevered for over 10 years and learned the craft and it’s only the past 20 years that I’ve really been able to do meaningful work. For example, I once imagined a chandelier that depicted the Return of San Marco with dragons and lanterns, because San Marco brought the lantern from China. So I wondered how I would do the body of the dragon. And then I got the idea: The ornate components of a traditional Venetian chandelier, one fitted after the other or into the other would make up the perfect body.
GLH: We hear you’ve done some work for Hotel Eden, which is a hotel in our Collection. How did that happen?
Aristide Najean: I was contacted at the time of the restoration of Hotel Eden by Bruno Moinard – with whom I had worked a lot, notably in London for the Dorchester – and Claire Bataille, because they had a rather sober lighting project for the rooms. I was impatient to see what I could do for them.
We started with one of my already-existing prototypes for the lights, which was a glass shade that I’d already made before and we adapted it for the hotel and for all the rooms. It was a lot of fun, and what was even more exciting from a human and artistic point of view was the collaboration with Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku who have an eye for decorative art.
We worked on the lights for the spa, the entrance of the spa, and the challenge was to adapt the drawings with designs made in glassware. In general, it is very difficult to adapt designs to glass because these designs have been thought up by people who are not familiar with the material. This is particularly the case when you work on a computer; with a pencil, you are aware of what you are doing but this is not the case with a computer.
GLH: How much input did you have in the thought-process of the architects and designers?
Aristide Najean: I always try to get as close as possible to the design and to make something happen in the place. My role was pretty much that of a bridge between the architects and the craftsmen. If the architect doesn’t know what he wants, how do you expect the master glassmaker to understand? And I am very happy today with the work that has been done at Hotel Eden, it was already an extraordinary place and what we brought in, in terms of decor, has its own significance.
GLH: How long have you known Bruno Moinard?
Aristide Najean: I have a very pleasant working relationship with Bruno Moinard and we have a mediator who is Alain Ducasse. Bruno Moinard works for him, and Bruno Moinard had called me to work on one of his projects in London, at the Dorchester, for something quite exceptional.
Alain Ducasse had a good vision of what he wanted. There is a part of the gallery at the Dorchester which is his Michelin-starred restaurant, and just opposite of the restaurant, he wanted to make a grill through which guests could see the shadows of decorations, pans and brassware being brought to life by flames. I was immediately inspired and we created a whole colour set: amber, light, dark green, topaz and gold in flame-shaped glass, that we fixed on a hollowed out metal arm in which there was a cable that would light the glass. It really looked like the glass was on fire.
From then on, every time I have the pleasure of going to lunch there, the waiters thank me for the energy that this light gives off. Ducasse directly validated the drawings and it was pure happiness because we had total freedom on this project.