Chihuly’s guts, glass and gloryWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Dale Chihuly turns it up — way up — in the studio. Whether he’s drawing or directing a team of glassblowers, the artist takes it to 11.
“In the morning, it might be classical music; and in the middle of the day, it might be more hip music; in the afternoon, it could be more jazz. We play a big variety of music — Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen — anything that I like,” Chihuly said and laughed.
“If I’m not there, they can play whatever they want,” he said of his crew and laughed again.
The international art superstar cranks up the volume, color, creativity — and visibility of studio glass.
Of course, it’s hard to miss some of his ginormous multipiece works.
There was “Chihuly Over Venice,” which featured 14 dazzling chandeliers suspended over the city’s canals and piazzas in 1996. Three years later, his magic appeared to be a mirage: Huge blocks of ice from Alaska made a 60-foot wall outside of the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem. Throngs celebrated the millennium by viewing “Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000,” a project that cost more than $1 million and included a crystal mountain.
“Ideas come to me sometimes, they just feel sort of like they come right out from the gut. Nothing that I’ve thought about necessarily for a long time — somehow it just appears,” he said during a phone interview from his Ballard studio in Seattle.
Chihuly’s gritty obsession began in 1965 when he melted stained glass and picked up a metal pipe.
“It was just the process of blowing human breath down a blowpipe and it came out at the other end like a bubble. It’s a pretty amazing technique,” he said.
In 1968, the glassblower traveled to Murano, Italy, to learn more about the ancient art. He was the first American to work at the Venini glass factory.
“What I learned that was the most important was how to work in a team, because all the Italians work in a team. And when I came back, I worked with a team of my own students,” Chihuly said. “The bigger the team, the more it allows you to work larger.”
He and his grand concepts are globally renowned for explosive, electrifying color.
“When I first started using glass, my first use of it was really with stained glass and stained glass comes in hundreds of colors,” the 68-year-old said. “So, right from the beginning, I had the option of using whatever color I wanted, and I ended up using most all of them.”
The Glass City got its first look at Chihuly’s vibrant work in 1970 when he was one of 11 artists invited to submit work for “Toledo Glass National Exhibition III” at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA). He and college friend and collaborator Jamie Carpenter created “Monotropa Uniflora,” a stunning vision of neon, argon and blown glass.
In 1972, the Toledo Museum of Art and the American Craft Museum in New York teamed up for an exhibit, “American Glass Now.” Chihuly and Carpenter convinced TMA’s director, then Otto Wittmann, to support their work in the glass studio to create large-scale pieces for the event.
“I remember setting up the door that we showed. We showed another piece with bent plate glass with dry ice in it. I remember setting up those two pieces,” Chihuly said. “We were very thankful to be invited.”
Chihuly was grateful to be alive following a 1976 car accident in England that took the sight in his left eye and permanently injured his right ankle and foot. He started working with an assistant glassblower and gave up the gaffer, glassblower, position after dislocating his shoulder while bodysurfing in 1979.
“No, it wasn’t difficult,” he said of the transition. “I prefer to direct the team instead of be the gaffer on the team because we do a lot of big work and that means having a lot of people around; we have as many as 16 people on the pad at one time all working on the same piece. If I’m not the gaffer, I can kind of, you know, walk around and watch all aspects of it, whereas if you’re the gaffer, you have to concentrate just on that.”
He began to focus more on drawing to convey his designs to his team. Some of those ideas involved placing glass floats, flowers, ferns and tumbleweeds outdoors. His 23 red glass reeds, some as high as 8 feet tall, can be seen at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library in the Wintergarden. They were installed there in 2001.
“It just seems to look just right,” Chihuly said of the environmental installations. “I’ve been doing that for probably 40 years, but I’ve been doing them more in the last 10 years. I’ve done about 10 shows in botanical gardens, usually in a greenhouse along with showing them outside as well.”
He has been drawn to water his whole life.
“I love working with water,” he gushed. “I think it’s just the fact that glass is so much like water; it’s a liquid, you know, to start with, and it moves and flows like water.”
Chihuly’s fluid works seem to defy gravity, capture movement and mesmerize the masses.
“Everybody takes away whatever they want to and it’s something different for everybody,” he said
‘Chihuly Toledo!’ extended at TMA
Swirling shapes, eye-popping colors and pulsating music greet visitors who enter the Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion Gallery Four to see “Chihuly Toledo!”
“Everything [Chihuly] we own, literally, is on view. There’s about 36 objects ranging in date from 1975 to 2006,” said Jutta Page, glass curator at the museum. “[The exhibit] provides a very good overview, I think, of the whole entire span of Dale Chihuly’s career.”
On display are some of the artist’s Blanket Cylinders from the mid-1970s; Seaforms, Macchia and Persians from the 1980s; and Venetians and Niijima Floats from the 1990s. Sketches and drawings that inspired the work also are included.
“He has been very influential on the entire field of studio glass,” Page said. “And I have to say that Chihuly has always been very true to his affinity to Venetian glassmaking. He largely relies on Venetian glassmaking techniques that have been in use hundreds of years.”
The curator said she is a fan of the diversity of Chihuly’s work.
“I like the variety of it and there are certain parts, certain series, that I particularly like,” she said. “I’ve always thought the Niijima Floats that he’s created — which are the largest pieces his team has been able to blow — are just mesmerizing.”
Check out “Green and Gold Sparkle Float.” The magnificent orb shimmers with gold leaf and crushed glass from every angle.
And be sure to use the pavilion’s Monroe Street entrance, where “Campiello del Remer #2” hangs. The chandelier was one of 14 featured in “Chihuly Over Venice.” The original piece was split in half; the artist’s team rearranged 243 pieces when installing the 9-foot light in Toledo.
By popular demand, the free exhibit has been extended and will be on display through Feb. 7. For more information, visit www.toledomuseum.org.
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