Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dale Chihuly: My International Love Affair

The inception of my international lover affair with the glass creations of Dale Chihuly (b. 1941) dates back five years and spans across three countries; how sordid!

Chihuly, an American artist native to Washington, received his education at the Rhode Island School of Design and as a Fullbright Fellow on Murano island in Venice, Italy. Murano arguably beholds human history’s richest and finest contributions to glass art. Any trip to the sinking island makes Venice's heritage of glass most evident from the vast array of glass sculptures and jewellery that embellish Venetian storefronts.
Chihuly reinvigorated glass as a medium for artistic expression. The more minimalist movements of contemporary art tended to shy away from materials like glass that were conventionally manipulated most ornately. Chihuly, however, has been instrumental in breaking such preconceptions about glass with the use of a more modern colour palette and the execution of organic designs comprised of simplistic parts that amount to an intricate whole
Chihuly does not seem to follow any preconceptions. Some aspect of nature appears to strike within Chihuly an inspirational chord; setting off countless reinterpretations of a single design with slight architectural distinctions and wild variations in colour. His series of works, including Baskets, Ikebana, Macchia, Persians, and Seaforms, among others, appear to document exercises in experimentation and improvisation with considerably little forethought.

Some critics suggest that Chihuly’s pieces exist within a vacuum. He does not react so much as he simply creates. He takes inspiration but does not necessarily challenge, question, critique, or reflect. As such, Chihuly often faces censure that his pieces are not art because they remain disconnected from any broader movement. Personally, I would suggest that while Chihuly’s work tends to be conceptually superficial, his technique is brilliant and can spark, even for the slightest moment, a sense of awe.

Toronto: Sandra Ainsley Gallery, Distillery District
I first stumbled upon Chihuly around 2003 after brunching at the restored Boiler House restaurant in Toronto’s historic Distillery District; a cluster of Victorian-style factories from the 1800s that once formed the world’s largest whisky distillery. I stepped foot into the Sandra Ainsley Gallery, which, in addition to the Boilder House, is another space of ‘industrial chic’ member to the District. I remember being taken aback by a ten-foot bouquet of marvellous glass flutes; neon green and coral blue, and rimmed with ribbons of fluorescent pink and yellow.

A few years later while living in Ottawa, I learned that a friend (let us call him Señor X) who I had only recently met in the city had formerly worked in Monterrey, Mexico for Vitro. Vitro is one of the world’s le
ading producers of glass. While in Monterrey, Señor X collaborated with Chihuly and his team on a project. Some time later, when I moved back to Toronto, Señor X visited for a weekend away from the capital. At the Sandra Ainsley Gallery and at a temporary exhibition of glass paperweights at the Royal Ontario Museum, Señor X gave me a priceless education on the techniques of glassblowing, how acids and bases can be used to achieve different effects, and how to distinguish glass pieces that are masterfully crafted from those that are less than so.
London: Victoria and Albert Museum
Fast-forward to 2007 when I was living and studying in England. I used to spend my Friday afternoons volunteering at an Oxfam charity bookshop steps away from my c
ollege. I mostly enjoyed perusing political economy, philosophy, religion, history, English literature, fiction, and, of course, the ‘decadent’ collection of books on art. While shelving away bibliographies on museums, I picked up a publication on the Victoria and Albert Museum (a.k.a. the V&A) in London which reported that the V&A held the largest collection of Mughal art outside of India. I was quick to hop on the first coach direct to the Underground.

I ended up visiting the V&A three times before I finally managed to reach the Mughals because the museum’s collections are so extensive. The unbeatable admission price of £0.00 placed at my viewing disposal some of the most phenomenal collections of Chinese, Islamic, Italian, Japanese, and Korean art; hats off to the Monarchy! For those readers who plan on visiting the V&A, I highly recommend spending some time with the ethereal Raphael Cartoons; you will be as utterly speechless. Among other works is Chihuly’s dazzling chandelier which dominates the V&A’s front lobby. While the fixture borders on garishness, it pays a most respectful tribute to a centuries-old artistic form. The design fuses contemporary lines into a classic silhouette.

San Francisco: de Young Museum
My most recent brush with Chihuly was in 2008 at San Francisco’s de Young Museum ( The
exhibition chronicled Chihuly’s landmark collections as featured in the photographs posted here. For the series of caramel bowls, Chihuly took inspiration from Native hand-woven baskets. The series of wavy sunbursts, entitled Seaforms (third picture from top), was actually more of an accident than directly inspired by seashells. The glass balls were showcased in a gondola to, presumably, pay homage to Venice.

*image of Dale Chihuly courtesy of
*all other images have been captured by myself


Dr. Lauren said...

What a lovely piece and so smoothly put together. I almost liked it as much as mine. Just Joking! Well done!

Global citizen said...

haha. thanks, mate.

Anonymous said...

Rahul, I always say that you describe things so perfectly that you make it feels real. I really enjoyed it! Thanks buddy