DALE CHIHULY Dreaming in glass
Exhibitions by artist Dale Chihuly defy standard definitions of size and shape, yet balance color, texture and light to create new and magical experiences: artwork that mimics ocean reefs, floats on rivers, enhances outdoor gardens and adds color and sparkle to public greenhouses. Compass spoke to Chihuly about his art and inspirations.
COMPASS: You’ve been a glass artist for more than 30 years. How do you continue to be inspired?
DALE CHIHULY: I gather inspiration from many places, and I continue to follow my gut and try to create something no one has seen before. One of the most important inspirations for me is the glass itself – the glassblowing process. This wondrous event of blowing human air down a blowpipe ... and out comes this form.
Do you think glass found you, or did you find glass? Why glass?
DC: While I was studying interior design and architecture at the University of Washington (USA), I took a weaving class where I incorporated glass shards into woven tapestries. While I was experimenting in my basement one evening, I blew my first glass bubble and became obsessed with learning everything I could about glassblowing.
To me, glass is the most magical of all materials. People for centuries have been fascinated with glass. I work with transparent materials – plastic, glass, ice and neon – because light goes through them. The light is coming through and you see color – cobalt blue, ruby red, whatever the color might be.
After two accidents, you took a more managerial/supervisory position on the glass-blowing team. What have you learned in that process?
DC: In 1976 I was in a car accident, which left me without sight in my left eye. A few years later I dislocated my shoulder in a bodysurfing accident, and so I gave up the gaffer position for good. I started drawing as a way to work with the team. Originally, I made the Drawings so the gaffers could see and understand the forms I wanted them to blow.
When I was the gaffer, I had much less control than I do now. Sometimes I compare it to filmmaking. If I were the director, I wouldn’t need to look into the lens of the camera all the time. I would have the best cameraman, and that would allow me to move in and around the set.
Please explain the team concept to blowing glass, and why blowing glass as a team is so important.
DC: I learned the team approach to blowing glass when I was in Murano, Italy, at the Venini factory. It is important to my work because it allows me to work on a large scale. Depending on the piece, the team consists of eight to 15 glassblowers.
Your team finds inspiration from your drawings, and then they bring them to life with glass blowing. Can you explain how that process started and evolved?
DC: I started out wanting the Drawings to look like the glass pieces, so I experimented with different surface techniques, which resulted in using bunches of graphite and colored pencils by the fistfuls. Drawing really helps me to think about things. I’m able to draw and work with a lot of color and that inspires me.
“I WOULD THROW PIECES INTO THE RIVER, THE FINNS WOULD GO DOWN IN THEIR ROWBOATS AND COLLECT THEM, AND THEY LOOKED SO STUNNING.”DALE CHIHULY ON HOW WORKING IN FINLAND INSPIRED HIS ROWBOAT INSTALLATIONS