To celebrate the fifth anniversary of his permanent collection at the Morean Arts Center in Florida, we take a look back at the illustrious career of American glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Renowned glass sculptor and entrepreneur Dale Chihuly is famed for his arresting oversized works of glass art that grace some of the world’s most well known buildings, from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum to the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Chihuly’s innovative techniques mean that he has been able to push glass to the very limits of its form, from vertiginous spikes to smooth curves that seem almost fluid. Flowers, explosions, sea creatures and baskets have all been created from this surprisingly versatile material and the resulting effect is nothing short of a mesmerising explosion of hues and tints.
Born in 1941 in Washington State, Chihuly first trained in interior design, which is where he fell for glasswork. He continued his studies in Venice, glass’s spiritual home, before cofounding Pilchuck Glass School in his home state. He now holds 12 honorary doctorates as well as two fellowships from the US National Endowment for the Arts, and his work is included in more than 200 collections worldwide.
As a result of a series of accidents in the 1970s, Chihuly dislocated his shoulder and lost the sight in his right eye. Since this time he has not blown his own glass but instead directed a small team of artisans. However, he has not let this affect his art; rather, he maintains that being able to take a step back has allowed him to view the whole process holistically. He describes himself as “more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant and more director than actor.”
Throughout his career, Chihuly has created over a dozen series of works, all of which showcase his inimitable vision of combined colours, shapes and light. “I’ve never met a colour I didn’t like,” he says, and indeed it is hard to find a shade that has not been used somewhere in his work. Some of his earliest pieces, particularly the 1970s series, Cylinders and Baskets, are inspired by the palettes and textures of traditional Native American crafts. Following on from this in the 1980s, Chihuly began experimenting with ribbed shapes that began to take on the appearance of fantastical sea creatures. Thus Seaforms was born, artfully imagined in cool shades of blue, purple and green. The artist’s love affair with colour continued with Macchia, from the Italian word for “spot.” In this collection, Chihuly aimed to use all 300 colours available in his glass-blowing workshop.
Inspiration comes thick and fast for Chihuly. Some series, such as Persian, seem serendipitous or instinctive; “I just liked the name ‘Persian.’ It conjured up the Near East, Byzantine, Far East, Venice – all the histories, trades, smells and senses. It was an exotic name to me, so I just called the collection Persians.” The idea for the Boats installation came when Dale and his team were working near a river in Finland. Chihuly would toss completed glasswork into the river, which would float downstream where local kids would fish it out. His team then found a beached boat, which they loaded with individual glass shapes to create the floating installation.
Other works are very much site-specific: intricate glass shapes in vibrant colours that provide the perfect complement to some of the world’s architectural wonders. These include enormous installation works such as Dale Chihuly Objets de Verre at the Louvre in Paris and Chihuly Over Venice, which swept over Venice’s picture-perfect canals and piazzas. At 13-metres-high Fireworks of Glass is Chihuly’s largest vertical glass blown sculpture, which resides in the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis.
In recent years, the artist has had the opportunity to create a number of permanent collections in specifically-designed buildings. The Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center celebrated its fifth anniversary last month. Designed by renowned architect Alberto Alfonso, this 10,000-metre space holds Chihuly’s spectacular large-scale installations including Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier, which was created specifically for the Chihuly Collection as well as pieces from the Macchia, Ikebana, Niijima Floats, Persians and Tumbleweeds series. Each space has been designed to complement the pieces and enhance the truly unique visual experiences that they offer.
Photography: Courtesy of Corbis