Glass appears as liquid light as swirls of color meld in gravity defying shapes. Dale Chihuly’s Glass Forest is electrifying, an experiment created by blowing molten glass dropped from a stepladder. The glass that pools at the bottom has the most visual weight. Still, the eye is drawn to the bright stalks that seem to grow upwards.
Dale Chihuly is a pioneer. He has reshaped glass blowing as a medium for large-scale installations and sculptures and is a central figure of the American Studio Glass movement. So while I was in Seattle for the 4th of July, I decided to visit his museum in the City Centre. The museum is small – it has 8 rooms and a garden filled with sculpture, but a visit reveals a journey through color and space, as multivalent and often multicultural sources inspire Chihuly’s art.
In the Northwest Room, basket-like forms evoke Native American artwork. The respectful display of textiles across the room and the thoughtful attribution to the baskets that piqued Chihuly’s interest – both for their woven forms and the way they fall heavily and unevenly – make this series an inspired tribute to Native American artwork. Chihuly translates his inspiration through thread-drawing on glass and asymmetry. The glass baskets are a contradiction; heavy and slumped, each form is also translucent. The light reveals colors fused together in the glass that one can just only see through.
While every room featured experimental techniques, the rooms seem to display works derived either from focusing on the formal qualities of glass sculpture or those inspired by Chihuly’s cultural experiences. It was clear to me that Chihuly’s experimentation with glass has led to vivid 3d compositions that challenge how color and space are used in sculpture.
The Sea Life Room exemplifies Chihuly’s style. It showcases a towering pillar of swirls of glass in shades of blue teeming with all kinds of cephalopods in a more subdued yellow. Used to working with chandeliers, Chihuly designed this 15-foot tower of sea life forms as an inverted chandelier. The Persian Ceiling also relies on creating a new way to display a large-scale glass sculpture. Created by embedding smaller multicolored glass objects within a frame and then lifting the frame, the work extends the very architecture of the room. I was mesmerized by the way the brilliant colors overlapped and balanced one another to create an awe-inspiring space.
Space is also central to Mille Flore, a room featuring an installation where Chihuly is inspired by his memories of his mother’s garden. The multicolored shapes are larger than the visitors in the room and are created by pushing the boundaries on how fire and the centrifugal force can be used in glass-blowing. Together, all the components are also more varied than the visitors. Yet their arrangement and diversity creates a visual balance in the composition.
His use of space is also clear in the development of the forms and shapes used in each work. On view in my favorite room are the Ikebana and Nijima Float Boats. These are two rowboats filled with multicolored glass sculpture. The artwork was inspired by Chihuly’s visit to Finland where he observed the refractions of water on his glass sculptures and encountered local teenagers whom he observed gathering glass in their small boats. He was also inspired by the time he spent traveling in Japan and the Japanese art of Ikebana. Two very different influences fused through explorations in color and shape result in these strangely beautiful artworks. Shape and color also inform the Chandeliers room which is filled with giant, architectural works. Color, as much as form, draws the eye. This is also true in the very last room, the Macchia Forest, which reveals the result of Chihuly’s experiment with how vividly color in glass can appear.
I was fascinated by how much technical experimentation went into each work to achieve the right effect or integrate some external observation. I was also surprised by the use of multicolored objects in large-scale sculpture and the striking effect of color in space. Every color was beautiful.