Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Art of Dale Chihuly by Timothy Anglin Burgard

Dale Chihuly is the foremost glass artist of the modern day, with glass installations that have been seen around the world. Some of his more famous works include a bunch of blown glass chandeliers that were installed in Venice that looked like giant, feathery confections rather than glass. But from the very beginnings of his art career, Dale Chihuly has done a lot more than just followed the crowd when it came to artistic inspiration. He's set trends himself, and always moved on to new directions and new inspirations that make the rest of the world sit up and take notice.

This book is part biography and part art book, following the life and career of Dale Chihuly through his first beginnings with glasswork, which he attempted after living on a Kibbutz in Israel. Returning to college after his time away, he submitted as an artist, a woven wallhanging which incorporated several pieces of glass, turning it from a textile into something more like a stained glass window. And blowing that glass awoke something inside him that said this was the path to follow.

There were several more workings with glass, like one which reproduced a butcher shop with everything, including the sides of meat hanging, were all made of glass. There followed another exhibit produced in collaboration with another artist, James Carpenter, known as "20,000 pounds of ice and neon", where neon tubes were inserted into ice, which slowly melted away over ten days, showing the ephemeral nature of art, and mocking the museums that attempted to preserve it long after the original artist was dead.

Another of their collaborations was "Glass Forest", where Chihuly blew glass that was allowed to run like water, creating long tubes that almost looked organic as they were allowed to cool. From there, Chihuly was off on explorations on everything from Native American pots and blankets, to explorations of light, color and the sorts of aquatic forms that dominate his work today. Today, even though he is in his seventies, he is still creating, although some say that because he no longer blows or creates his work alone by hand (his depth perception is gone since losing an eye) means that his works can no longer strictly can be called "his". Instead, other glassblowers work under his direction, something he calls "Studio-style" glasswork.

The rest of the book is taken up with large color plates of his most famous works, symphonies in glass of light, color and form. Every piece is interesting and colorful and beautiful, allowing us a long look into the mind and sensibilities of the artist.

This book, frankly, blew my mind when it came to glass art. Most glass is done to be utilitarian, whether it is for a drinking glass or something like a vase. But Dale Chihuly's art is in a class by itself when it comes to making you feel something or just to be astonished by the many different colors and shapes hiding in his work.

I was especially impressed with the section called "Millefiori". Millefiori is a type of Italian glass whose name means "A thousand flowers", and usually consists of flower-shaped spots of color in a clear glass globe or other form. But Chihuly's millefiori actually *is* glass flowers, amidst other shapes and objects, each one vibrant with color, and yet all the colors and shapes form a harmonious whole that I couldn't stop looking at. It was amazing.

Each color plate demands looking at over and over, and you can spend longer absorbing the pictures than the words of the biography from the first part of the book. This book is a delight for the eyes, and now I want to see these works of art with my own eyes, a feeling which will probably be evoked for every reader of this book. Stunning, fascinating, and highly recommended.

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