Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Colorful Return of Dale Chihuly!

The title of this post may sound like a movie sequel, but as one who has always been fascinated with glass in all of it's wondrous forms, my first experience viewing Dale Chihuly's work was like "dying and going to Technicolor heaven!" When I had the privilege of publishing Applause! Magazine, a cultural guide to the west central coast of Florida in early 2004, the launch coincided with an exhibition of Chihuly's work at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. He now returns to the same area with The Chihuly Collection which is  a permanent display of his creative genius. Officially opening to the public on Monday, July 12th, it is located at 400 Beach Drive NE which is close to the historic Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club. Note: The photo (above) was taken of one of Chihuly's outdoor pieces at the Museum of Fine Arts. 
It was exciting to work with Mr. Chihuly and his staff as we prepared our feature article for the premiere issue of Applause! Even though the article is six years old, the content is still valid. The question and answer portion that follows it may give visitors to this new collection further insight into the artist and his work. It was researched and written by the Editor of my magazine which, I am happy to say is to this day, a dear friend. So, in her words from the March/April Premiere issue of Applause! Magazine, I would like to share with you:
Dreaming in Glass
Do you remember standing in the sun as a child and watching colors prism through a piece of glass? Imagine going back to those days, when a simple refraction of light could expand your pupils in awe. Haven't felt that way in years, right? Well, get out your sunglasses.
The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg is exhibiting selected glassworks by one of the world's most celebrated artists, American-born Dale Chihuly. The exhibit, Chihuly Across Florida: Masterworks in Glass, highlights works from his best-known series, including Seaforms, Persians, Baskets, Macchia and Venetians. It also includes new installations and large-scale sculptures specifically designed for display at the St. Petersburg museum, as well as at the Orlando Museum of Art, which helped to make the Chihuly exhibit a reality.
Looking at Chihuly's work, one can only assume he dreams in color. Brilliant, bursting, swallow-it-whole color. Diving, twisting, erupting color. Undulating, spiraling color, more liquid than solid, more mobile than static.
For all the fluidity in Chihuly's work, unmistakable tension infuses its lines. After all, glass is fragile. Glass breaks. But like a matador that gets in the ring despite the bull, Chihuly's art thrusts itself into space, uninterested in its own vulnerability.
Some would say this full-throttle presence reflects the artist himself. Chihuly operates with a momentous force. Like his glassworks, he has been in constant motion for most of his life, moving fluidly from coast-to-coast in the U.S., and from country-to-county abroad. As a young man, he traveled to Florence to study art, worked on a kibbutz in the Negev Desert, and served as a commercial fisherman in Alaska. In 1976, an automobile accident in England left him without sight in his left eye and with permanent damage to his right ankle and foot. His appetite for life was left in tact. Three years later a bodysurfing accident left him with a dislocated shoulder, and a few years after that he toured one thousand miles of Brittany by bicycle.
Life experiences such as these seem to fuel Chihuly's drive, giving him plenty of energy for projects such as establishing and overseeing the celebrated Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State, and envisioning and directing Chihuly Over Venice, an exhibit of hand-blown chandeliers strung like flower blossoms among the romantic city's canals.
In the Artist's Words 
Applause! Magazine recently had the opportunity to pose some questions to Dale Chihuly. Here are his thoughts on the nature of glass, and the nature of life.
When you start on a new series such as Baskets or Persians, do you begin with an understanding of the personality the final product will have?
“Sometimes I have a specific image in mind – sometimes it’s just an idea I need to work with in order to see how it might evolve.  With glass blowing, the only way to make it good is to do it over and over.  It's a question of time – you just have to become one with the material and understand it.  You can't see it; you have to feel it. By doing it over and over and over, you begin to understand what it can do and things begin to happen.  Only by working day-in and day-out, year after year can a series really develop.”
What has the glass taught you as you've experimented with different techniques?
“It has taught me that you really just have to listen to the glass – to work with it – with the fire, the centrifugal force and gravity – letting the glass find its own way. Possibilities, I think, are limited only to one's imagination – I’m fortunate to have a great imagination and a great team.”
Are there any limitations to your craft?
“If anything I think I’m always trying to push the limits – I like it more on the edge.  I'm always saying push it further, make it bigger.  For me, I think you don't know how far you can go until you go too far.”
Has losing vision in one eye impacted your artwork?
“Basically, after my accident in 1976, I still blew glass for awhile but I could never really blow glass as well.  It was complicated because there were people around me and I couldn’t see to my left side very well – I didn’t have any depth perception.  It was around that time that I started making drawings because I basically quit blowing glass. It was almost like I was meant to not blow glass and was meant to be a director.  That position has really suited me.  I do miss glassblowing – but if I’d stayed with it, I’d never have this big team or get into such large-scale works.   I think teamwork has allowed me to do more things.  As much fun as it is to blow glass, I was never as interested in “the process” of glassblowing as I was in the finished product.”
What new projects are on the horizon for Dale Chihuly?
“We are always working on new projects, new things, new ideas.  I think you’ll just have to wait and see.”
Obviously, since that interview in 2004, Mr. Chihuly has been quite busy. I am personally glad that he's back permanently to enrich our lives just standing in the presence of his imagination captured forever in beautiful glass!
The Beatles may have had their "Magical Mystery Tour" but we have our own magic in the heart of St. Petersburg expertly captured forever in glass from the mine, heart and souls of Dale Chihuly and his master artists and craftsmen. The cultural footprint in the bay area just got a little larger! It has my "Seal of Approval" as well as a standing ovation! For more information, or 727-896-4527.
One last comment...yes, I am wild for Chihuly's work, but don't forget Tampa Bay area residents...we are gifted with lots of talented craftsmen and artists in our own communities! Let's take pride in them too and give them our support as well! A few of my long-time favorites in the glass arena are Duncan McClellan,; Susan Gott,; and Michele Palenik,

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