Blown away by glass

Seattle has always been known for its glass foundries and artwork. But this exhibition was mindboggling.

One of the foremost glass blowers and entrepreneurs in the world, Dale Chihuly, a man as charismatic as his sculptures, has incorporated his works in a Glass House in Seattle, in the Space Needle Centre area.

Born in Tacoma in Washington State, Chihuly, who studied in Venice, uses large scale glass sculptures that are astounding in their fluidity and jewel colours, as installations and environmental artwork. There is an external and an internal area in this space where Chihuly displays his astonishing range of glass installations.

He uses patterns and forms from nature and translates them into glass: woven baskets of native Americans by pushing the edges into unbelievable thinness to reflect the weaving patterns, the undulating shapes of sea creatures, Japanese glass orbs etc.

There is a lot of team work in his installations. For example, he used both architects and sculptors to depict a forest of trees and shrubs in the Glass Forest. In Sea Life, there are 20-foot-high towers of glass with a plethora of sea creatures created with such fluidity that they move like sea creatures! I saw molluscs, dainty sea anemones, jelly fish etc. In one room, baroque chandeliers hang and dazzle with their deliberate artistry. In the Macchia Forest, diverse colours in stained glass are fashioned into flowers with petals in spotted colours.

In the float boats, there are two boats made of glass with glass orbs which are thrown into the water still in their molten form a la Japan. An explosion of colours and patterns swirl in the room with a Persian ceiling. I went through those exhibition rooms with my mouth continuously open in awe and admiration.

The manner in which his concepts come to his mind is equally fascinating. The rowboat in a room filled with  various shapes and colours came to him in Finland when he dropped glass baubles from a bridge into a river to see if they would break. He asked some teenagers with their rowboats whether they would pick the glass baubles up and bring them to him. When he saw their boats full of glass, that is when he got the idea.

In the Glass House was a gigantic glass sculpture, which was 100-feet-long and 24-feet-high, in an explosion of oxblood reds, yellows and oranges. It is composed of a mindboggling 1,340 individual plates. The garden again has installations in the form of coloured towers, with flowers of glass intricately blown, complementing the colour of the flowers, red and blue and scarlet and a tree in a delicate green.

So eyecatching that the camera is always clicking and the mind, overwhelmed. And when the sunlight falls on these forms with their swirling colours, they become gardens of delight where nature and art interact subtly but impressively.

There is a riotous use of colour, so sometimes it seems to overflow in excess, but the result is never jarring, but a festival of motion and colour. In ‘Macchia’, it is said that he uses all the 300 hues at his disposal.

His life is equally fascinating and bold. His two serious accidents in the 1970s that left him without sight in his left eye and a damaged shoulder, did not put a halt to his career. Even though he cannot do the glass blowing himself, he relies primarily on his drawings to show his team what to do.

It was in Venice that he was first exposed to the idea of teamwork, for in the US, individual glass workers work alone. He has, of course, exhibited elsewhere in many countries of the world, but here in Seattle he has made his own retrospective where everything comes together, a perfect combination of the various phases of his life.

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