I Love Chihuly

Seattle is known for several special things.  It’s the birthplace of grunge rock (Nirvana and Soundgarden, among others) and everyone’s favorite overpriced-hot-milk-disguised-as-a-latte cafe, Starbucks.  There’s the quirky Space Needle and even quirkier dedication to all things Yeti.  The Public Market is the embodiment of all things farm-to-table and the vast woodlands surrounding the city pay homage to the art and culture of the Pacific Northwest Native Americans.  Seattle has drizzly rain, majestic mountains, fuzzy flannel, and a vanguard vibe all uniquely its own.

It also has Dale Chihuly.  If you have never heard of this artist who has (legitimately) earned the right to go by the singular title of “Chihuly,” then allow me to introduce you!  Less of a diva and more of a legend, Chihuly has dazzled the public for decades with his larger-than-life sculptures of vibrant spun glass, installations that defy physics and excite the senses with their incandescent color and impressive scale.  So delicate, yet so accessible, each piece is displayed openly, inviting the viewer to get up close and personal with the art.

I have to say, it is SO TEMPTING to reach out and touch the jade, aqua, and plum orbs that hang tantalizingly in front of you, or to pluck a sapphire spiral from a 14′ tall chandelier.  I repeat – it is SO TEMPTING!  But this is what makes Chihuly’s work wonderful.  We can step into a room filled with neon flowers and galaxy-swirled beach balls and experience art in a way we rarely get to: by becoming it.

The grandaddy of art glass, the man with the electric shock of curly hair and the pirate’s eye patch, began life in Tacoma, Washington.  While studying interior design at the University of Washington he was introduced to glass blowing and clearly (get it??  bah dum dum) developed a passion for it.  Later, on a Fulbright scholarship to Venini, Italy, he learned the technique of team glass blowing that would forever change his approach to the craft.  Upon returning to Washington, Chihuly established the Pilchuk Glass School and began his lifelong pursuit of elevating glass blowing to a fine art.

I was first introduced to Chihuly’s genius in 2012 when I visited a traveling exhibition at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.  I was so taken by the dream-like beauty of the vibrant glass sculptures that I purchased a museum membership for the sole purpose of returning and enjoying it as many times as I liked.  Finally, someone who understood how I feel about color!  I tend to have a “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” approach (gratuitous shout out to another favorite artist of mine, Michael Jackson) to color management and prefer to teeter on the edge of dazzling reality, while avoiding technicolor garishness, in my own work.  Some people think achieving balanced, rich color tones is easy because the artist makes it look easy – but in fact, it’s anything but!  Managing color in photography is a challenge all its own, but managing color in an amorphous liquid tinted with a cocktail of chemicals, spiraling out of a kiln at 2000 degrees F?  Yeah.

On my trip to Washington last week I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit Chihuly’s permanent installation, Chihuly Garden and Glass, housed in Seattle under the spindly shadow of the Space Needle.  While many of the indoor pieces where ones I was familiar with from the San Francisco exhibition, the Garden Gallery and Glass House were something completely new and exciting.  I spent a fun hour or so photographing the glass in creative, inspired, and colorful ways.  So did everyone else: there wasn’t a single person who didn’t have a camera or cell phone in their hand, trying to capture a little bit of the Chihuly magic.  I’d like to think that somewhere between my eye, my camera sensor, and my editing technique, I was able to replicate the experience of dramatic composition and luminous color that Chihuly does so well.

You be the judge!  Scroll down to see the art of photographing art.