Glass artist Dale Chihuly plays with fire and the audacity of beauty


Originally published at:


“Hello, Barnes & Noble, do you have Chihuly On Fire?”

“Well, you’d better put him out!” [click!]


That’s only funny to people in the Seattle area… god can’t swing a cat without breaking a Chihuly here. It’s so bad from seeing his stuff everywhere last visit to St. Louis I was like oh look Chihuly at some glass sculpture in the botanical gardens, and then checked the display to find out I was right.


I hate this stuff SO much. I can’t even look. I can better tolerate Thomas Kincade or Leroy Neiman. At least their stuff doesn’t really pretend to be art.


I don’t hate it per se, just meh. It does take serious work and skill to do what he does and I at least appreciate that part of the work. It just gets to be more of the same old thing before too long.


You’re more forgiving than I.


Isn’t the vast majority of it done by his students at this point anyway?


The first time I saw an exhibit I was really impressed, esp. with the scale he works at which is incredibly challenging in glass. I do a little glass work and know a lot of glass artists. It’s progressively harder the bigger you go with all kinds of new challenges. When I saw this I was blown away with both the scale and the integration:

Then I saw more and more and it was all the same forms and basically the same ideas, and now when I spot them they’re nice but nothing to write home about. There are a lot of artists doing things that aren’t as challenging technically, but are much more aesthetically interesting, and usually show more creative growth as they develop as artists rather than recycling the same forms over and over. The guy’s like a speed metal lead guitarist where it’s almost more a circus act showing off technical skill than making art, though that’s probably a little harsh since his stuff can be interesting and lovely in the right setting.


Probably… still it is skilled competent work even if it isn’t to my particular liking.


I was just at lunch talking to a coworker about this


Ahh good old almost live!


I know right. Pity about the 206


He sees himself as a visionary/architect/director. He used to blow glass, but was injured in a (non-glass related) accident and wasn’t able to do it physically, so he started coming up with designs and has a team of gaffers that do the glassblowing according to his standards.


I never got to see a show. Never had cable as MrsTobinL and I never watched that much tv and after everything went digital the reception went to hell and we just gave up.


The arboretum in Columbus, Ohio – the Franklin Park Conservatory – has become a sort of rotating exhibition of his work, but it’s interspersed with the plants. Everywhere you look there’s lovely glass sculptures among the nature.

Although some are more garish than others.


There’s a Chihuly documentary they used to show in a little movie space at the Conservatory that shows his work process, painting the colors and shapes and supervising the assistants; there’s a terrific moment where they’ve made a dozen beautiful six-foot-long spiraling glass spears, swirled with vibrant color, and he grabs two of them and yells OLE or something and runs down to the river behind his studio and starts chucking them like javelins, laughing like a crazy person, and his assistants are wailing DALE NOO! as they shatter in the water, and he says “goddam, it’s only glass, let’s make more, art is supposed to be fun!”


OMG! I would have wanted to find some of the shards to stab him with if I’d blown one of those things. Those people were enduring the hideous heat the gaffers face when they’re holding the 1900° F glass a few feet away from their faces and walking around kilns that are even hotter, doing the physically tiring work of manipulating that stuff (those punty rods and tubes are heavy when you’re working on big pieces), facing the ever-present risk of burns (every gaffer’s got a few cool scars), and bearing the strain of doing work with incredibly tiny tolerances for error.


I have such huge respect for people who can work with glass. The skill and effort and risks involved are amazing to me and a well made piece of glass art is really magical.


You noticed.


I can’t do the hot glass stuff, the heat alone is brutal, but you also need incredible focus and physical skill on top of a lot of technical knowledge. I’m too distracted and clumsy to be able survive it. Those people are like athlete-artists - they deserve major respect.

I do kiln-formed/torchworked stuff that will leave you with a lot of cuts, and occasional small burns, but is much less likely to leave you with giant third degree burns, and you can do most of the work in a nice cool spot.