Renaming Dale Chihuly

Artwork name: Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower.  Artist: Dale Chihuly

We all know social media is not a reliable source, but we still fall into the trap and believe all of what we read. In 2017, for example, more than 797000 people reacted on Facebook to a (fake) article that said that two altar boys had been arrested for putting weed in the incense burner of a church. I guess we all believe what we want to believe

That’s why I was shocked when I learned that the Picasso quote “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”, which every art Instagrammer has ever used (even the MoMA in 2013), was actually never said by the painter.

Anyway, whoever created this sentence should be given a Social Media Manager position at some art institution, as it has been shared millions of times. As for the sentence, I might agree with it, but not at all times. Sometimes, art actually does the opposite to me: it brings me closer to the mundane. That’s the case of “Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower”, by Dale Chihuly, which reminded me that I should stop scrolling Instagram and go clean my apartment. 

Doesn’t Chihuly’s sculpture look exactly like this feather duster? That’s why I’m renaming this artwork “Yellow Feather Duster (Stop Procrastinating)

But who is Dale Chihuly? Is this artwork made of feathers?

The first thing you should know (especially if you’re a vegan) is that this artwork’s “feathers” are actually made of blown glass. Glassblowing is a technique that involves shaping a mass of glass that has been softened by heat by blowing air into it through a tube.

Dale Chihuly directing a member of his team.

Blown glass is not a medium you usually see in contemporary art fairs or exhibitions. But American artist Dale Chihulyhas brought this medium back into the art world’s interest. Since the 1960s, the artist has been revolutionizing the art of glassblowing, pushing its limits by creating incredible forms, and now his large-scale installations can be found in institutions all over the world.

One of Chihuly’s most famous works is the Chandelier that hangs under the glass rotunda at the entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. While the Chandelier is used as a source of light, it is also a hanging sculpture:

V&A Rotunda Chandelier

Chihuly is not the best in his field by mere chance. The artist, born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, has always been fascinated by glass. He studied interior design and architecture at the University of Washington, and during that time he traveled to Europe, where he was captivated by the stained-glass windows of cathedrals and churches

In 1965, given an assignment at university to incorporate a non-fiber material into a weaving, he chose glass. When melting the material for that project, he decided to try blowing a glass bubble, his first one of many: “I don’t know why I did it. I’d never seen it done. (…) After trying to research the subject, I very systematically made a pipe and melted a piece of stained glass (…) The glass bubble sort of accidentally blew up. It probably shouldn’t have. It didn’t break either”. 

Dale Chihuly at TED 2010. Photo by Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA. CC BY 2.0

From that moment, Chihuly knew he had found his calling, and began studying the art of glass blowing. In 1968 he even received a scholarship to study on the island of Murano, in Venice, famous for its amazing glass.

In 1976, Chihuly lost his eye in a car accident but continued to blow glass until in 1979 he dislocated his shoulder while bodysurfing. The artist is no longer able to hold the glass blowing pipe, but he works with a team he directs and coordinates. He describes his role as «more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor.» In this video you can see more of his incredible process:

Chihuly is very much inspired by nature, as his recent exhibition at Kew Gardens proves. So maybe I wasn’t that far when suggesting Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower looks like is made of feathers.

More works by Chihuly:

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