We interviewed Dale Chihuly by phone on Tuesday, April 5, 2011, on the occasion of his exhibit “Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
“The more you work with it [glass], I think, the more you understand it and the more you want to make things with it. I don’t have a real strong desire to work with other materials. I have cast a few things. And I did some neon in this show, but neon is glass too. It’s what I like to do. [I’ve come to understand] the way to make forms, the way to work with fire, how to understand the color and all the different possibilities of color. It’s a neverending learning situation. The closest material to glass is really plastic and both of them are transparent. But glass is richer than plastic. I’ve often said if you’ve walked into a cathedral and looked up at the rose window. If there was a piece of one by one inch glass in there, maybe a ruby red or cobalt blue, you could see that from 300 feet away and it have a lot of magic in it. No other material could you put up there and have that effect. No matter how you painted it, you’d never be able to see it. But glass, being that it’s transparent or translucent or opaque, for that matter, it works with light in a completely different way from any other material. Except I’ve used ice a few times. I did a piece with two containers of ice in Jerusalem in 2000. It only lasted three days before it melted.”
“There’s a lot of similarities between glass and water because it goes from being a solid, then you melt it into a liquid, then you form it and it goes back into being a solid. Although some people describe it as a super-cooled liquid. They have a hard time defining what glass really is because its molecular structure never settles back into the way it’s supposed to be for a solid. It remains in a random order even though it can’t move. It’s really still like a liquid when it’s solid. And the way you work with glass, the glass blowing process is completely unique to glass, no other material can you really blow in that way. I tell you I’ve tried working with it, I’ve had a little bit of luck with plastic, but it’s very limited with plastic what you can do in terms of forming it compared to glass.”
“Certain things are just better when they’re bigger. Like the ‘Milli Fliori’ platform (pictured above) is more interesting large. It’s about 12 by 58 feet.”
Chihuly’s work is both appreciated and criticized for its beauty, pleasure and fun: “I just make what it is I want to do. I feel fortunate that so many people really like to look at it. It brings a lot of joy to a lot of people. Though not all the installations are pretty, some of them have a kind of edge to them. But there’s something about the glass that tends to make things beautiful.”
Chihuly began doing this during height of Minimalism when color and sensuousness was uncool. “No doubt about it. I guess I wasn’t too worried about it.”“Chiostro di Sant’Apollonia Chandelier,” blown glass, steel 10 X 7 X 9 feet.