Dale Chihuly: Works on Paper

Mary Murray
Dale Chihuly : works on paper

Dale Chihuly has been acclaimed internationally for his innovative, elegant, and captivating glass sculptures and multi-part site-specific installations. Less widely known but equally fascinating are the dynamic works on paper that form the basis of this exhibit. Dale Chihuly was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1941. He became fascinated with glass in the early 1960s while studying Interior Design at the University of Washington. After receiving his B.A. in 1965, he pursued his interest at the University of Wisconsin, the first school in the U.S. to offer a program in glass. Chihuly later attended the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, earning a second advanced degree and founding in 1969 an innovative and extremely influential glass program. In the intervening years, Chihuly's enormous creativity and range has helped to establish glass as an exciting contemporary medium.

Chihuly began drawing in the late 1970s, after injuries from an accident caused him to give up the physically demanding position of "gaffer" or chief glassblower. Originally a way to convey his ideas to his glass-blowing team, Chihuly's works on paper have cone to be part of his creative process, an initial exploration of the possibilities inherent in a specific subject. As the process of drawing has taken hold of Chihuly, his work in this medium has grown and changed. Earlier pieces, such as the Venetian drawings, are more sketch-like; boldly drawn in charcoal and dark shades of paint, they include notations of the colors he intended to add to the glass. The later drawings, made with bright acrylic paint on huge sheets of paper, vibrate with movement and color, giving them a life of their own that is separate from their relationship to the works in glass. Within the large works on paper whole worlds seem to come into being, as spheres of fiery color explode with energy and life. These pieces possess a liquid energy, a sense of flow, the forceful contact of paint and paper reminiscent of the physicality of the glass making process, echoing its molten drama and sense of transformation.

Expanding the works beyond preliminary sketches or suggestions, Chihuly has explored new ways to "draw," splattering and squeezing gallons of paint from tubes and drawing with dozens of pencils bunched in his fist. He has even dragged molten glass across sheets of paper, drawing in a way that is hard to imagine anyone else even thinking of. With his keen eye for color and design, the artist finds inspiration in natural and manmade forms as diverse as Navajo blankets, sea creatures, Venetian glass, reeds, ikebana arrangements, and native baskets. Working in series, he deliberately goes beyond where the last piece left off, creating variations in color and forms that build as the series grows. Using the accidents and innovations of the process to continually inspire and reinvent his art ensures that the work remains fresh-no matter the medium.

While Chihuly began the drawings as a practical way to convey his ideas, his ongoing interest in the work demonstrates his commitment to continually moving forward, to stretching himself and his art as far as he can-just to see what will happen. Taken as a body of work, the drawings convey a rhythm and energy that embodies the essence of the artist: his boldness and dedication to exploring new ground, his passionate love of color, his seemingly endless creative energy, and his fascinated engagement with the creative process.

Exhibition wall text for Dale Chihuly: Works on Paper, exhibit. Monterey Museum of Art, Monterey, California, 2002.

More essays about drawing:
Gesture As Image, Nathan Kernan
Chihuly: Works on Paper, Patricia Failing
Drawing in the Third Dimension, Michael Monroe