Joy is relentless exuberance.

By Ingrid Fetell Lee


Last week I had a post on DeepGlamour about the glamour of glass. As a complement, I was thinking about doing a piece here that explored glass’s joyful side. Glass finds glamour mostly in the context of architecture, formed in cold sleek panes. Joy requires it to be liberated from two dimensions, let loose, tinged with bright hues, and blown to the edge of implausibility. I immediately thought of Dale Chihuly and his prolific body of vibrant glassworks.



There is so much joy in Chihuly’s candy-colored glass balloons, the coral reef-like swimming pool floor (I would have fingertips like raisins before you could get me out of that), the organic sculptures mimicking a tropical flower pistil or the frilled maw of a giant clam, and the floats that bob like dinosaur eggs among the lily pads at the various botanical gardens where he showcases his work. But while I was poking around his site, I found something that to me was even better, and that totally changed the direction of this post.

I found drawings. And these drawings, done with equal parts love and haste, made my heart race right out of my chest.




These drawings, studies on the road to art, are for me more joyful than the sculptures they prefigure. Unconfined by the persnickety requirements of a brittle, fragile medium, they are pure expressions of Chihuly’s relentless exuberance. They reveal the desire that motivates the transformation of glass from amorphous liquid to novel form.

It’s heat and human effort that mold the glass, but more than that, it is the creative energy that bleeds off these pages. After the accident that cost him his left eye in 1976 (and a subsequent surfing accident that left him physically unable to hold the glassblowing pipe), Chihuly stepped back and assumed more of a directorial role in his process. These drawings, therefore, are the most direct connection between his eye, his brain, and his hands. For a designer, this is likewise true, as we are usually the initiator, and not the ultimate maker, of our work. While we need drawings or instructions that communicate our technical intentions to a fabricator, there’s no substitute for an expression of brute emotive force that will stir something inside the maker as well.






See more of Chihuly’s drawings here.

October 19th, 2009


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