Dale Chihuly: Beyond The Object - art exhibition review

By a person's works shall they be judged. Well, that's no problem for Dale Chihuly if this exhibition is anything to go by.

What is on display at The Halcyon Gallery simply takes your breath away in terms of its sheer ambition. Nobody does it quite like Chihuly and the fluency with which he and his studio manage to manipulate glass has to be seen to be believed. The resultant structures show just how diverse a medium it can be. Chihuly is probably most famous in the UK for his chandelier, installed at the V&A in 2001, and several hanging pieces are to be seen in this exhibition.

What is immediately apparent is the diversity of his work. The exhibits range in size from that of a vase or 'Basket', to huge chandeliers and 'Tower' structures that rise from the ground and seem almost to defy gravity. In this sense and to these eyes, the pieces possess an almost Rococo sense of splendour, scale and intent; apparent also in their florid and ever shifting appearance. This work simply doesn't stay still; but rather seems to move and fidget, permeated by ever changing light, and the relative position of the viewer. So I thought 'Beyond The Object' to be a good title for this show.

We see a multitude of vivid colours, looking almost alive, bursting with luminescence and casting the most exquisite coloured shadows. Chihuly manages to use colour to create drama and contrast, whilst keeping each colour in the glass distinct, even and yet fluid.

What we can see behind these most beautiful iridescent combinations is the artist's instinctive feel for working glass; honed by decades of experience and enabling him to seemingly take that medium wherever he chooses to. This sensitivity is also clear in the subtlety and refinement of each work's delicate pattern and texture. I especially noticed the beautiful and consistent lines present in many of the pieces; harmonious and yet restless.

Chihuly's work also exhibits an erotic primal quality in its vivid form and colour. Almost every piece on display is an example of this.

I was particularly taken with the 'Basket' series, inspired according to the artist by the grace and forms of Northwest Coast Indian baskets. The 'Fire Orange Basket Set' are beautiful on both a formal level as well as having that Chihuly characteristic of being evocative of natural forms, especially those from the deep sea. They appear to sag and flag, but never lose their integrity in terms of proportion and structure. Particularly exquisite in these works is the thinness of the glass. In 'Deep Cobalt Seaform with Carnelian Lipwraps', I noticed the beautiful gradations between the dominant Cobalt and golden surface.

Also captivating is the 'Amethyst Icicle Tower' in conjunction with 'Cranberry Spire Chandelier'. Their positioning creates a dynamic tension in the negative space between each piece. The artist created these especially for this exhibition. Which brings me to a further point. The gallery has presented the show very well. I thought the lighting of certain pieces was spot on; presumably to the artist's exact requirements.

In addition to his glass work are also mixed media works in two dimensions. I felt the most successful of these was 'Mille Fiori Drawing'. But all the pieces convey a joy of colour and gesture that is both direct and honest.

Chihuly is very clear about what he wants to achieve in his work. Conscious as to their visual impact, he talks about the excitement of working on a large scale. Also about the importance of nature in terms both of inspiration and influencing the process of making. With the 'Fiori' series of smaller forms, evocative of plants, he talks of honing down the techniques of creating the glass and using the least number of tools possible. Nothing to tamper with the flow of each to resolution.

In conclusion, if you want to see a show that makes your mouth water, then this one is definitely for you.

(c) Gideon Hall 2014

Dale Chihuly: Beyond The Object is running from The 8th of February to 5th of April 2014 at The Halcyon Gallery, New Bond Street, London
www.halcyongallery.com It is a free exhibition.

Author's review: 
5