Visiting the Chihuly exhibit at the Richmond Museum of Fine Arts this past week was easily the highlight of this winter for me. I had never heard of Dale Chihuly until the local newspaper ran a review of his exhibit. Looking at those pictures, I immediately knew that this was something I wanted and needed to see, if only to ease the dreaded cabin fever that was beginning to undermine my joie de vivre. At first, another couple and my husband were planning to come along but their situation changed and I made the trek to Richmond by myself, exhibit ticket and hotel reservation in hand.
I walked into the first exhibit hall that contained two rowboats (Fiori and Niijima Float), unprepared for the true-to-life scale. These were real rowboats! The Niijima Float was filled with glass spheres of various sizes, some of them as large as exercise balls. The Fiori boat seemed to be alive with a riot of glass flames and snakes and wavy bowls, funnels and oversized Christmas ornaments. As I walked closer, I saw the boats and their contents reflected in the black mirror floor giving the entire scene a double dimension. Several colorful spheres were placed in the space between and around the boats, an amazing commingling of psychedelic colors and shapes: pumpkin yellow with blood red splotches, lemon yellow with green splatters, a red spiral pattern encircling a tan globe. The boat looked like it was loaded with planets, ready for someone to fling them into the universe to find their place.
How I wanted to go over to these boats and run my hands along the smooth glass surfaces. I wanted to step inside the boats and let my body be bathed in these intense colors. But, of course, no touching allowed! So I sat and wrote, got up and took photos from as many angles as I could trying to support my arms to avoid shaking the camera in the low light. No flash or tripods allowed, either!
I didn’t want to leave the rowboats – how could there be anything else more magical? But the next exhibit, the Persian Ceiling, was just as mesmerizing. It consisted of hundreds of colorful glass objects above a glass ceiling. Some of the shapes were reminiscent of textured platters, umbrellas, sun bursts, even sea horses – throwing intriguing shadow lines on the walls and the floor. It felt like walking through a magical dreamscape – nothing like I have ever experienced before. The Persian Ceiling held a sweetness, a sense of playfulness, a calmness, that was very different from the high drama emanating from the rowboats. I fantasized about creating a magical room of my own with a ceiling like this, maybe a sunroom, maybe a bedroom – any place for dreaming and romance. It reminded me of stained-glass church windows with the sun shining through, but without the religious symbology; like an over-sized kaleidoscope pattern, but more asymmetrical.
I spent two hours wandering, sitting, observing, photographing, writing, and listening to other people’s reactions and conversations. Most of that time, I found myself in an altered state of consciousness, similar to a lucid dream.
Chihuly’s creations touched me so deeply with their sheer exuberance of color and shape and texture and lighting, the almost unbearable beauty of light shining through and on multi-colored glass. Each glass sculpture scene had its own mood – from the beginning color thunderclap of the rowboats to the marvel of the Persian Ceiling, to the fantasy world of the Laguna Torcello, or the eerie purple of Neon Tumbleweed and the blue stillness of Reeds on Logs.
Artistic creation really reaches into spaces in our consciousness where ordinary life experiences usually cannot reach. What to call that space: Soul? pure being? the space where we are one with all there is? I felt so fulfilled, with a sense of completeness and utter satisfaction. Chihuly’s work truly fed my soul which is always longing to witness beauty and to create beauty through my own medium of expression. This was a peak experience for me: soul-touching beauty, so all encompassing, so achingly magnificent that I was sometimes close to tears (and I am not the type who cries easily).
I was grateful for all the artists in the world who dedicate their lives to creating from a space deep within themselves that touches THAT space deep within me, creating resonance across time and space.
I felt a deep vibration of quiet awe and immense gratitude. My own sense of creativity was nurtured and awakened, marbled with a sense of humility and helplessness. My medium of expression is words – how could I ever describe Chihuly’s creations of color, light, shape, and form with mere words!? I decided, I couldn’t – language is only a secondary process superimposed on our primary, sensory experience. Therefore, this photo essay is a small attempt to honor Chihuly’s work and introduce him to those who have not yet been exposed.
Apart from pulling me out of the routine of my life, this exhibit lifted me into a larger realm of being. Is this where great artists hang out, in this luminal space? Or is most of their creative work a process of long, arduous activity to get to that brief space of wonder and completion? Like chopping wood and fetching water with only the vaguest chance of catching a brief glimpse of enlightenment? What do you think?