CHIHULY BASKETS: CELEBRATING FORTY YEARS

“Baskets was the first series that I did that really took advantage of the molten properties of the glassblowing process. Now, for the first time, I really felt I was breaking new ground with an ancient technique.”

Tabac Basket with Drawing Shards and Oxblood Body Wrap, 2008, 12 x 12 x 11″

For many celebrated artists, the path to creative achievement is gradual, studied, and often plagued by self-doubt. David Galenson, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and the author of Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity (2007) calls these people “experimental innovators.” On the opposite end of this spectrum are what Galenson terms “conceptual innovators”—those whose brilliance arrives in a relative blaze, at a fairly early age, disrupting convention. Dale Chihuly is a conceptual innovator whose Baskets were a flashpoint for his originality. Forty years later, he is still a leader of the avant-garde and prodigious creative force, and the Baskets remain vital in the fascinating arc of his career.

Dale Chihuly, The Boathouse hotshop Seattle, 1993

Dale Chihuly had a meaningful encounter with traditional Northwest Indian basketry in 1977, during a visit to the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. He was a young vanguard in the field of glass (he had become the head of the glass program at Rhode Island School of Design and co-founded the Pilchuck School of Glass in Washington by age 30). Chihuly was enthralled by how time had transformed the woven baskets into bowed and slumping objects. This touchpoint precipitated a breakthrough not only in Chihuly’s forms but also in his techniques for achieving them. He harnessed the interconnected powers of heat, gravity, centrifugal force, breath, and glass to achieve impossible thinness and dynamic asymmetry. Chihuly has stated: “Baskets was the first series that I did that really took advantage of the molten properties of the glassblowing process. Now, for the first time, I really felt I was breaking new ground with an ancient technique.”

His earliest Baskets, such as his 1979 Tabac Basket Set with Oxblood Jimmies, are daring and seemingly effortless. Like an alchemist Chihuly uncouples form from function and instead forges undulant containers of hue and luminosity. The muted palette reminiscent of Native American baskets defines the early work but is also an enduring muse. The extraordinary forms of Tabac Basket with Drawing Shards and Oxblood Body Wraps (2008) are like feats of Art Nouveau architecture writ in glass. This series is done in natural fiber tones akin to the objects that informed them, but the native formline design of the baskets is abstracted in Chihuly’s hand.

Tabac Basket Set with Oxblood Jimmies, 1979, 6 x 14 x 14″

These forty years of Baskets are not a linear progression, wherein one builds upon the next until superiority is achieved; rather they are collection of transcendent moments through time.

While some works have maintained an aesthetic affiliation with the baskets Chihuly saw in the 1970s, others are merely kindred spirits. Jasper Black Basket Set with Red Lip Wraps (2000) revels in the drama of the color black; opaque obsidian is complemented by deep blues and shimmering violets, sheathed in a sanguine red. Six nested containers produce a panoply of shapes and crevices where light is absorbed and refracted by the lustrous surfaces. With the recent Golden Sapphire Basket Set with Midnight Blue Lip Wraps (2017), Chihuly continues to push the limits of the material. The outer vessel is turned on its side—its form part basket part sea creature, variegated blues dancing around the cresting and plunging contours. Nested inside this frame, six unique forms coalesce in a masterpiece of blown glass, the splendid blues enhanced by peeks of golden yellow.

Jasper Black Basket Set with Red Lip Wraps, 2000, 6 x 13 x 13″

Entwined with the narrative of the Baskets are Chihuly’s drawings, in which we see the artist’s instinctive and spontaneous creativity most viscerally. In a medium not bound by gravity, design elements can be liberated from their surfaces, nested forms emancipated, circles need not close. Not studies for specific works, the gestural drawings express Chihuly’s big ideas to both his glassblowing team and his viewers. Then, as if the works on paper could shatter like glass into “shards,” details from the drawings become design elements of the Baskets themselves, exemplifying the creative loop that characterizes Dale Chihuly.

Pablo Picasso once said that “to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing.” Such a prophetic statement could only usher from a true conceptual innovator, one who inspired a paradigmatic shift in art-making without seeming like it was any effort at all. Dale Chihuly has done the same for modern studio art glass, and the Baskets are the bellwether of this movement. Chihuly’s magic is intangible and unmistakable—a mix of technical genius, limitless imagination, fearlessness, experimentation, and an unfailing eye for the beautiful.

Jeanne Koles is an independent museum professional with a focus on cultural communications.

Golden Sapphire Basket Set with Midnight Blue Lip Wraps, 2017 (detail), 19 x 22 x 22″

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Master of Beauty | Lino Tagliapietra

Master of Beauty | Lino Tagliapietra

To behold Lino Tagliapietra’s glass art is to perceive pure beauty, inspired by the magnificence of the artist’s surroundings, travels, and experiences. In his 1753 volume Analysis of Beauty, English painter and writer William Hogarth (1697-1764) laid out the six principles that affect our perception of beauty: fitness (fitting parts of a whole elegantly together); variety (blending shapes and colors harmoniously); uniformity (balancing symmetry with shifting perspectives); simplicity (discarding superfluous elements); intricacy (leading the eye with thoughtful composition); and quantity (inspiring awe through grandness). Hogarth’s ground-breaking tome also described the serpentine “line of beauty,” an s-shaped curve used in art that awakens the viewer and is pleasing to behold. Flawlessly orchestrating all six of Hogarth’s tenets and deftly employing the “line of beauty,” each work by Tagliapietra beguiles the viewer, transporting them to a place of unadulterated grace.

The Fenice series epitomizes the lively allure of the curving line. Impossibly elongated pulls of glass twist dynamically through the air. Hot reds give way to fiery oranges, which cool to deep blues, manifesting the myriad colors of flame as the glass phoenix rises. The interplay of curves in the installation of three Fenice works reveals myriad expressions as the viewer moves around the piece. Equally in the Dinosaur works, a sense of infinity defies their physical boundaries. The magnificence of the extinct beasts are expressed, softened through graceful bends in their necks and modernized through the graphic patterns of the glass. A repetition of circles plays delightfully against the kaleidoscopic swathes of color that surround the surfaces.

The graceful arcing forms of the Forcola works are also enhanced by undulating layers of design. Concentric circles—in some cases from a single color family, in others from complimentary hues—stretch like taffy to reveal the exquisite patterns inlaid in the glass. So named because their shape artfully recalls the rowlocks of Venetian gondolas, the Forcola works—like so many by Tagliapietra—expressively celebrate a place of affection for the artist.

Geography has had a considerable influence on the artist, who has traveled the world extensively to work and teach; each location leaves its mark on his soul and in his work. Recalling woven African baskets in form and pattern, the globular Africa vase sits nimbly on a narrow foot and revels in a vibrant, jewel-like palette. Rippled “lines of beauty” wind their way up the vase in both directions, culminating in a vivid blue lip of gently waving canes. The rolling swells of a sand dune are captured in the intricate Sahara, its amber coloring punctuated by an azure oasis. Like the blue sea that gives way to the volcano for which they are named, the Stromboli works erupt with cascading cerulean lava, punctuated by frenetic green swirls and daubs of crimson.

Just as Tagliapietra brings a unique perspective to the places he visits by rendering them abstractly in glass, so he brings his forward-looking ideology to artistic traditions. A long-lost glass making technique using avventurine glass is reborn in Tagliapietra’s hands. In a triumph of alchemy, suspended metal in the glass infuses the material with shimmering luster. Hogarth wrote that “simplicity gives beauty even to variety.” In the Avventurine works, minimal and classical shapes are brilliantly juxtaposed with a mosaic of swirling, sparkling designs.

Whether by the 18th century standards of a thinker like Hogarth, or by modern codes, Lino Tagliapietria is a master of beauty. To combine centuries-old traditions with contemporary explorations of the medium, to pay homage to the intimate places he knows and the faraway worlds he has visited, and to do so with such an inherent understanding of what makes things beautiful—this is a true gift. Tagliapietra’s sumptuously articulated forms and dazzling designs are masterfully balanced yet playful. A “line of beauty” unfurls in front of our eyes in each work and in the body of work as a whole.

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Memories and Dreams, the art of Bertil Vallien

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Essay from the catalog, published for the exhibition, August 2017.

Imagine a world where we experienced things from the inside out. Imagine if our first impression was of something’s essence, and it was only through closer looking that we distinguished its external qualities. Would our self-awareness evolve and our empathy for others expand? Would we be more attune to the commonalities of our shared living experience, more sympathetic to things we do not understand, less concerned with solving life’s mysteries and more content living within them? 

The art of Bertil Vallien guides us through this journey of interiority and is as reflective, thoughtful and, ultimately as magical, as human nature itself. Vallien’s focus on looking inward is achieved in myriad ways, one of which is his unique glassmaking technique. A leader in the Swedish glass industry for more than 40 years, Vallien formulated his own method for casting glass in sand that creates depth and radiance in the material. Artworks are driven not by their final appearance—although their visual impact is stunning—but rather by their content. Vallien’s preparatory sketches are carefully considered blueprints of both the external form and the inner details. Layers—both physical and psychological—are created through a multistep process. Surface textures result from the imprint of objects placed on the walls of the mold, which are also dusted with powdered metal oxides to release color. As the molten glass is poured into the mold, Vallien incorporates a variety of objects from sheet metal and glass threads, to figures and other colored forms. Once the glass cools, the suspended animation reveals itself in full glory. Light reflects off the brilliant surfaces and assorted angles of the perimeter, but more dramatically it emanates from within.

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Vallien has said that “knowing the exact moment at which to capture a shift of light or expression and wrench the secret from the glass is what it is all about.” Just as his technical approach unearths internal “secrets,” so his visual motifs are explorations of the subconscious. The artist is motivated by various things—from stories he hears on the news, to people he has met, to his religious upbringing and questions about faith, to wars both historical and contemporary. Despite these concrete inspirations, the work is not meant to pose facile questions with prescribed answers. Umberto Eco wrote “I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret is as though it had an underlying truth.” Vallien’s art embraces this idea, transforming the events and experiences that inspire him into universal archetypes and symbols, upon which viewers layer their own perspectives. A shifting “truth” is created when two spirits—that of the artist and that of the viewer—coalesce.

Today, the path to profound understanding of the world around us is often hampered by the anxieties of contemporary living. Our quest to understand our fellow man is fraught with difficult existential questions brought on by chaos, war, and unsettling socio-political situations. Vallien’s series of works inspired by Franz Kafka pay homage to a visionary 20th century author who mingled realism and fantasy, and whose protagonists struggled through surrealistic circumstances in search of salvation. In Kafka III, a golden figure is trapped in an ashen cave that is part primitive spearhead part wire barrier system. His aura struggles to overcome the harsh cage, glimpses of his gilded light cleaving the surface.

Kafka III,  by Bertil Vallien

One series of works by Vallien was inspired by an aerial photograph of a bombed out village in northern Iraq that he saw in a newspaper. Much has been destroyed in the commission of war, from homes to lives to ancient cultural treasures. Abode II is an imagined archaeological excavation of a post-apocalyptic world, where the earth is turned inside out, its soul exposed and its ability to safely house man thrown into limbo. Landed IV is a hybrid milieu of runic designs, emerging earthly elements, and modern shiny architecture—all presided over by a white flag of surrender.

Landed IV, 2017

The Roman God Janus, the god of transition, gateways, and duality, oversaw the beginning and end of conflict; the doors of his temple would be open in times of war and close to mark the onset of peace. He also opened and closed heaven’s doors, his two faces simultaneously administering over both the past and the future. Vallien’s Janus sculptures have rough-hewn stone-like carved facades on one side and smooth transparent arcs on the reverse, within which images of closed-eye faces are suspended in the glass. This interest in the transitory nature of life has also inspired Vallien’s boat works. The elegant Apostroph II also reflects a sense of adventure and the more winsome side of exploring the unknown. Vallien has written that he makes boats “that sink through memories and dreams, [that] require not latitudes to navigate by; they steer towards the horizon of imagination.” He encourages his various travelers (and by association, us) to “put his trust in the delicate skin that separates him from the unknown.”

Janus Y, 2017

Franz Kafka lamented “how pathetically scanty my self-knowledge is compared with, say, my knowledge of my room. There is no such thing as observation of the inner world, as there is of the outer world.” Kafka may in some ways be an intellectual forbear for Vallien, but to this philosophical perspective the artist brings an innate ability to ruminate on the inner world, both for himself and his viewer. The dualities of this world are nimbly unveiled in the work: dark and light; past and future; rough and smooth; light and heavy. Through both physical expression and symbolic associations, Vallien senses the world from the inside out and opens up this channel of experience to his viewer. Definitive answers become unnecessary, and an enlightened, empathetic, and open-minded ethos rises up.
—Jeanne V.  Koles for Schantz Galleries, Stockbridge, MA

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Celebrating Lino Tagliapietra in Stockbridge!

This gallery contains 55 photos.

July 6&7, 2017, we celebrated the Maestro in Stockbridge with all our friends! Continue reading

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2017 June Weekend Glass Demo Photo Album

This gallery contains 31 photos.

Thank you Amy Lynn for these nice photos of the 2017 Schantz Galleries Collectors Weekend Glass Blowing Event, hosted at Hoogs and Crawford.             

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Made in N.E.

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Dante Marioni and Preston Singletary | Collaborators

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