A solo, sunny day in London without commitments and there just happens to be an exhibition by American glass artist Dale Chihuly at Kew Gardens. I first saw his stunning work, ‘Gardens in Glass’ here 14 years ago so how could I not make my way there again? According to Chihuly, ‘Reflections on Nature’ is not supposed to distract from the plants in the garden but rather to make people look more closely at the plants which host his sculptures.
Chihuly is probably best known for his architectural-scale blown glass sculptures and many of these are displayed at Kew, both inside the Waterlily and Temperate glass houses and outside.
The sculptures have all been made at different stages of Chihuly’s artistic career and the ones which work best, in this setting, are those which do what Chihuly say he intends, seeming to grow out of the surrounding vegetation. My favourites by a long way were the delicate, white, leaf-like shapes of the ‘Ethereal White Persian Pond’ in the Waterlily house. The glass leaves blend in effortlessly with living lotus leaves, setting off the boldly-coloured flowers of the other lilies in the pond.
Some of the glass sculptures in the newly-refurbished Temperate House work well for the same reasons; the brightly coloured spikes of ‘Red reeds’ are like colour-saturated versions of the real thing, even if a botanist knows the leaves around them are not quite what you’d expect!
Red reeds (left) and Green Hornets and Gold Waterdrops (right)
My other favourites were the subtle forms of Chihuly’s ‘Seaform’ series on display in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery. The fragile shapes-within-shapes evoke exotic shells and delicately-patterned sea urchins.
Chihuly makes much of the fact that he relies on gravitational and centrifugal forces acting on glass as it is blown rather than manipulating it with tools, to give it a more organic feel. He also makes no secret of the fact that he is the creative force behind the workshop which produces the pieces rather than the glass blower himself, these days. This means, if you have a four figure budget, you can buy one of the smaller pieces in the gallery shop. No such dilemna faced me – imagine trying to get one home on the tube!