The above mini-mosaics are the partial result of my participation in the 100 Day Project (2021). I decided to use it to make a small (10x10cm) square mosaic every single day. It started on the 31st of January and I completed nearly seventy mosaics, some of which you can see above. So, you can see I deviated from the shape but all of that is part of the creative process.
There are currently no cruise ships anchoring in Akaroa’s tiny harbour, near Christchurch on the South Island. Nobody else is allowed to visit either. “Luckily, we had a very busy summer season, but I don’t think I’ll be travelling any time soon,” Josie says. The artist, sculptor, painter and horticulturist (“I like moving between mediums”), had plans to travel to China. One of her ceramic creations is being enlarged there. It will be forged in mirror polished stainless steel at a Beijing foundry. A trusted craftsman she’s worked with before is looking after the prototype, sending her emails with photos to keep her informed of the progress.
Josie’s positive takeaway during lockdown is having a lot of time to make art. “Time is really precious”, she says. Today, she spent outside all day, working on a new mosaic at the front entrance of her sculpture garden. It’s a luxury, reminiscent of the beginning when there were fewer visitors. Now she can no longer work during garden opening hours in normal circumstances. “People are curious and want to chat and that is too distracting,” Josie explains. “Receiving people’s enthusiastic encouragement is wonderful, but spending time with them takes a lot of energy. I need to conserve my energy. If you really want to do something, you’ve got to prioritise.”
Starting is the hardest part
Josie Martin creates all mosaic work in situ. “Starting is the hardest part, but I start by making hundreds of drawings, and once there is a foundation, you have something to kick against. First, I work on the form, using steel and concrete. I have been working with the same tradesman for many years. We’ve developed techniques of our own, for working with steel and concrete, because it is a bit of a grey area. We work with a solid foundation. I use much more steel than necessary, I like to use it for shaping the form and expression. You can’t fix it afterwards.”
Inside, Josie will smash tiles and organise them by colour in ice cream containers. “As much as I can prepare, I will prepare. I will walk around the form, see how I need to cut the tiles and get everything ready to go.” This way, Josie can start work outside as soon as the last visitor has left, with still enough daylight for making art outdoors. During this lockdown-period, Josie’s also had time again to get her hands in the clay: “I made some pots in my studio. It’s good to feel the clay, get the feel of things.” Josie handcrafts her own tiles to include in her mosaics too. Twenty stretched canvasses in her studio are ready to use.
Running out of space
What’s more, Josie is waiting for the green light from the council to proceed with plans to extend both the garden and the cafe, as well as to create a new entrance, on a newly acquired neighbouring property. Because even though the creation of The Giant’s House sculptures and garden began only 23 years ago, Josie has already run out of space. “It’s not so much that I’m fast. I was definitely slow to begin with, because I had never worked with concrete. But my painting background is a great asset and I don’t muck around. I’m good at making decisions.”
From wilderness to world-class tourist attraction
What was once a wilderness, is now a world-class tourist attraction. The Giant’s House received a “Garden of International Significance” award, as well as a 6-star rating from the New Zealand Gardens Trust. On the Trip Advisor website and in Google ratings, Josie Martin’s Sculpture and Mosaic Garden has received innumerable glowing reviews and ranks 4.5 stars out of 5.
Josie Martin never compromised: “This place wouldn’t be what it is today if I had.” Martin had to sacrifice parts of her social life, but has some close friends she often makes time for. “Instead of going out for a coffee, I rather make something,” she explains.
Fulfilment through making
“It’s always a balancing act. You can’t just walk into the studio, it takes time to warm up. Creating something I love, I’m completely fulfilled. I’m happy when I’m making, when I do all these drawings and suddenly something comes to life. And I’m able to live off my artwork, which is usually hard to do for artists.”
How to – achieve near perfect breaks Intentional “handmade” breaks are seldom 100% perfect, but it’s absolutely possible to control the direction of the break when cutting a plate or tile with tile nippers or wheeled nippers. How? You do this by placing your thumb and index finger of the hand holding the item to apply pressure on the spot where you want your cut line to ‘run to’, while you ‘nip’ with your other hand. Try it now. It’s almost like magic, but I’m sure there’s a physic law that explains it all. The only exception is, when the tile or plate has a prior, invisible crack already from falling or other damage, in which case the cut is likely to follow the hairline of the earlier impact. Read on : :
I received “Highly Commended” at New Zealand’s bi-annual national exhibition of mosaic art 2018, held at the Estuary Art Centre in Orewa near Auckland in September, organised by the NZMA, the New Zealand Mosaic Association. It’s a great boost, especially given the fact that I’ve felt my style of working is rather “out there”, as it is inspired by the abstract, impromptu way of working exampled by the late Ilana Shafir, one of my greatest mosaic idols. My commended artwork “Consider Mother Earth”, is a large mosaic triptych spanning nearly three meters, depicting the beauty of nature’s landscapes combined with the impact of human activity, built out of thousands of tiny pieces of broken plates, glass tesserae, stained glass, mirror, pebbles and smalti.
It took nearly 120 hours to complete. And that’s excluding collecting and selecting the materials! Off late I’ve been feeling increasingly concerned and nauseous about the unstoppable, suicidal damage humans are doing to our precious home on the one hand, and on the other hand I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for Papatūānuku’s immense beauty, natural justice, abundant gifts and patience. I’ve tried to include all those qualities in this piece.
What’s the Margaret Coupe Award?
The Margaret Coupe Award was named after Kaikhohe based mosaic artist Margaret Coupe (16 March 1922 – 11 October 2006). Judges were the Lebanese-American mosaic artist Carole Choucair Oueijan and New Zealand’s own Liz Hood from Puhoi, who together searched out the ‘Wows’ among the mosaics on display in each exhibition category.
Julee Latimer’s book Sculptural Secrets for Mosaics (2017) is a very personal exploration of 3-D mosaic-land. Latimer outlines step-by-step how to start a mosaic sculpture from scratch, be it a massive piece such as her Rosaic, the armchair from foam blocks covered in stained glass roses, or some wildly intricate sculpture, like Equinox, an organic plant form with tesserae snaking and deeply penetrating the custom-made substrate’s curves.
The hours and hours of dedication and piles of greatly varied, often vibrantly coloured tesserae that have gone into these works are not to be underestimated, but Latimer demonstrates a foolproof approach to creating 3-D bases for mosaic application.
The hours and hours of dedication and piles of greatly varied, often vibrantly coloured tesserae that have gone into these works are not to be underestimated, but Latimer demonstrates a foolproof approach to creating 3-D bases for mosaic application. It’s refreshing to hear Latimer confess she often has “no real idea as to what to create” before she starts. She simply starts.
This courageous and liberating way of working can be confounding, with many a tricky, technical problem to solve, but Latimer reveals how to navigate these creative adventures, while sharing her thought processes.
This courageous and liberating way of working can be confounding, with many a tricky, technical problem to solve, but Latimer reveals how to navigate these creative adventures, while sharing her thought processes. For instance: “I have been thinking a lot lately about my grandmother, and she is in my thoughts as I begin by cutting and assembling the foam blocks. I decide to make an armchair that she would have liked to sit in, something feminine and curvy, like her.” Or further on in the book, after finishing an undulating, carpet-like sculpture: “I begin immediately making some fabulously elaborate stars, suitable for a goddess.”
Latimer doesn’t offer any brand names, shop addresses or precise recipes, sometimes leaving you to do some homework regarding the glues or sculpting mixtures to use. The Australian based professional studio artist prefers to give pointers, like: “I use a sculpting compound that is very similar to papier-mâché.” Despite this, this is an inspiring and much needed book.
There is a delightful mosaic scene in the biopic “Pollock” (2000), starring Ed Harris as the painter, and Marcia Gay Harnden (who received an Oscar for this role) playing his wife Lee Krasner. At just over an hour and 4 minutes, Krasner is seen creating a mosaic table. Four minutes later it resurfaces, only just visible if you watch carefully, in a poker scene, holding beer bottles at Jackson and Lee’s house one evening. Again at 1.21 minutes, with some coffee table books and coffee cups while Jackson’s family is visiting following his success being featured in Life Magazine.
It’s inconsequential to the movie and you’ll miss it if you’re not into mosaics, as I did the first time, watching it two years prior to starting out in mosaic art. I retraced and re-watched it only years later, when I became curious about the source of the mosaic in the photo by this article, which I had enlarged and printed on real photo paper and stuck on my computer screen, to inspire myself to “one day be a real mosaicist” (a goal I’m still working towards!). I had found it on the internet and did not know who it was from.
The reason I had picked this mosaic to be my inspiration was the deceptively randomness and simplicity of the design, the use of a wide variety of materials, the playful rhythm and vibrant colours. But most of all: how looking at it made me feel happy, carefree and alive. I knew one day I wanted to make mosaics like this.
I had no idea I was punching above my weight. Lee Krasner is the sole woman artist mentioned as part of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists, who exhibited alongside Picasso, Matisse, de Kooning and Pollock himself. But once I found out it was her who created my mosaic muse, it gave me a wonderful inner validation of the mosaic style I aspired to.
It turns out this table was one of two low, round mosaic tables Lee Krasner (who was predominantly a painter) made around 1947 or 1948, using pieces of her own jewellery, everyday objects such as keys and coins, as well as tiles and bottle glass. According to other sources, Jackson Pollock gave Lee all his leftover material and encouraged her to do her own mosaic after he created his only mosaic for the Work Progress Association (which was rejected).
The story goes that Jackson Pollock helped her pour the concrete and attach the wagon wheel rim to the legs. But she laid the mosaic pattern.
“It’s a landmark work in terms of decorative arts and has been reproduced in many contexts and published widely,” says Hallie Harrisburg of Michael Rosenfield Gallery, interviewed by “Mosaic of Art”.
According to Harrisburg, the mosaic table was a foreshadowing of Krasner using the abstract form as her own language in her paintings later on.
One of the tables was sold, but my favourite stayed in Lee Krasner’s possession her entire life.
On my Mosaics.Gallery blog this month a mosaic art-vlog instead of writing, taking you up-close and personal to a commission I’m working on: “By the Pool” (destined for a poolside in Auckland, New Zealand), showing off this work-in-progress in (so far) two super short films. The first video shows base and pillar still relatively naked. You can see the plant pots (plastic and terracotta) and plumbers pipe forming the skeleton of this mosaic garden sculpture. In part two, the base is covered (later to be grouted) and the leaves and tulips applied to the pillar-part of the installation. A sphere will be topping off this creation (the original sketch on which the design was based is the thumbnail of the first video). I will post detailed info about how the structure was built after completion of the piece. The glue I’m using is roof-and-gutter silicon.
Marble becomes butter under Toyoharu Kii’s hammer and hardie, as he demonstrated during his workshops at the MAANZ Conference 2017 in Hobart (MAANZ: Mosaic Association of Australia and New Zealand). I had the fortunate experience to spend some time in his company, to learn from him – and be challenged.
Kii initiated his workshop participants into his very own, unique style of mosaic making: monochromatic, abstract, highly textured and full of interesting andamento, with marble the only source of his tesserae.
“Make interesting patterns!” he kept urging his would-be apprentices, as he walked around the room looking over our shoulders, smiling, moving tesserae around on our substrate, generously cutting some stone for those with blisters and, sometimes, shaking his head.
I’m not sure this was because our fledgling attempts at copying him impressed him or filled him with despair or pity. Every time he looked over my shoulder, I felt it was the latter, yet the challenge gave me some clear new insights and clues about how to approach my future pieces.
Kii was also one of the keynote speakers, introduced by incoming MAANZ-president Noula Diamantopolous as “the rockstar of mosaics”.
Kii delighted his audience by affectionately talking about “the character and charm of each tessera” and his love of a particular type of marble: perlino – especially the (off-) white variety. Kii Toyoharu praised its density, shade and light qualities.
The mosaic master admires the material of his choice for being compact, “not too hard and not too soft”. It can easily be cut into interesting shapes using hammer and hardie.
Using a slide show of many of his remarkable works, he shared some secrets with his mosaic-obsessed audience: to make a monochromatic work interesting he uses paradox by combining a number of contrasting phenomena such as even and uneven, light and shadow, different sized grout lines or no grout, and both the direct and indirect method within the same mosaic.
My attempt at beginning to learn the monochrome “Kii style” and method of mosaic making, in a 3-hour workshop by the mosaic master himself, Toyoharu Kii, at the MAANZ symposium this weekend was a brain twister. Working only in patterns and cutting marble with a hammer & hardie were both completely new to me. It was definitely an experience that corresponded with the theme of the conference: Think beyond the Square.
Paraparaumu Beach Market patrons are appreciative enough of the arts and crafts available, but alas, while these are much and often vocally admired, they are not as frequently purchased as I would like. There’s a few of us selling “wants” rather than “needs”, luxuries superfluous to basic daily needs, but oh so yummy to possess and flaunt.
I spy on them. I stalk them – ever so discretely – with my eyes. Some of them are distracted by a string of grandchildren in their wake, others have difficulty pushing their walker over the gnarly pebbled path past my stall. Or they were early and with their arms already chockful with produce keen to return to their car as soon as they can.
A lot of them don’t wear anything around their necks today. I generally can’t tell if this was caused by lack of motivation or time. Some look hastily clad (the “I’m-only-going-out-briefly”-style). Others have made the most of this see-and-be-seen opportunity and even wear bright coloured shoes matching their lipsticks. You can also assess meteorological skills, with the number of clothing layers reflecting the market goer’s abilities to predict the weather.
Some have obviously underestimated the chill factor (it would have looked so much more inviting from a closed bedroom window than it actually is) and walk past shivering. Others left the house well prepared and donned scarves, hats and puffer jackets. I scan personalities, dress styles and colours to find a match with my best wares.
I rely on first impressions rather than thorough interpretation. Sometimes it takes just one look at a woman to know that she isn’t the type to buy herself something nice and frivolous. Frugality or low self-esteem, let’s not try and analyse to find the cause. The consequence is obvious: the likelihood she’ll buy something pretty for another is dramatically reduced by this mindset. But look, that lady, over there, she’s definitely into blues and turquoise greens and is already wearing pretty earrings. A mosaic necklace would enhance what’s already there, without a doubt! I scan my table for a matching pendant and choose one for her. In my head.
Ah, black-and-white ensembles, they go well with the mirrored pendants or the broken bits of Crown Lynn. Even though I can see that I could do with more purples, reds and yellows in my repertoire, I have the perfect necklace for each and every one of these passers-by, complementing their personality and outfit. As if they were made uniquely for them. Sometimes I even adorn the males. It’s just a trend waiting to catch on. I know it! Males or females, young or old, I visualise them all wearing one, the zinc/alloy backing touching their skin.
If only they knew! They’d immediately rush over to my stall and part with their cash. But most of them will never know. Unless of course they read this blog.