Mosaic “rockstar” Toyoharu Kii, master of marble and monochromatics

My attempt at the “Toyoharu Kii”-style of mosaics during a 3-hour workshop at the MAANZ conference 2017

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.

Sitara Morgenster 22 October 2017

Click here for images of some of Toyoharu Kii’s work on the internet

I have the perfect necklace for you

Paraparaumu Beach Market, Saturday 14 October 2017

I watch the patrons strolling up and down the Paraparaumu Beach Market on a chilly spring Saturday morning. Tourists, locals, visitors from nearby towns, with or without dogs, partners, children; throngs of people moving past my stall, toward my stall, away from my stall. Most of them are after vegetables, seedlings and food. Maybe also a take-away coffee but definitely lots of “hi-how-are-yous” and chats. I want to yell out to them: “I have the perfect necklace for you!” What’s holding me back is that New Zealand stallholders don’t seem to operate that way. It’s more the way of Dutch herring sellers at markets such as the Albert Cuyp.

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.

My pretty pendants, made of broken ceramics in myriad colours, set in cement glue and grout, are well presented on a pick-nick table covered in a black velvet cloth. But wearable mosaic art is not on anyone’s shopping list and perhaps it’s also not close to Xmas enough yet. In my mind, I festoon especially the lady-market-goers with my pendants.

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.

Stalking potential buyers with my eyes

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.

Making while selling

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.

Sitara Morgenster October 2017

For better or worse

Wall hanging
300mm x 300mm

Guess what! I applied to this year’s New Zealand Artshow and… was rejected.
At the risk of putting off potential buyers and collectors, I still want this fact to be known.


Because my social media and website should not just represent the “successes”, the “good times”, the pretty pictures and the smiles.

I don’t want to present one face to the virtual world and another to the people that love me and support me no matter what. I want to be honest and transparent. Nothing to hide.


I don’t mean that gives everyone the right to all the information about all the facts, interactions and transactions of my day-to-day life! I’d still like to keep some secrets, some things private, some things to myself! Does that sound paradoxical?

What I mean by honest is that I want to represent, in person, the fact that conditional life is as messy as it is beautiful.

We can all nod and say, “Yes, we know that what we see about people on the internet is the outcome of calculated image-management. We know there is a shadow side we don’t necessarily get to see.”

But to me this is not good enough.

The shadow side must be exposed, shared and talked about to make it visceral.
Only that way can we undermine the destructive nature of Social Media that makes it so addictive and makes people feel inferior or under pressure to perform or be a certain way. To be offering only the consoling, the plusses, or at least something dramatic or extraordinary.

I’ve also noticed the internet bursts at the seams with stories about artists and writers’ rejections before success. But always only once they’ve broken through and become published, millionaires, superstars, never in the midst of trials and errors. And what about those who never made it during their lifetime – or not even after it!

Mosaic Wall Hanging
300mm x 300mm

Sure, I felt momentarily disappointed and doubtful after learning that the New Zealand Artshow doesn’t want to include my awesome mosaics in their show this year, explaining that: “… the selectors feel that your works require more development in terms of subject matter, composition or technique.” But I didn’t feel disheartened.

Instead I felt pushed to contemplate again if making mosaics really is what I want to do for a living. If I have faith in my talent,  meet my own standards, enjoy it enough. After a few days of quiet contemplation I found myself answering all those questions with a resounding yes. I felt motivated and enthusiastic to start on a new piece and to keep promoting my mosaics. And I feel grateful for yet another opportunity to remember that my doing is not my being, and my being is not my doing.

Sharing both “successes and failures” offers me a chance to emphasise again and again that we are all equally human and that conditional life is messy and raw in all its aspects for all of us. To remind myself that my human existence has the same beautiful sacrificial destination as all life on earth; the essential ingredient in the life cycle of all creatures, things and phenomena: physical death. There was never a game to win and the fact that I am here is… IT.
There is simply life to be lived and gratitude to be nurtured and express.

Sitara Morgenster February 2017

A curious case of plagiarism

The first time it dawned on me that my mosaics might have potential beyond my own narcissistic admiration and the sweet though biased encouragement of friends and family, was when I came upon a local newspaper article about unusual letterboxes, in which the woman who had commissioned me, confidently claimed the design and installation had been all hers. She stated she had made this mosaic and it had taken her a lot of planning and 3 months to complete!

It had been my very first commission, after the woman in question had seen  my artwork in “The Bridgeman Gallery”, in New Plymouth back in 2003. The newspaper article appeared as late as 2008, but I had carefully kept a photocopy of the bank cheque that paid me for the project as a momento of completing my first commission, a rather quaint creation intended to portray a tulip, but interpreted by pretty much everybody (including the postie) as some kind of whale or a huge fish.

I never confronted this patron directly, nor found out why she would have claimed such a quirky work as her own. But I did write a letter to the editor of the local paper asserting my creative rights over this tulip fish. A rectification was duly published the following week. 13 years on, the letterbox is still standing proud, uplifting Durham Ave in New Plymouth, New Zealand, with a bright spark.

Sitara Morgenster January 2017