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.