14″ x 18″
History, pathos, mysticism, ancient Chinese ideograms form the layers of innuendo in Janet Kozachek’s multi-dimensional art. Working in ceramic relief, pique assiette and handmade tiles, each mosaic represents a journey into the landscape of Kozachek’s brilliant mind. She says that her recent “Archaeology” series is “an observation on the limits of memory, preservation, and on the vagaries of human conquest, both physical and ideological”.
Inspired by her travels to Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ostia Antica and Xian, China, each mosaic is an excavation that unearths naked figures surrounded by fragments both literal and spiritual. Assembled spontaneously, Kozachek relies largely on “serendipity for source material in both theme and object.” The individual tesserae in Kozachek’s art are humble in origin, bone fragments, rocks, rummaged junk and salvaged material from roadside walks. Each intact figure is sculpted in white earthenware clay. Miniature tiles are inscribed in Zhuan, the 2,000 year old form of Chinese calligraphy.
As a graduate student at the Beijing Central Art Academy, Kozachek discovered the art of stone seal carving. She explains, “The ancient seals were printed on paintings to indicate mood, ownership and authorship however they also have a history in apotropaic powers of magic.” (That is the power to ward off evil.)
Each seal carving in her mosaics is created with a slip inlay technique called mishima, and translates into a phrase of enigmatic poetry, perhaps unintentionally inserted to banish any evil spirits that might be lurking amongst the shards.
An elongated oval tile in “Kneeling Woman” refers to Kozachek’s personal origins. It reads, Life From a Swamp. In Chinese, New Jersey is translated roughly as New Swamp Land. This is where she took her first breath; a concept declared in the second tile nestled in supportive proximity to the small of the woman’s back.
A tile reading Belief In The Spirit inspires the title for “Hovering Spirit”. The repeated faceless white fragments represent a powerful, inscrutable presence, as in “Three Intruding Fanatics: One Throwing a Rock”.
The central figure with his hands over his ears is doing his best to deflect the violence of dogma and the rock aimed right at his head. His home is nearby with shuttered paradoxical windows that read in Zhuan script, Without A Home and To Have A Home. The original idea was homes and homelessness, but the mosaic evolved into Kozachek’s own material defense against aggressive religious views that she wanted to deflect through her art. Her conclusion was “that the purpose of art sometimes is to maintain humanity within conflict and adversity”.
“Subclinical Harpies” illustrates the artist’s process. Kozachek’s accidentally broken handcrafted ocarina became two oval tiles. Their shapes reminded her of quail, so she created ceramic feet and heads to adorn their plump bodies. Stumbling upon a broken porcelain doll, the feminine birds sprouted arms. The square seal script tile reads, In All The World There Is No Other. Kozachek explains, “It is a line from a beloved Beijing opera sung by a soldier taking large self assured steps toward the audience while proclaiming his uniqueness in the world and reminding us all of the miracle of individuality.”
If Kozachek ever creates a tile emblematic of herself and her art, it should bear exactly the same passage: In All The World There Is No Other.
Janet Kozachek’s art is currently being exhibited in “Partnership in Social Justice” at the Stanback Museum, South Carolina. http://scsucrash.blogspot.com/2010/10/partnership-in-social-justice-featuring.html
“Tileista” is a monthly column that explores the beauty of artisan tile. JoAnn Locktov is the author of two books (Mosaic Art and Style, The Art of Mosaic Design) and numerous articles on contemporary mosaics. Her public relations firm Bella Figura Communications represents individuals and businesses in the visual and literary arts. Follow her musings on design, tile and Italy on Twitter: