In May of this year, the Washington DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities unveiled what one art lover has described as “the most beautiful mosaic in the city” in the Takoma Metro Rail Station.
Sam Gilliam (b. November 30, 1933) is internationally recognized as one of America’s foremost Color Field Painter and Lyrical Abstractionist artists. Gilliam, an African American, is associated with the Washington Color School and is broadly considered a Color field painter. His works have also been described as belonging to Abstract Expressionism and Lyrical Abstraction. He works on stretched, draped, and wrapped canvas, and adds sculptural 3D elements. He is recognized as the first artist to introduce the idea of a painted canvas hanging without stretcher bars c.1965, a major contribution to the Color Field School. – Wikipedia
In the video of dedication ceremonies below, Gilliam speaks about his inspiration for the work while citizens talk about the mural’s impact in bringing the Takoma Park and Washington DC communities closer together. What more could one ask of public art?
Recently, MAN spoke with Gilliam’s assistant of 30 years, Stephen Frietch and mosaic artisan Stephen Miotto, the man responsible for the making of From a Model to a Rainbow and many of the extraordinary mosaics found in the NY subways. Quite honestly, the enthusiasm for the project expressed by both of these men is difficult for us to convey here.
Luckily, we found this PBS video on the project where you can see/feel that enthusiasm. Listen for comments from Gilliam like “as if it’s actually flapping out of doors” and “these colors have the feeling that they are in water”– testaments to the artistry of the mosaicists who worked from his original computer generated image.
In our interview, Frietch said, “The mosaic is like a translation. They (the mosaicists) took unexpected liberties. We learned to trust them.” Miotto, based New York, provided us with the following photos of the mosaic’s creation in the Travisanutto Studio in Italy.
Gilliam’s original design was extraordinarily complex; colors shifted, melded and draped from one shape and plane to another. In the studio photo above, one can appreciate how the artisans achieved that complexity with astonishing accuracy using the mosaic components of color, texture and andamento. There isn’t a curved tesserae to be found and yet the completed work exudes fluidity.
Gilliam and Frietch spent time in the Travisanutto Studio with Miotto during the execution of the mosaic. Said Frietch, “There you are at the foot of the Dolomite mountains with your seventeen year old son watching the master (Giovanni Travisanutto), a 70 or 80 year old man make art the same way it has been made for thousands of years . . . it just doesn’t get any better.”
No, it doesn’t.
Says Miotto: You can’t copy a work of art (in mosaic). You have to recreate it in a way that is honest to what the artist wants.
And that would be the difference between simple fabrication and making art.
Our sincere thanks to Sam Gilliam, Stephen Frietch and Stephen Miotto for their assistance with this post. We could have gone on for days.
Enjoy – Nancie
Takoma Metro Rail Station, 327 Cedar Street NW, Washington DC
Recent works by Sam Gilliam Marsha Mateyka Gallery
Miotto Mosaics, Stephen Miotto: Tel. 845.628.8496 Fax. 845.628.1845
Website for Travisanutto Studio
More photos by Richard Holzager of the mural and its installation at TacomaDC
Previous MAN Posts on Stephen Miotto:
Stephen Miotto Interviewed in His Studio, here
Community Garden: An Award Winning Mosaic by Stephen Miotto here