In the city of Old Quebec lies a jewel box of an art gallery – the Villa Bagatelle – a two-story restored Victorian home curated by the Cultural Division of the City of Quebec. Between now and December 18th this 1700 sq. ft. facility will house 40 mosaics by three of the art form’s most accomplished North American artists: Jo Braun (USA), Lynne Chinn (USA) and Sophie Drouin (Canada).
The exhibit is entitled Forward Mosaic! – or En Avant La Mosaique! as they say in Quebec – and it is a lovely example of what a rich visual experience contemporary mosaics can be in a well-curated setting.
Image courtesy Ville de Quebec
Villa Bagatelle Curator and Manager Eric Dumas made very considered use of the space – the pieces don’t just sit there, plunked on a wall one after the other – there is a balance, flow and cohesiveness to the presentation.
We are also extremely appreciative of Dumas’ care in using custom hues of paint for each wall. These colors visually link pieces done by three very different artists. There is a continual soft glow throughout the exhibit. Focused lighting does an excellent job of bringing out the characteristics of color, texture, relief, reflection and refraction that are the hallmarks of mosaic as a fine art form. We are told that opening night visitors were dazzled.
Why did the City of Quebec devote such so much time, energy and financial resources to mount a contemporary mosaic exhibit? The Cultural Division’s promotional materials explain:
This extraordinary exhibit invites and challenges the viewer to share the artists perspectives expressed in an art medium that is deeply rooted in history and has now firmly joined the ranks of contemporary art.
We say Bravo! In every language.
Now, about the artists . . . And don’t forget to click to enlarge.
Sophie Drouin: Of the Earth
Ms. Drouin’s work is unmistakeable for its exploration of the materials of the earth. A co-author of “Listening to the Rocks,” Drouin finds great joy and spiritual gratification in exploring the beauty and artistic possibilities of the earth’s most basic components. Stones, crystals, fossils, minerals, and metals are split, sliced, cut, bent and manipulated to form her primary palette. Often, she will incorporate various types of glass – a product of the alchemy of firing silica and minerals together – in her work.
Sophie Drouin "Awakening" 2011 25" x 20.5" x 4.5" Marble, apophylite, smalti, gold smalti, dichroic glass, sodalite, granite, lapis lazuli, copper, Dalle de Verre, amazonite, apatite, emerald.
Drouin’s work is at its most astonishing when she captures every day phenomena that transform organic materials from one thing to another. The laws of physics and chemistry cannot be denied. Matter changes. Awakening (above) is an excellent example of Drouin’s ability to capture these ephemeral moments of change with great beauty. Here is how she describes the work:
Awakening is an abstracted view of ice and snow formations that typically happen in late winter or early spring in Canada. Newly fallen snow that gets sublimated by the sun forms strange spiky surfaces, and ice puddles get a doily-like array of holes at the edge like strange pancakes.
Drouin also takes this mosaic beyond the confines of a frame. We like the visual analogy that the natural process she references cannot be contained. Also on view at the Villa Bagatelle is our favorite work by Ms. Drouin, Evanescence.
Sophie Drouin "Evanescence" 2010 24" x 30" x 9"Marble, gold, dichroic glass, Blenko slag and glass, smalti, granite, slate snowflake obsidian, tourmaline and stybnite.
The winner of the Best 2-D Award at Mosaic Arts International 2011, Evanescence, like Awakening, captures a precise moment of change in the physical world. Here, Drouin shows us the last fleeting moments in the lives of sheets of cardboard as they are consumed by fire.
Evanescence, according to one on-line dictionary is defined as “quickly fading from sight, memory, or existence.”
The title of this work is apt. There is still heat in those glowing pieces of glass at the center of the work even as the edges cool and turn to ash/marble. Another moment in time is captured beautifully through Drouin’s mastery of her materials.
Drouin is also well known for her sense of whimsy and fun (the concert violinist also plays the saw). Forward Mosaic! includes several works that prove this point, our favorite being Medusa.
Sophie Drouin "Medusa" 2011 25" x 33" x 23" on 5' pedestalMarble, glass, copper, septarian nodule, travertine smalti, rock crystal, obsidian, schist, slate, glass vitrigraph.
Talk about your bad hair day. (Sorry, could not resist.) And my, what sharp teeth she has. (Sorry again.) Ms. Drouin can also be credited with being the “instigator” of Forward Mosaic! as it was her long-time professional and personal relationship with curator Eric Dumas that was at the genesis of the exhibit. Ms. Drouin’s work has been exhibited internationally; she was awarded a “special congratulations” at the 2008 Prix Picassiette in France. She is also a much-sought after teacher and speaker.
Jo Braun: Of the Mind
Jo Braun takes an extremely cerebral approach to her mosaics. Philosophies are picked apart. Notions of beauty are skewered. Preconceptions about the very nature of mosaic are challenged (much to the dismay of some in the mosaic world). Braun thinks about things quite a lot before she goes into her studio. These days, she is intent upon creating objects that provide “a contemplative antidote” to the cacophony of modern life.
Jo Braun Great Silence, 2011 29" x 39" x 3"Glazed-ceramic and recycled glass on hand formed cement panel.
“My work offers viewers an open ended field to contemplate, and an opportunity to decide for themselves what they see in the rhythmic assemblages”, says the artist.
An anthropologist by training (it is Dr. Braun, actually), Braun references the metaphysical intent of Islamic mosaic traditions in explaining her current efforts. She posits that even if one employs “imperfect” components like her non-traditional materials and introduces an element of randomness in their placement, the concepts of rhythm and balance can still create a doorway to mindfulness.
And if mindfulness is the goal of Braun’s efforts, we think she succeeds nicely in Great Silence. In fact, we could lose ourselves in this mosaic for hours.
Can the most basic, simplest components of an industrialized society provide the same sublime experience as Islamic mosaics? Braun makes a good case for it in Threadscape. Cast-off screws, nuts, bolts, tacks, nails and a lot of metal things we don’t know the purpose of are woven into a tapestry that is as soothing to the soul as a well-worn Kilim.
Forward Mosaic! also features one of Braun’s earlier works we are especially fond of, Little Man in the Radio.
When we saw this work and read the title, we were thrown right back into Granny’s kitchen trying to get our head around the concept of human voices coming out of a plastic box. It turns out that Braun’s inspiration for this mosaic was a similar point in her life:
It’s my memory of the interior of the 1970 Sapphire radio in our VW squareback–I used to stare inside it to see the little man (hey, I was a toddler and they didn’t make us sit in car seats back then).
Readers of Mosaic Art NOW may be familiar with Braun’s work as she was one of the eight artists selected for our 2011 Exhibition in Print juried by Bernice Steinbaum, Emma Biggs and Matthew Collings. Ms. Braun was named Best in Show by Biggs and Collings.
Lynne Chinn: Of the Cosmos
Readers of the Mosaic Art NOW are also familiar with the work of Lynne Chinn. Her Geode, currently on display at the Villa Bagatelle, graced our 2009 cover and is the icon for our blog. Best of all, when it’s not on tour, Geode lives at our house.
Lynne Chinn Geode, 2009 8" x 10.5" x 8" Smalti, 24k colored gold smalti, vitreous glass, stained glass, millefiori.
We find Chinn’s work most exciting when she is creating her own cosmic, fragile species of beings from the cold, hard matter of glass. Her latest work, Outcropping, could be a group of tumbling alien lichen or maybe a cluster of yet-to-be-discovered mollusks clinging to an ocean shelf.
Outcropping, 2011 Various sizes ranging from 3″ x 2″ x 3″ to 12″ x 12″ x 12″
Smalti, marble, copper gold, quartz crystals, selenite, glass.
Through Chinn’s deft use of color and texture and her amazing technical skills, flat, sharp, materials – the glass that is her cosmic matter – is transformed into creatures that look as if they could move or breath or burp at any second. There is also something profoundly peaceful about Chinn’s work, even as she creates entities that appear very much in motion. Her creatures ripple and flow, responding to the forces of nature like wind and water. That they do so “naturally” is her gift.
Lynne Chinn "Winged Geode" 2007 29.5" x 9" x 13" Smalti, 24k gold smalti, colored 24k gold smalti, transparent smalti, piastrini, smalti pizza and vitreous glass.
The artist’s background in fashion illustration and design is evident in the andamento and patterning she uses to such great effect in her mosaics. Scales, snake skin, and nacre – all manner of living creature “outerwear” come to mind. Winged Geode was a Finalist in the prestigious international mosaic Orsoni Award of 2007, a bit of an upset in the mosaic world as an American woman was selected by two Italian jurors who are mosaic legends themselves.
Fabrics also provide inspiration for Chinn.
Lynne Chinn "Undulate" 2008 18" x 30.25" x 2.25"Smalti, 24 colored gold smalti, copper smalti, marble, vitreous glass, stained glass, porcelain polymer clay pearls and selenite.
In Undulate, we see two pieces of cloth played against each other. A rich, heavy tapestry provides the background to a swath of something airy and ephemeral billowing above it. Again, you see Chinn’s magic in creating lightness and movement from hard materials.
Not surprisingly, Undulate won the Best in Show title for Mosaic Arts International 2009 and Ms. Chinn’s classes fill up in an instant.
As if these works of art wouldn’t be enough to get you to the Villa Bagatelle, there are also two speaking events planned; Professor JeanAnn Dabb on November 15th and artist Sophie Drouin on November 16th.
Go, and if you do, please tell us about it.
Enjoy – Nancie
CHECK OUT the exhibit
VISIT Sophie Drouin’s website
VISIT Jo Braun’s website
VISIT Lynne Chinn’s websi