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The knowledge that the light emanating from the materials used in mosaics has the power to move a viewer into a deeper realm of looking – to commune with the divine – has inspired British artist, author, and lecturer Dr. Elaine M. Goodwin for over 20 years. The new works seen here – her own personal search for the Absolute – will be part of her upcoming traveling exhibition “Homage to Byzantium.” The monograph below in which Goodwin speaks on why mosaic is her medium of choice will accompany the exhibition.
My personal understanding of the extraordinary power the Byzantine mosaic Masters were able to conceive for the mosaic medium, how they achieved this technically and how this influences my present work.
In the 1990s, I uncovered a Byzantine secret which completely changed the way I work in mosaic. The revelation provided me with the possibility of creating a truly personal voice.
I had worked in mosaic since leaving Art college and knew of its attraction as a wonderously decorative medium and its beauty and durability as a functional one, but I had not realized its power as a medium capable of producing spiritual awe and personal insight.
I was in Italy, in the city of Ravenna, in the 6th century Basilica of San Vitale, studying the Byzantine mosaics which embellish the presbytery, when a shaft of light fell across part of the surface, enveloping the whole area in a beam of light – light made up of a myriad of variously light/dark particles – and my perception was transformed.
The actual mosaic image I was looking at had, in effect, dematerialized into light. This gave me a far deeper insight into my looking. All was enhanced and more profoundly comprehended – the images had been transubstantiated and this took my understanding into another realm.
I knew immediately that this way of perceiving mosaic could also be obtained in my other work – if I allowed that which was looked at to be marvelled upon and act as a catalyst to a greater consciousness.
And the key to unlocking this deeper response was simple. It was in the very materials used in mosaic – it was they which had the ability to both hold and dispel the light.
So the shifting light which I saw ripple across the surface of a Byzantine mosaic owed its life to the materials of which it was made. And, it was the Byzantine mosaic Maestros who relished experiment who had discovered this latent potential in the materials they used.
Byzantine mosaics were made of two specialized glass materials called “smalti” and Venetian gold leaf glass. These hand-made materials are pressed into a setting of mortar at diverse angles – and it was the manipulation of the angling techniques which the Byzantine mosaic artists exploited for greatest effect.
For them, the precious golden glass was tilted toward or away from light to express Divinity – gold being a worthy vehicle to transport Divine ideas as its own purity was assured by having been processed through the element of fire.
Thus, the reflective quality of the materials of mosaic were used in the early mediaeval period as the most important technique for expressing the new religious ideas in pictorial form and in the expression of the sublime.
I returned home to my studio knowing I had found an art medium through which I too was able to pursue my ever-increasing questions on the nature of my existence and the whys and wherefores of Life!
I experimented within the boundaries of the mosaic medium – a medium whose paramount characteristic for me now had become the reflective surface qualities of its materials.
It would be impossible to express myself fully in any other materials but those having a reflective usage; Venetian gold leaf glass, Ravenna glass, Venetian glass smalti and Carrara marble. Each, when cut and placed in its own inimitable way, exhibits light.
Mosaic, for me, permits just the right amount of contemplation and reflection throughout the making of a work. Whether it is the cutting of the tesserae on the hammer and hardie, the mixing of various mastics in which to hold each piece, the question of whether or not to grout, or the size and the siting of a work, all these considerations and more are assembled time and time again with the making of each new piece.
My mind is a labyrinthine repository of things felt and sensed – one thread of which to be unravelled and held in each new work – one more enquiry into the Absolutes to be explored in a medium of acknowledged durability.
My work changed – from imitation of nature to abstract contemplation – from an outward looking to an inward attitude of mind.
My work now explores what I choose to leave out rather than what I put in – it epitomizes an eloquence of the less.
An artist’s life – my life – is one of continuous enquiry: questions are asked of the self – and answered through the work – again and again, with varying degrees of success. It is a never-ending dialogue between experience and creation.
Elaine M. Goodwin
“Homage to Byzantium” Exhibition dates and venues 2012:
Dr. Elaine M. Goodwin works exclusively in the medium of mosaic using traditional materials of Carrara marble, Venetian gold and glass smalto. These specialised materials, so well understood by Byzantine artists for their light-emitting qualities and inherent spiritual power, provide her with a continual challenge. Her imagery includes the human form in abstract and associated forms and conceits. She travels extensively in Europe, the Middle East, India, and North Africa to research and record Roman, Byzantine and modern mosaics and to gather inspiration.
Goodwin was born in England and trained at Exeter College of Art and Design. Her homes and studios are in Exeter, England and Marrakech, Morocco.
2008 Founder member of TE21 (Tessellated Expression for the 21st Century): a group of international mosaic artists
2006 Member of the AIMC (International Association of Contemporary Mosaicists), based in Ravenna, Italy
1999-2005 Founder President, BAMM (British Association for Modern Mosaic)
England, Greece, Australia, Italy, Egypt, Canada, India, France, Macedonia, Turkey, Tunisia
Private and National Collections
England, Scotland, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, North America, Australia, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Egypt, India, Greece, Germany, Morocco, Macedonia
England, Scotland, India, Australia, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Egypt, India, Greece, Germany, Morocco, Macedonia Public Commissions/Murals: England, Scotland, India
Forthcoming and Recent Exhibitions
2012 Homage to Byzantium, Gallery Annafietta, Ravenna, Italy (solo)
2012 Homage to Byzantium, Galerie, Château de Bourglinster, Luxembourg (solo)
2011 From Here to Eternity, The Street Gallery, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, England<
2010 Tesserae II, Galerie of the Musée de la Mosaïque, Briare, France (solo)
2010 Tesserae I, Municipale Galerie d’Art, Diekirch, Luxembourg (solo)
2009 First International Exhibition of World Mosaic, Comune de Ravenna and AIMC, Ravenna, Italy
2009 The Human Form in Mosaic, Gallery of the British School at Rome, Rome, Italy
2009 International Mosaic Workshop and Exhibition, Biblioteca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt
2009 Looking Through to You, Lawrence-Arnott Gallery, Marrakech, Morocco (solo)
2008 The Human Form in Mosaic, Dorset Country Museum and Art Gallery, Dorchester, England (solo)<
2008 7ème Rencontres Internationales de Mosaïque, Chapelle St Eman/Chapelle Fulbert, Chartres, France
2008 Tripping the Light Fantastic, Galerie, Château de Bourglinster, Luxembourg (solo)
2007 Pulsations of Marrakech II, Le Rondeau, Bridel, Luxembourg (solo)
2007 Points of Perception II, The Street Gallery, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, England
2007 Points de Perception, Galerie of the Musée de la Mosaïque, Briare, France, (solo)
1996 Museum of Fine Art, Alexandria, Egypt (AIMC)
1995 European Parliament Gallery, Strasbourg, France (solo)
1994 Palace of Art, Kamakura, Japan (AIMC)
1993 Arno Art Gallery, Brussels, Belgium (solo)
1991 The Barbican, London, England
1991 The Constructed Image International Mosaic, Leighton House, London, England
2008 Mosaic Today, David Porteous Publications, UK and Trafalgar Square USA UK ISBN-13: 978-1570763991
2007 The Human Form in Mosaic, Crowood Press, UK ISBN-13: 978-1861269812
2003 Encyclopedia of Mosaic, Batsford/Chrysalis UK ISBN-13: 978-1570762666
2000 Classic Mosaic, Quintet UK (also trans.) ISBN-13: 978-1840923285
1999 The Art of Decorative Mosaic, Crowood Press, UK (revised ed. 2008) ISBN-13: 978-1847970565
1992 Decorative Mosaics, Letts/New Holland, UK (also trans.) ISBN 1-84537 055 4 (2005 ed.)