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Why Mosaic?

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Ilana Shafir: Why Mosaic?

Ilana Shafir

Creation of the Plants 2006 120×125 cm

Ilana Shafir has been called The Grand Dame of Contemporary Mosaics and, indeed, the only way to describe the eighty-seven year old Israeli artist and teacher is as a master of the medium.  Using her signature materials of handmade ceramic, pebbles, found objects and gold smalti, Shafir weaves fantastic stories and creates fruitful universes filled with joy, exuberance and strength.  Shafir’s work has won numerous international awards and the artist was recently honored with the only solo exhibition organized in conjunction with the biennale RavennaMosaico 2011.  Shafir was selected by jurors Emma Biggs and Matthew Collings as one of the eight artists in MAN’s Exhibition in Print 2011. Classically trained in drawing and painting, Shafir began making mosaics in the 1960s.  Here, she takes us into her studio and how she finds “constant renewal and endless inspiration” in the making of her mosaics.

Tapping into the Spiritual Potential of Each and Every Piece:  My Spontaneous Mosaics

Ilana Shafir’s Mosaic Garden in Ashkelon, Israel

My mosaic garden is an outdoors exhibition space where plants and mosaics coexist peacefully and harmoniously together. Over the years, my mosaic garden has attracted many visitors, all of whom enjoy their tour of the garden but feel utterly baffled when they enter my studio.

Ilana Shafir in her studio in Ashkelon, Israel

My studio is habitually packed with loads of mosaic materials. The casual observer is often surprised to find my enormous collection of ceramic shards, natural stones, handmade ceramic pieces, pebbles, seashells, and broken sculptures and china of all shapes and colors. “I can’t understand how you make beautiful mosaics out of all this trash!” a dear friend once memorably exclaimed.   His reaction was rather common.

Visitors are always astonished to see the enormous collection I have, and often deem it excessive. They fail to see the inherent potential in these fragments. To them, these shards look useless and unattractive, lacking any artistic or aesthetic value.

Ilana Shafir Creation of the Plants

“Creation of the Plants” 2006, detail

I find it difficult to explain – how I put together totally disparate pieces in a way that makes them indivisible. It does not happen instantly! To create this tight bond, I search for days and weeks but when I find the right match I feel enormous joy and happiness.

Ilana Shafir "Nature"

Ilana Shafir “Nature” 1997 155×250 cm

Ilana Shafir Creation of the Plants

1997 Nature, detail

I tap in to the spiritual and aesthetic qualities inherent in each piece, I feel its energy and how it interacts with other pieces. When this new configuration transforms the parts into a whole – that is, when it becomes alive – I know I have found the right result.

Ilana Shafir Whirl

Ilana Shafir “Whirl” 2008 65 x 98cm Photo Giora Shafir

Ilana Shafir

“Whirl” 2008 detail

I marvel at this phenomenon in which two disparate pieces attract, influence each other, and miraculously become inseparable. To me, this is magic, and I am always delightfully surprised when it happens.

Ilana Shafir “Peaceful Garden” 2005 204×252 cm


Ilana Shafir "Peaceful Garden"

“Peaceful Garden” 2005, detail

This process, which I call Spontaneous Mosaic, offers me a rich and exciting artistic life. My work keeps me open-minded and engaged. It offers a sense of constant renewal and endless inspiration.  I consider myself fortunate to be able to lead such an exciting and interesting creative life while approaching my 88th birthday.

Ilana Shafir Bird Houses

Ilana Shafir “Bird Houses”, 2007 126 x120 cm

Ilana Shafir,  February 2012  Ashkelon, Israel

Learn more about Ilana Shafir here on MAN.

Ilana Shafir Mosaic Garden Ashkelon, Israel

Ilana Shafir's Mosaic Garden in Ashkelon, Israel

Ilana Shafir Studio Ashkelon, Israel  Photo:  Giora Shafir

Ilana Shafir in her studio in Ashkelon, Israel



Ilana Shafir

Creations of the Plants Detail

Ilana Shafir

"Bird Houses" 2007, detail

Ilana Shafir Bird Houses

Ilana Shafir "Bird Houses", 2007 126 x120 cm

Ilana Shafir Creation of the Plants

"Creation of the Plants" 2006, detail

Ilana Shafir

"Nature" 1997, detail

Ilana Shafir

Ilana Shafir "Nature" 1997 155x250 cm

Ilana Shafir

"Creation of the Plants" 2006 120x125 cm

Ilana Shafir

"Whirl" 2008 detail

Ilana Shafir

"Peaceful Garden" 2005, detail

Ilana Shafir  Peaceful Garden 2005  204x252 cm Photo Giora Shafir ©Ilana Shafir

Ilana Shafir "Peaceful Garden" 2005 204x252 cm

Ilana Shafir Blessings

Ilana Shafir "Blessings" 1998 181x197cm Photo Giora Shafir

Ilana Shafir Whirl

Ilana Shafir "Whirl" 2008 6x98cm Photo Giora Shafir

Ilana Shafir's Mosaic Garden in Ashkelon, Israel Ilana Shafir in her studio in Ashkelon, Israel IMG_5132Ilana Ilana Shafir "Creation of the Plants" detail Photo Giora Shafir Ilana Shafir Ilana Shafir Bird Houses Ilana Shafir Creation of the Plants Ilana Shafir Ilana Shafir "Nature" Ilana Shafir Ilana Shafir Ilana Shafir "Peaceful Garden" Ilana Shafir "Peaceful Garden" 2005 204x252 cm Ilana Shafir Blessings Ilana Shafir Whirl

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  1. Susana

    Ilana you are an inspiration to young and old! I too have a studio full of “to-be- useful” items and some of friends think it is just a mess of ‘stuff’.Not so at all as you show us so beautifully. I too am aging in art and hope one day to visit Israela nd your garden from Australia I say thank you for sharing.
    Susana B

    • Dear Susana – It is my great sadness to let you know that wonderful Ilana passed away earlier this summer. Her family has begun a Facebook page in her honor and I hope you go there to see more of her work. She has left a great legacy. Thank you for your comment. Nancie

  2. patty

    I wish you would show your process. I am new to this medium and would love to see a video of how you glue and grout your pieces. You are a true genius!!

    • Nancie

      Hi Patty! Thanks for your comment and welcome to mosaic. There are many videos about Ilana and her work – just go to YouTube and search her name. Here is one that shows her working on a mosaic where she talks about her method of “spontaneous mosaic”. It won’t give you a lot of technical information – for that there are any number of great books and I’ll bet that classes are available in your area. Enjoy! Nancie

  3. Joy

    Ilana, your work is lovely! I’m sorry your friends don’t understand the collection of stuff in your studio – I sure do! I’m new to mosaics, but I used to quilt, and the process you describe for figuring out which pieces go where is just how I would put together quilts. Spread out on the carpet for days, and when I walked past I’d look at it and move a few pieces, and consider it, and bit by bit it would get put together – become what it should be, really. Mosaics are the same. My scrap collection is nothing like yours – just glass shards and a lot of pebbles and some rusty metal and bits of old brick worn down into pebbles. But your work and your description of your studio are an inspiration!

  4. Lilian Broca

    My visit to Ilana’s studio and garden was equivalent to an epiphany. To see Ilana at work is to understand the joys and frustrations of a contemporary “Old Master”. I so wish I had a bit of her sensibility and vision…

  5. Suzanne Demeules

    Once again a big thank you for this site and the work that goes into it. This is another wonderful article. Ilana is truly inspiring! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and pictures for those of us who also love this medium but need some inspiration once in awhile.

    • Nancie

      Suzanne, thank you for the very kind words. It’s always great to hear that MAN has meaning for hard-working artists like yourself. Cheers, Nancie

  6. Ilana

    Nancie – I live in a small country and far away from the international community of mosaic artists. But MAN informs me of all that is happening in the mosaic world and allows me to be part of it. I am very grateful for that!

    • Nancie

      Dear Ilana – If I have given you one one thousandth of what you have given to the mosaic community, I will be happy. Thank you so very much for this lovely comment.

  7. Ilana

    I am always happy to hear that my mosaics offer inspiration and new ideas to fellow mosaic artists. Continue working and I hope to see your mosaics some day.

  8. Katy Galbraith

    So inspirational. I love the juxtaposition of the various materials… what i try to do, but hers it so much bigger and better!

    • Ilana

      I suggest you keep working and I am sure your mosaics will become better and better.

  9. Cyndi Barnes

    I agree with all that has been said about this amazing lady. Inspiring and influential are just the first two words that come to me, to talk about Ilana. Her work and her dedication to the world of art is incredible. In mosaics, each piece of material she uses and how she use it, visually tell me a story of the beauty of life. Like a great book I can’t put down, I can’t get enough of looking at her work over and over again.

    • Ilana

      Thanks for your warm comment. I’m happy my work is a source of inspiration for you.

  10. deborah

    An artist after my own heart. I wish I had a book of all her mosaics so I could be inspired on a daily basis.

    • Nancie

      Like you, I can’t get enough of her work, Deborah. If you get the chance, do look for the videos on YouTube that her son, Giora, has made. She has an incredible history that is truly inspiring.

    • Ilana

      I am featured in many mosaic publications and I have a comprehensive catalogue with good images of my work. To purchase, please contact my daughter Leah Zahavi at

  11. Marília Joelma Mottin

    Estoy enamorada por el trabajo de Ilana. La primera vez que vi sus trabajos me quedé admirada y supe que ali, por detrás de aquel trabajo hay una persona linda de vivir, que hace trabajos lindos, inspirados nel deseo de vivir con alegría, energía y alegría.
    Tengo ganas de conocerte, conocer tu jardín , quizá un día!
    Beso Ilana
    Con cariño

    • Nancie

      I love the work of Ilana. The first time I saw her work I was amazed and knew that behind that work is a nice person to know. The work inspired me to live with joy, energy and joy. I have wanted to meet you, know your garden, maybe one day!
      Ilana kiss
      with love

    • Ilana

      So nice to hear from you! I remember our meeting in Ravenna and I hope to see you and your artwork in an upcoming mosaic event. You are always invited to visit my mosaic garden in Israel.

  12. Floy Height

    Totally inspiring work, such beautiful abstracts that make perfect sense. What a wealth of tesserae Ilana must have to come up with these combinations and create such magic!

    • Ilana

      As indicated in the article, I use a lot of hand made ceramic pieces, which I find useful and inspiring.

  13. Liliane Jonckheere

    mevrouw Ilana,

    Ik heb grote bewondering voor uw werk. U hebt dezelfde leeftijd van mijn moeder.
    Ik bewonder uw creativiteit en werklust. Respect!

    • Nancie

      Translation: I have great admiration for your work. You have the same age of my mother.
      I admire your creativity and hard work. Respect!

      • Ilana

        Making my mosaics keeps me happy and full of ideas. I work every day for several hours. I wish your mother good health and happiness.

  14. Ilana Shafir would have to be the most influential mosaic artist to my work starting from this minute. Her beautiful creations are so inspiring.

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