For those who would relegate contemporary mosaics to the “decorative arts” section of the library, museum or art appreciation course, we would submit the work of Marcelo de Melo. There is nothing pretty or decorative about it. On the contrary. It is often crude, awkward and somewhat difficult to look at. It is also edgy, thought provoking and very clear in its intent. Marcelo de Melo has a voice and he’s not afraid to use it. Enjoy – Nancie
As an artist with an academic background in the study of history, the ancient technique of mosaic has a natural appeal to me. It is an art form with great expressive potential that has yet to be given serious consideration in the contemporary art world.
Much of the mosaic work being done today is in the abstract and focuses on the materiality of the technique – color, materials, textures, andamento, etc. I have chosen to use these elements to comment on highly controversial issues such as war and terrorism – themes more commonly associated with contemporary art practice.
In this sense, my work is always prompting an inquiry about the position of mosaics in relation to the contemporary art scene. It is an approach to mosaic practice that stimulates the viewer to have ideas that go beyond the physical characteristics of the work. In this article, I would like to explore some of my works and give readers – both mosaic enthusiasts and the wider art audience – the opportunity to see these concepts at work within appropriate contextualizations.
2001 inspired by the classic Stanley Kubrick film of the same name is one of my earliest works. Here, I deal with themes of human power, technology and ephemerality. My use of “bone china” – a material containing small amounts of crushed animal bone – to create a fragmented femur reveals a subtle game that very much interests me: The juxtaposition of materiality with linguistics.
Like 2001, Hereditary Rose (2003) is made of bone china. The consequences of war and survival are the main themes of this work. More specifically, the effects of the atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima at the end of WWII. It was inspired by a Brazilian song called Rosa de Hiroshima by Ney Matogrosso.
Hereditary Rose was selected for the 142nd Annual Exhibition of the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, Scotland, in 2003 where it quickly gained notoriety. In 2004, it was exhibited at the MotoAzabu Gallery in Tokyo in conjunction with the Amnesty International Exhibition. It was photographed in the Peace Park in Hiroshima that same year.
American Gifts is a series of small scale works inspired by a visit to Vietnam in 2002 and protests against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. This series deals with the immediacy of ideas, concepts and prejudices and at the same time contrasts the naïve with the conceptual, destruction with creation. Here I have used the picassiette technique, making use of found ceramics. This technique is usually deployed in a random manner, but here I have used it to give emphasis to concepts, to trigger further visual associations. Vitreous glass or smalti would have been inappropriate as their imprint of energy is different than those of recycled ceramics. I believe that each material has a unique inherent truth that I like to explore.
Many of my works can also be ‘read’ in literal terms. Words found by chance in certain types of crockery are carefully selected to inform the viewer and suggest the meaning of the piece. For instance the word ‘war’ cut from ‘ware’, encountered in a ceramics merchants seal.
From this series, Grenades (2005) was exhibited at the second edition of Rio Mosaico in 2009 which was presented at the Forte de Copacabana, a defunct military compound in Rio de Janeiro.
The work titled Concrete Evidence is directly inspired by the American Gifts series. Made from concrete cast in a mold from a 2003 missile, Concrete Evidence once more shows my interest in the materiality of objects and the titling of works. Here, I address the historicity of mosaics by a double reference: Iraq as a site of war, and Iraq/Mesopotamia as the birthplace of mosaics – and, in the end, the site of its destruction).
Also, by producing mosaics without effectively using tesserae, this work foregrounds the material process of mosaic making: an attempt to dematerialize mosaics.
Corpo Musivo (Mosaic Body) was created for the 2004 Prix Picassiette in Chartres, France, one of the art form’s most important events. For the Prix, I chose to question of the very historicity of mosaic art by exploring the relation between mosaics and religious iconography. This shapeless form is meant to shock, by desecrating techniques and materials precious to mosaic art. The smalti functions as a reference to the body of Christ and other religious figures widely portrayed in mosaics.
Shattered Dreams speaks to the turbulent life of a postmodern icon, Princess Diana. Referencing the language of Pop Art, Shattered Dreams can also be understood as a mosaic icon. With this work I address questions of tradition and popularity, the cult of celebrity and the cultural status of artistic practices. Material, technique and theme are again used to initiate a dialogue with the viewer.
Detail 1 [complies with safety standards ROULETTE] It is the rear number plate of the car. In this context, this found piece of ceramics suggests that a princess’ life, governed by rules and traditions, [complying with safety standards] is, like anyone else’s, subjected to fate [Roulette = Wheel of Fortune].
Detail 2 [mind your own damn business] It is the details on the top of the car, like the Union Jack on a Mini. This conveys Diana’s message to the paparazzi: leave me alone!
Relic was presented during the 2007 edition of Rio Mosaico, a time when there was a turbulent debate raging in Brazil about airport safety. By juxtaposing the image of the crucifix with that of an airliner, I explored themes such as religious conflict, terrorism, the limitations of technology and human vulnerability. Durable ceramics are mixed with ephemeral materials such as paper bar code labels and luggage tags. This is another example of how I have used mosaic techniques to make materials and the message of a work inseparable.
In Breath, I turned towards a non-European tradition and revisit ancient Aztec mosaics to create a narrative work. This death mask refers to an archetypical science fiction motive; that of the last survivor of a great catastrophe in the future. His remains are exhumed with what eventually turns out to be his funeral mask, a device originally intended to keep him alive.
Mosaic art today can be as conceptually challenging as any other art form and as such can be an inspiration to artists and viewers alike. That is why I dedicate great part of my career to understand and push the boundaries of this fascinating technique. Above all it is the informality that attracts me to it and the fun I can have playing with tradition.
Born and raised in Brazil, mosaic artist Marcelo de Melo has been living in Europe since 1996. His work has been exhibited worldwide at events including the Picassiette Prix in France, the Society of American Mosaic Artist’s Mosaic Art International in the US, The Ravennarte Young Mosaic Biennale in Italy and Rio Mosaico in Brazil.
De Melo graduated in History from the Federal University of Paraná, Brazil, and recently completed an MA in Fine Arts at the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury, England. Currently, Marcelo lives and works in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
The voice over for this video may be in Hebrew, but the joy and magic you will see transcends every possible boundary to appreciation. Here is an artist in her prime being feted by luminaries from a community that she helped to found that includes artists she has nurtured and mentored. What a night!
“Mosaic is mesmerizing and very much like life. There is choice, judgment, magic, coordination, shaping, fitting, complication, beauty, joy, quality and effort in every moment.” - Lynne Chinn
In 2011, Lynne Chinn was selected by esteemed gallerist and dealer Bernice Steinbaum to be one of the eight artists featured in MAN’s Exhibition in Print sponsored by LATICRETE. Click on the link below to view the 4 page article showcasing Chinn’s award-winning work.
What can one generation pass down to the next? In this reprint from an article first published in the 2010 edition of Mosaic Art NOW the magazine writer Paul Anater interviews father and daughter mosaicists, Yakov and Yulia Hanansen.
See our June 20, 2012 post on Yulia Hanansen’s latest exhibit here.
Exhibiting now at the Cooperstown Art Association in Cooperstown, New York is stained-glass mosaic artist Yulia Hanansen. The one-woman exhibit entitled “Cosmic Powers Earthly Flowers” combines two bodies of work; Hanansen’s “Starscapes” and “Flower Queens” series.
Stained glass as a medium is favored by many American mosaicists and Hanansen has been at the forefront of finding new ways to exploit the material for years now. She was one of the first to employ a technique called “layered” mosaic where cut pieces are adhered on top of base layer of stained glass mosaic. In an article profiling Hanansen in the 2010 edition of Mosaic Art NOW the magazine, writer Paul Anater described Hananen’s style in this way:
Her approach to mosaic is that of a painter and she likens her placement of glass to brush strokes. Just as there are no limits to the layers of paint that can be applied to a canvas, Yulia sees no limits on the layers of glass she can apply to her work surface. The result is a degree of texture and depth that is unexpected in mosaic. She brings to mosaic her sensibilities as a painter and printmaker and leaves the mosaic world all the richer for it.
When this work won Best in Show for Mosaic Art International 2011, we wrote:
The background is composed of dreamy, mottled color fields that indicate depth and large, slow movement. The tiny, lozenge-shaped pieces meticulously layered on top of the background provide a staccato, quick-moving counterpoint. Here is the mighty force of the universe at work up close and personal – the energy of chaos and creation personified.
Hanansen’s fascination with the cosmos has provided inspiration for years now. She says:
Stars are like people with their eccentric personalities. Some burn bright and short, some burn dimmer and longer. They exist in the infinity of space and time.
In these two different takes on the same subject matter – a solar flare – we can see how Hanansen has evolved her technique. Here are the same lozenge shapes that she utilizes in almost almost all of her work, but the difference between 2-D and 3-D versions is nothing short of dramatic. The 3-D version looks positively dangerous on many levels.
Hanansen feels that her layering technique is an essential part of conveying the aspect of infinity that is core to her cosmic subject matter. She says:
The layered glass work is all about infinity. In a traditional mosaic, the last tessera attached to the substrate defines the finishing mark for an artwork. In a layered technique, the artist herself can decide when and where to place the last tessera and to end the mosaic process.
Hanansen’s earthly inspiration comes from flowers, a subject she has explored for many years. In fact, the first time she came to our attention was when she did a series of portraits of peonies. For this exhibit, the artist has created a series of works that link her flowers to times of the day as in “Queens of the Night”, below. It is a lovely connection between the cosmos and the earth.
Hanansen is a second-generation mosaicist. Her father, Yakov Hanansen, is highly successful mosaic artist in New York City. Born in the Soviet Union, Yakov Hanansen has been executing large scale public mosaics for 35 years. As mentioned above, our 2010 magazine carried a profile story of Hanansen and her father “To Work Without Fear” by Paul Anater. It really is a fabulous article and you’ll find it here on MAN.
There are more than a dozen works in the Cooperstown exhibit, many of which are for sale and we do hope you will have the opportunity to see this art in person. We’ll be covering more of Hanansen’s mosaics later this summer when we review the upcoming group exhibit, “Terra Incognita” in July. In the meantime, please explore more of her art on her website: www.mosaicsphere.com
Enjoy – Nancie
Sometimes, you just need a smile.
When we really needed one the other day, we remembered these delightful mosaics by Lynn Moor of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Between 2009 and 2010 (and with the appropriate permissions) Moor did a series of mosaics based on original artwork from the Permanent Collection of the Children’s Museum of New York City.
Mosaic fabrication, when it is done well, is much much, more than the simple replication of an artwork done in another medium. Stephen Miotto, whose studio has collaborated with some of the country’s best artists in producing works for the New York Transit System once told us, ”You can’t copy a work of art (in mosaic). You have to recreate it to a way that is honest to what the artist wants.”
And that is exactly what Moor has done here. Take a look at the energy in Red Dude. You can see that the original artist simply could not get the image down on paper fast enough. There is a visual sense of urgency in the sweeping, strong black lines and solid self-assurance in that gap-toothed grin. Moor honors this exuberance with hand-carved chunks of smalti set in black, pink thin set for those blood-shot eyes and her own exuberant addition of a gleaming gold tooth. Her mosaic is just as edgy and energy-filled as the original.
And Moor’s interpretation . . .
The “Father of Modern Mosaics”, Gino Severini, once likened the placement of mosaic tesserae to the brushstrokes of Cezanne. In Pigtail Girl, we see Moor interpreting the original artist’s crayon strokes in an andamento that beautifully mimics the hand of original. We imagine this to be a self-portrait of a young girl who is just beginning to have an idea of who she is. Moor captures the sense of tentativeness and inward musing in the original with great affection.
We love Bridge, a child’s vision of the the Brooklyn Bridge in the moonlight. What a world this child has made!
Moor’s interpretation is no less inventive or filled with wonder.
Finally, there is our personal favorite, Stickman. All we know about the original artist is that he/she was three years old when the work was created and that the beautifully naive work has become crumpled and stained over time.
Moor’s interpretation is done in marble and smalti on a substrate which she hand-formed. The use of marble to represent the matte finish of manilla paper, the injection of bits of color to represent the stains without replicating them exactly, the rumpled substrate placed against a flat background of another color – Moor has done such a brilliant job of re-presenting the original Stickman that if one hadn’t seen the original one could easily describe exactly what it looked like.
Each of these mosaics by Lynn Moor is an obvious act of love and homage to the original artist. And that definitely makes us smile.
Lynn Moor makes wonderful original works of her own. See them at LynnMoor.com.
Enjoy – Nancie
Pablo Picasso – the Cote d’Azur in the 1950s – an enchanting younger lover – and mosaics. Historian, educator and artist Lillian Sizemore has put together all the elements of yet another marvelous mosaic mystery – the missing mosaics of Pablo Picasso. MAN is very excited to publish this intriguing story about how one of the 20th century’s most influential artists explored the mosaic medium. Enjoy – Nancie
By Lillian Sizemore May 31, 2012
While reading a 1963 copy of Mosaics: Design, Construction and Assembly by British mosaicist, Robert Williamson, I discovered Pablo Picasso’s mid-century mosaics. Williamson published several pages of these works, some of which are reproduced in this article. Picasso (1881-1973) is renowned for his extraordinary artistic experiments in painting, sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, collage and even stage design; but I’d never heard Picasso’s name associated with mosaics. I’m excited to report he did not leave this stone unturned, collaborating with mosaicist Hjalmar Boyesen, who executed Picasso’s designs.
According to a Dorset (UK) newspaper article, artist Hjalmar Boyesen and Picasso became acquainted when Boyesen served as an American soldier during the liberation of Paris in August, 1944. Picasso’s first major mosaic work in this medium was the 1.5 ft. x 4 ft. plaque shown below. Though the photo is in black and white, Williamson’s accompanying description states, ”it has been done in six shades of grey, one large area of white, and several smaller areas of color.” The inspiration for this design seems to have been taken from a filmstrip or photographer’s contact sheet. The Cannes Film Festival, the many celebrities who visited his Cannes studio, and Picasso’s own cause célèbre were undoubtedly influencing his work.
Cote d’Azur in the 1950s
The decade after the World War II was a very prolific time for Picasso. It was in the Cote d’Azur he began drawing on the Mediterranean sources that had inspired him in earlier years. The warm, sunlit coast and a return to family life renewed Picasso’s inspiration after the devastation of the war years. In the mid-50s, Picasso was living in the villa La Galloise, located in the village of Vallauris outside of Cannes in the south of France. From 1943 to 1953 he lived with painter, Françoise Gilot, (b. 1921 -) with whom he had two children, Claude born in 1947 and Paloma in 1949. They never married because Picasso’s former wife would not grant a divorce. Yet by 1953, Gilot had had enough, took the children and left Picasso. He was angry, as Gilot was his first (and only) partner to leave him. Not to be undone, Picasso had set his eye on yet another young lover…
Picasso was relentless in his serial pursuit of women decades younger than himself. Picasso met Gilot when she was 21 and he was 61. Once Gilot left Picasso, his new muse and lover became Jacqueline Roque, (1927–1986), a beautiful and vivacious ingénue 46 years his junior. Jacqueline worked at the local Madoura Pottery where Picasso was furiously making ceramics by the thousands. Even at age 76, Picasso still possessed an unceasing capacity for making art. Besides his ceramic editions, Picasso was creating a series of over 50 versions of Velasquez’s Las Meninas, a painting depicting the Spanish court of Philip IV of Spain in 1656. The mosaics date from this same intensely active period.
By the summer of 1957, Picasso began making sketches specifically for mosaics, working closely with Hjalmar Boyesen in the mosaicist’s Cannes studio. Boyesen was a mosaicist with a penchant for abstraction. At the time of this writing, it’s unknown how he came to work with Picasso in southern France. There was a vibrant artistic community in Cannes, and their friendship was already established from Paris. Was it perhaps Boyesen who suggested the medium to Picasso? Did Picasso see Boyesen’s work and decide he wanted to work in the medium as well? Did Picasso invite Boyesen to Cannes?
Picasso’s mosaic panels were executed by Boyesen, assisted by an emerging British sculptor, Ralph Brown, who was on a study sabbatical in Italy that year and came to Cannes to work in Boyesen’s atelier. That summer in Cannes, the young sculptor was making his way around the Italian and Paris art scene, meeting Giacometti and many Italian sculptors of the day. The famous sculptor Henry Moore collected some of Brown’s early works and helped to launch his life long art career. Ralph Brown went on to teach at the Royal College of Art and maintained a life long sculpting career.
There are millions of images of Picasso’s work on the internet, yet multiple searches do not produce one single image source for these mosaics. One wonders why? Where are the rest of them? Who bought them? Do they still exist and if so, where are they? One website suggests an estimated 350 of his works have been stolen, more than any other artist. Are the mosaics among those missing assets?
The Williamson book does not indicate the materials used in the mosaics, but legal documents (more on this below) make reference to a fabrication in stone and colored glass. The pieces were set using the direct method onto wood panel, (as shown in the photo above) a common substrate of the era. The outline was marked out in paint. One wonders if Picasso himself painted onto the surface or if Hjalmar was transferring Picasso’s smaller sketch onto the board. The pieces possess a certain calm, grounded feeling, in no small part due to Boyesen’s choice of setting style. The works are done in opus tessalatum, a linear setting matrix with the tesserae (pieces) cut to the same general size overall. Round faces, however, called out for a concentric setting pattern, with some directional, curvilinear intervention as needed, seen in the example of Tete Barbue.
With their child-like simplicity, Picasso’s designs capture a light-hearted quality. The distinct outlines reference his famous “napkin sketches”, though more likely, they were following on the series of 180 drawings of clowns and circus performers known as the Verve Suite and of course his Madoura ceramics, which also used the face as a dominant theme.
How Boyesen and his artist wife, Dorothy, came to live and work in Cannes during the 50s is unclear, but they were on very friendly terms with Picasso and Jacqueline. The couples often visited and Picasso celebrated the birth of the Boyesen’s first son in 1958 by sketching Dorothy holding their newborn during a visit to the villa. “I think my husband was so thrilled to have a son that had to be the first thing he did – showing him to Picasso,” said Dorothy in a 2010 news article. “Picasso did his bit to make us feel we had done something extraordinary – as if we’d done something nobody else had ever done.” She added, “I didn’t know he was sketching me until it was time to go.We were saying our goodbyes and he gave me the sketch. I was very excited.”
Mosaics Held by U.S. Customs
Post-War America was burgeoning with enthusiasm for modern art—abstract works by Pollock, Rothko and deKooning were on the rise—and a lively interaction between Europe and New York was afoot. But the antiquated custom laws were in need of reform if the collectors and museums were to build their collections. Though Picasso’s work had stirred a fair amount of controversy over the years, it was in demand. In this case, it was not the content, but the object itself that piqued debate. When Picasso’s 3 ft. x 2.5 ft. mosaic panel titled Les Joutes was shipped to the USA in 1958, it became the object of a court ruling. U.S. Customs tied up Picasso’s mosaic for over two years, meanwhile identifying it as “bits of glass on stone.” Certain forms of art carried no taxations, while others were heavily taxed due to the “manufacture” of materials used. Mosaic, sculpture, and collage were among the art forms levied at this time.
“Picasso was quite annoyed by all this,” stated an attorney representing the petitioner in a N.Y. Times article of May 1959. “He’s annoyed the U. S. Customs Inspectors can be so—shall we say—uncultured”. By September 1959, a unanimous act of Congress amended the Tariff Act of 1930 so the works of art were allowed to enter the country duty free.
End of an Era
The decadent, non-stop party atmosphere of the Cote d’Azur began to take its toll on Picasso’s increasingly private vision. Star-struck journalists were persistent in demanding his time for interviews, while a constant stream of visitors and dinner parties were de rigueur.
The events that brought mosaic making and Picasso’s relationship with Boyesen to a close are yet to be discovered. We do know that by the late 1950s Jacqueline was fiercely protective, becoming known as a “gatekeeper” amongst his friends. Perhaps in Jacqueline’s attempts to shield Picasso, Boyesen and Dorothy were no longer able to maintain the friendship or working relationship they had once enjoyed. Perhaps the young family departed for England to join Boyesen’s assistant Ralph Brown and the mosaic book author Robert Williamson?
During that decade, Picasso and Jacqueline moved from the villa La Galloise in Valluarius, to La Californie in Cannes, up to the Chateau of Vauvenargues near Aix-en-Provence, where he could work undisturbed. He was quite wealthy by this point, and acquired the magnificent Chateau property in 1958. He moved his vast art collection to the Chateau, which they occupied between 1959 and 1962. Subsequently they moved to Mougins, where Picasso spent the last 12 years of his life. It was in Mougins he died, so the story goes, at his own dinner party. Ever the bon vivant, his last words were “Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink any more.” It is at the Chateau however, that both Picasso and Roque are buried, and the property remains in the family estate.
Picasso’s Influence on Mosaics Today
For now, Picasso’s mosaic works seem an enigmatic flicker as it appears art historians have generally passed over this aspect of Picasso’s artistic oeuvre. By publishing this investigation, perhaps further connections to Hjalmar Boyesen’s mosaic collaboration with Picasso will surface. Meanwhile, there is no doubt that Picasso continues to inspire mosaicists today—his paintings, and even his famous face, remain a source for interpretation by artists worldwide.
Williamson, Robert, Mosaics: Design, Construction and Assembly, 1963, Crosby Lockwood, London, Hearthside Press, NY (out of print – but available from used dealers)
“The Day Picasso Sketched Lytchett Matravers Mum”, Juliette Astrup, The Daily Echo, 10 March 2010, accessed 14 May, 2012 http://www.thisisdorset.net/news/tidnews/5050677.The_day_Picasso_sketched_me/
“Ralph Brown at Eighty: Early Decades Revisited”, Pangolin London, 2009, PDF exhibition catalogue
New York Times, 22 May 1959, p. 18, col. 3 www.nytimes.com
“Congress Rehabilitates Modern Art,” W. Derenberg, D. Baum, N.Y. University of Law, 34 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1228, 1959
Picasso on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Picasso Accessed 14 May 2012
“Picasso in Vallauris”, Hans Bendix, Harpers, March 1956, page 44.
Françoise Gilot interview in Vogue, June 2012 http://www.vogue.com/magazine/article/life-after-picasso-franoise-gilot/#1
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkRS3wDg1xU Scene from ‘Visit to Picasso’, a documentary by Paul Haesaert . Shows Picasso live painting on glass in his Vallauris atelier, 1949.
Picasso’s ceramics from Madoura Pottery – Denis Bloch Website http://www.denisbloch.com/ceramics_artist.php?cat=Ceramics&name=Pablo_Picasso&medium_id=36&aid=2
“Pablo Picasso’s love affair with women”, Mark Hudson, The Telegraph, 13 Feb 2009 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/4610752/Pablo-Picassos-love-affair-with-women.html, accessed 19 May 2012
“At the Court of Picasso”, John Richardson, Vanity Fair, November 1999 http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/1999/11/picasso-199911 Accessed 19 may 2012
VIDEO: Pablo Picasso Biography – 9 parts on youtube Part 8 addresses the late 50’s, the Velasquez paintings and images of his ceramics. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXLi9QKaPU4&feature=relmfu
Charlie Rose interview with Françoise Gilot and John Richardson, 17 May 2012 http://www.hulu.com/watch/363070/charlie-rose-picasso-and-francoise-gilot-paris-vallauris-1943-1953
Glass portrait of Picasso, by French mosaic manufacturer Asarota: http://www.asarota.com/
Giulio Pedrana on etsy.
Jose Morales: http://www.PiecebyPiece.org
Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli, http://www.scuolamosaicistifriuli.it Teachers and students of Spilimbergo Mosaic School created the Picasso mosaic. The 8 x 4 meter “Guernica” mosaic was installed at Madrid’s Atocha train station on the anniversary of the 2004 bombings, on March 11, 2006.
“I use glass mosaic extensively because it infuses color and light into my sculptural work.”
Seattle-based artist Ann Gardner has earned critical acclaim for her sublime, elegant sculptural forms clad in mosaic tesserae that she makes herself.
“My glass mosaic catches light in a unique way, adding texture and complexity to a surface – it creates a shimmering skin.”
In this article first published in the 2010 edition of Mosaic Art NOW the magazine, Gardner freely shares her artistic goals and technical processes.
Links to Gardner’s website and additional articles on MAN can be found below. Enjoy – Nancie