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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.