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Postcard From London Part 1: A Long Day’s Journey into Mosaics Ancient and Modern

On 08, Nov 2012 | 28 Comments | In Uncategorized | By Nancie

We’re back! London was full of so much that was inspirational, we’re going to just share some images here with as few words as possible.  In the next few days, we’ll be reviewing highlights from the British Association for Modern Mosaic’s (BAMM) 2012 Forum and take a stroll through the treasure trove known as the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The morning we landed, we were met by our host for the next few days, John O’Brien.  O’Brien is a past Chairman of BAMM and currently runs No sooner were our bags stowed at his digs than we were off to misty Kew Gardens . . . 

. . . where there was an unexpected and huge treat – installations, sculptures, paintings and drawings by the extraordinary woodworker David Nash (b. 1945).

David Nash "Black Dome"(?)

John O'Brien and an outdoor installation of singed cork.

The work was elemental, primordial, monumental and made us hold our breath.  Inside the Shirley Sherwood Gallery there was more to see.

David Nash "Small Cork Spire" and "Ladle and Spoon"

Oak and yew, ash and cork are hacked and carved, singed and split with such nuance and respect for the raw material that it feels as if nothing new has been created at all but rather, that there has been some sort of transcendent transformation.

Nash supplemented previous works with new ones created from Kew Garden’s Wood Quarry of “trees that had come to the end of their natural lives.”  We apologize for not taking the time to record the names for all of the works shown here.  We were too busy being gobsmacked.

Day Two was devoted to John O’Brien’s Mosaics of London Tour.  Put on your mental sneakers – you’re going to need them.  The first stop let us check off an entry on our Mosaic Bucket List:  The Boris Anrep (1883-1969) mosaics at The National Gallery.  Alas, photos were NOT allowed, as the lovely and ever-vigilant attendant Charlotte informed us.

Boris Anrep "Defiance" part of the Modern virtues series. Yes, that is Winston Churchill. Photo via The National Gallery

Between 1926 and 1952, the Russian-born artist created the first thing one encounters at the National Gallery, a series of pavements; The Labours of Life (1928) and The Pleasures of Life (1929), The Awakening of the Muses (1933) and Modern Virtues (1952).  They are absolutely fabulous, fantastic images that beautifully combine classical Byzantine aesthetics with the artistic sensibilities of their day.

Boris Anrep "Awakening of the Muses"

 Image above courtesy of “Mo” at A Glimpse of London 

Boris Anrep "Sea Horse" from The Pleasures of Life.

We couldn’t take photos of the originals, but we did buy the book from whence these poor images come.

Boris Anrep "Sacred Love" from The Pleasures of Life. " . . . the committee was a little doubtful about the significance and attitude of the little dog."

Boris Anrep "Profane Love" from The Pleasures of Life

Boris Anrep "Sixth Sense" from The Modern Virtues with Cecil Beaton

Anrep was a wag, and often used visages of celebrities, society mavens and politicians in his designs.  Strolling these pavements is like looking through old editions of Life magazine.   Put them on your Bucket List.  You won’t be sorry.

As a side note, we were sad to see a pair of large urns situated on top of two of the mosaics.  John left a comment card with his concerns about the matter at the front desk to which we attached a MAN business card.  Imagine our surprise when we received an email later that day from Matthew Power, Information Officer for the National Gallery.  Mr. Power assured us that he would pass our concerns on to the “relevant managers” and then offered information on another three sites in London with Anrep mosaics.  Amazing.

It was onward to Covent Garden . . .

. . . and then Tottenham Court Road Station for the mosaics of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.


As you can see, these mosaics are in great need of cleaning and restoration.  In fact, it looks like some of the work is being removed as part of a remodeling process.

Sad, because they are only 40 years old and the imagery is still fresh and vibrant.

Back on The Tube and upwards to The British Museum.

It is a very good thing that John knows the museum because it is simply enormous. Our first destination was a large, sunlit staircase lined with ancient Roman mosaics.

Then it was a dash on to see the Mezo-American mosaics.  Right behind you, John.  But, wait!  What’s that we just passed?

Standard of Ur, Sumerian 2600 BC

It’s the famous Standard of Ur!  Exhibit Two in the History of Mosaic section of every book written on the subject (right behind the cone-embellished columns). One of the 100 objects chosen for the BBC’s “History of the World in 100 Objects.” And we almost missed it? The big surprise – its much smaller than we thought – only 19.5 inches long.

Now, down the stairs and to the right . . . to Gallery 27:  Mexico

The room is dark, the atmosphere hushed.  There is power in these objects.

Mask of Quetzalcoati, Mexica/Mixtec 15th-16th century AD

Mask of Tezcatlipoca Mexica/Mixtec, 15th-16h century AD