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One of our favorite pieces in the Young Artists and Mosaic (GAEM) exhibit in Ravenna in 2011 was “Fall” by South African born artist Sonya Louro Do Rego. We were happy to learn more about her in this interview by Luca Maggio, art historian, curator and blogger who is always at the very heart of what is happening in Ravenna’s contemporary mosaic scene. We’re looking forward to hooking up with Maggio while we’re in Ravenna this coming October to see what delights this year’s GAEM will provide. NOTE to Artists under 40: The deadline for submissions for this year’s GAEM is May 26th. Enjoy – Nancie
Luca Maggio: Sonya Louro Do Rego (Johannesburg, South Africa, 1977): What was your course of study? How did you discover the language of mosaic?
Sonya Louro Do Rego: Well, I grew up in South Africa and from a very early age I knew I wanted to be an artist, so all my life I’ve dedicated my studies to art – in every possible form. In high school, I had the most amazing and inspiring art teacher, Mr Gibb, who not only instilled in me a passion for painting and expressive use of colour, but also introduced us to the versatile technique of collage and use of the ‘found object’, which was very much a part of contemporary South African art in the 90′s. After finishing high school with solid training in drawing, painting and ceramics, I then went on to study Fine Arts at Rhodes University where I majored in Painting. It was here where my quest to create 3-D paintings was born. Although I had come across mosaic in the form of lovely decorative objects, it was many years later, while living in Italy, that the word ‘mosaic’ took on a whole new meaning – I had heard about this beautiful mosaic school in Spilimbergo and the minute I set foot inside I knew that I had found the medium I’d been looking for!
LM: Drawing, painting, sculpture and mosaic: in which of these possibilities is your home?I find your work Fall (presented at the Prize GAEM 2011, Ravenna, Italy) very interesting both for its asymmetrical balance and the use of natural materials (shells and marble) that were used to obtain a final, 3-dimensional result that reminds me of a kind of fossilized dorsal spine or of a canyon, but perhaps it couldn’t be like this… Can you explain your way of interpreting the mosaic?
SLDR: I’ve always been interested in exploring the boundaries between the various art forms. Despite my classical (and rather rigid) training in drawing and painting, I guess I’ve always leant towards sculpture as a means of expression, or more specifically, the use of sculpture as a means to break up the flatness of the image surface. So, in mosaic I’ve found a technique that, not only allows me to achieve this, but is ideal in pursuing another constant theme of mine: seriality. It’s in the repetitiveness of the ‘tessera’ that I aim to create rhythmic compositions. In Fall I’ve tried to capture the sense of something moving, something alive, yet ancient – like something that’s been lying dormant for ages and is now slowly stirring awake. Your interpretation is quite insightful – the title Fall refers to both a ‘waterfall’ and ‘the fall of mankind’. The composition is designed as a landscape in aerial view. And, yes, it’s a canyon, with a waterfall and a river running through. But it’s obviously not meant to be a figurative representation, but only serves as the foundation or the ‘canvas’ to then be mosaicked.
The materials were specifically chosen and applied to create a flowing and cyclical composition, to be read like a story (or history, if you prefer), with a beginning, a middle, a cathartic ending and a rebirth. I couldn’t have found better materials to help express this: marble is eternal and is symbolic of man’s evolution; and the shells naturally evoke images of ancient remains and bones. I loved the idea of creating a composition that is vaguely reminiscent of an archaeological site.
LM: What is the mosaic situation in your country and what are your plans for the future?
SLDR: Actually, I now live in Italy permanently with my partner and my 1-year-old daughter. Here, in Friuli, I think I’m not alone in the struggle to have mosaic recognized as an art form. As my colleagues and I have had training at the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli, we are generally seen as artisans, despite the school’s constant endeavors to promote and teach mosaic, not only as a trade, but also as a means of artistic expression. Mosaic is still predominantly used as a decorative technique in design and architecture or as a suitable method to make copies of preexisting images or artworks. Slowly this perception is changing as mosaicists are realizing the diversity that this medium provides and more and more ‘alternative’ mosaics are emerging. But at the moment, I still feel torn between working on commissions and dedicating my time to creating my personal pieces. As for my future projects, I’ve just recently started working after a long maternity leave. Being filled with the joy of motherhood, you can expect my new works to be far more colorful and uplifting. I’m also experimenting with a new medium, or rather, a very old craft: needlework!