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Sonia King’s Milestones

Sonia King "Depthfinder" 2011 24 x 18 inches Museo d'Arte della Citta di Ravenna (MAR)

The recent news that the Museo d’Arte della Citta di Ravenna (MAR)  has added works by three American artists to its permanent collection of contemporary mosaics was a milestone for the art form.  Sonia King, Samantha Holmes and Kate Jessup will be the first Americans to be shown along side some of Italy’s most revered artists – masters like Signorini, Pope, De Luca, Nittolo, and Palladino. This acknowledgment of the maturation of the American mosaic community is no small thing.

We asked King, the first artist to be acquired by MAR, to look back on her progression as a mosaicist and select works that she thinks of as personal milestones – works that were key turning points or launch pads for what came next in her artistic progression.  She obliged us with the six works and personal thoughts below that cover a period of time from 1999 to 2011. One could think of it as a “master class” in the exploration of the core components of mosaic.

King, who has both an MBA and an BFA, has what we would call an “ambidextrous mind” – both her right brain and left brain appear to be engaged at all times. This has been very much to the benefit of contemporary mosaic in the US. During those same personally productive twelve years, King found time to be one of the founding board members of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) and served as president during the group’s infancy. She also authored of one of the best how-to/survey texts on contemporary mosaics:  Mosaic Techniques and Traditions  and was instrumental in creating a mosaic program at Dallas’ Creative Center for the Arts.  Most important, King became one of the most sought-after instructors internationally where she has carried the consistant and insistant message that the business of art is as important as the creation of it.

 We are happy to bring you Sonia King’s Milestones. As always, clicking on the images will bring a much larger view. Enjoy –  Nancie

"Depthfinder" Detail Photo: Photo Sonia King

The process of creating a mosaic is what’s important to me: the active selection of one tessera over another, the decisions that evolve from every choice and the discoveries made.  Each mosaic becomes an exploration with unlimited possibilities, a journey without a destination.  The constant interplay between intellectual engagement and the physical challenge of shaping and placing each tessera continues to hold my interest.  In the studio, it’s just my ability (or inability) to master the materials and create a work that captures something elusive.

 Riverscape  1999

"Riverscape" 12 x 16.5 inches Photo: Sonia King

Riverscape is one of my earlier mosaics mixing multiple materials in an ungrouted, direct technique.  I was excited by the differences in height and reflectivity between the smalti, marble and glass tile and saw new ways of working that I hadn’t imagined. 

"Riverscape" Detail Photo: Sonia King

After adding pebbles and river rocks into the mix, the possibilities exploded with ways of getting closer to what was in my head.  As this new manner of working evolved, I learned to think about what I was creating in an unrestrained, less preconceived way and began to develop my creative process, ‘intuitive mosaic’. It just has to feel right.    

The Spaces Between    2001

"The Spaces Between" 18 x 15 inches Photo: Sonia King

I continued experimenting with mixing materials, learning more about what can happen when one particular tessera is placed next to another.  At the same time, I began to see the potential in the spaces (interstices) between the tesserae.  I wanted to find out what would happen when I worked with nothing more than this ‘negative’ space.  The Spaces Between was created from a stepping-stone pulled from my backyard and broken apart with hammer and hardie. 

"The Spaces Between" Detail Photo: Sonia King

Eliminating the allure of the various materials allowed me to focus on the interstices and the shadows, discovering that as much can happen in the ‘spaces between’ as happens with the actual tesserae.  Now I often work on a mosaic from two points of view, balancing consideration of the positive spaces (the tesserae) with a focus on the negative spaces.  It’s like listening to the silence between musical notes. 

Adrift    2005

"Adrift" 25 x 19 inches Photo: Expert Imaging

Adrift is an early work in my Nebula series.  I started playing with repetition and distance, finding new relationships between differing materials, increasing complexity and pushing the interactions between reflectivity, spacing and scale.  I became fascinated with the contradiction of micro versus macro and the question of point of view. 

"Adrift" Detail Photo: Expert Imaging

Is this a slide under a microscope or a view from outer space?  Creating “Adrift” gave me a deeper understanding about the possibilities of pushing the medium of mosaic, both intellectually and technically.  

Meltdown   2006

"Meltdown" 24 x 18 inches Photo: Expert Imaging

I started Meltdown with eight or so larger elements: collapsed chalcedony geodes from Brazil, slate from Cornwall, England and broken pieces of raku pottery that my mother made.  I spent several days arranging and re-arranging, learning to trust my instincts and at some point, it started making sense to me.  Despite the frustration, ‘head time’ is an important part of my creative process, just like cutting and placing the tesserae.

"Meltdown" Detail Photo: Sonia King

At some point, I can ‘see’ what the tesserae do to one another, finding new relationships between the pieces.  As more materials are added, I discover new things about their interactions and fill with anticipation, curiosity and impatience to see what will happen with each additional tessera.

Permafrost    2009

"Permafrost" 2009 24 x 18 inches Photo: Expert Imaging

I wanted to push a complex mix of materials into the third dimension, draping light and shadow, matte and shiny, smooth and irregular tesserae over an undulating substrate.  The difficulty of keeping the illusion of a background smoothly rolling across complex curves increased with the choice of “opus palladianum” (or crazy paving) for the laying style.  

"Permafrost" Detail Photo: Sonia King

As one side of a tessera shifts up, the other end tips down.  Which means that one or more of the previously laid pieces has to be readjusted.  And that happens in multiple directions at the same time over the complex curves of the rolling substrate.  It was difficult and time consuming, but the deceptively calm and tranquil result was worth it.    

Coded Message: Invisible Ink    2011

"Coded Message: Invisible Ink" 35.5 x 25.5 inches Photo: Expert Imaging

In the language of mosaic in its classical form, tesserae are deeply embedded in visible mortar…set in stone, so to speak.  But the mosaic elements in Coded Message: Invisible Ink are free to interact at the most basic level: tesserae and substrate.  Pieces are fixed without any visible evidence of the adhesive. 

"Coded Message: Invisible Ink" Detail Photo: Sonia King

It seems possible that the tesserae could reposition when one’s back is turned, changing the code and thus the message at any moment.  The challenge and difficulty of creating this way has opened up a fresh direction for my work.  Technically, the mosaic explores a new way of interacting with the tesserae while conceptually; Coded Message: Invisible Ink  explores cryptic communications, misunderstandings, static, unspoken thoughts and subtexts.  


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  1. Lynne Timm

    Sonia continues to be an inspiration and a leader in the contemporary mosaic arts community. Every time I look at her work I see something new. She generously shares her vast knowledge, enthusiasm and passion in a most infectious way. I’ve enjoyed her classes and workshops for years and am so grateful for her teaching and mentoring. Congratulations on your latest accomplishment, Sonia!

  2. Sonia King

    Thank you, everyone, for your kind and thoughtful words. It is really quite humbling. When I started, I just hoped I would be able to make a living. I didn’t know mosaic would literally change my life. Just putting one piece down and then another has led me on an incredible journey. And I’m honored to share that journey with you all. Thank you so very much, Sonia

  3. Nicky Tudor

    Sonia King has to be one of the most generous of tutors in the artistic world; sharing not only her amazing depth of knowledge and experience, both in terms of mosaics and business, but also in her inspiration and her suppliers! Her courses provide a haven of mosaic creativity, whilst offering a hugely enjoyable experience. Sonia injects a style of humour which is all her own, and if you are lucky enough to experience one of her courses, you will never look back. Beware… they can become addictive!

  4. Michelle Akers

    What an inspirational article. I find Sonia’s work and her commentary on mosaic to be fruit for the soul of any artist. I have also had the pleasure to be in Sonia’s classes both in the states and abroad. This article captures both the artist and the teacher. “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free” – according to Michelangelo. We can now go to the Museo d’Arte della Citta di Ravenna to get a glimps of Sonia’s angels!

  5. Judy Walton Davis

    I am indeed an honored person to have studied under Sonia. Looking at her work I marvel at her technique and vision. I am very taken by:The Spaces Between. The cutting,the rhythm,the texture.

    Thank you for this great article.

  6. Dawn Chamberlin

    Great article for a very talented artist. I have been fortunate to have been in a Mosaic class taught by Sonia, and her enthusiasm for mosaic is very inspiring. She has such precision within her work and her work makes you just want to keep looking, I also like your phrase ambidextrous mind and agree perfect description.

  7. Julee Latimer

    The perfect read for early Monday morning as the week in the studio is just starting. I share your love of mixed media and a limited colour palette Sonia so gazing at your beautiful images was a treat. Congrats on the museum acquisition.

  8. Ana Cristina Posada

    I had the great opportunity of being on Sonias’s workshop at Ciel Gallery, Charlotte, NC just once and she is one of my turnpoint on my mosaic work. It would be a honor to participate on her workshops anywhere arround the world.

  9. Lilian Broca

    In art one strives to balance all elements: skill, imagination, content, message, and a sense of progress. With Sonia King’s works the viewer is never disappointed. On the contrary, a sense of intrigue and curiosity coupled her bringing together all the constituents, result in the viewer’s admiration for her choices of material and a consistent fascinating presentation each time. I propose the title of “Maestra” be given to Sonia for her great achievements.

  10. Liz Brazelton

    A well deserved acknowledgment for Sonia. i’m so excited for her. Not only does she have an “ambidextrous mind” (perfect description!) which makes her professionally successful but she is also an extremely giving artist, sharing her techniques. You can see her influence in the work of mosaicists around the world.

  11. Sharon Shero

    I had the great fortune of hearing Sonia speak on creative business. She packed the afternoon with so much useful and intelligent advice, that my hand was numb from writing notes by the conclusion. By sharing images of her work, I walked away inspired, both sides of my brain firing simultaneously!

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