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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
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 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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.