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Mosaic at the Venice Biennale Part 3: Domingo Zapata and Koko Mosaico

On 28, Jun 2013 | 2 Comments | In Uncategorized | By Nancie

Domingo Zapata “HD Mona Lisa I Love New York” 2013 60×72 inches Fabrication by Arianna Gallo & Koko Mosaico Ravenna

A chance encounter in Ravenna led to several large-scale mosaic works appearing in painter Domingo Zapata’s exhibition, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the Pallazo da Mula Morosini on the Grand Canal during Venice’s 55th Annual Biennale. In this, our third article on mosaics of the world’s largest and most prestigious international art event, we will focus on the collaboration between artist and artisan that led to what Zapata called “a new way to understand my paintings.”

A native of Spain, Zapata is definitely an “artist of the moment” with studios in Paris, New York, and Los Angeles and a great talent for being in the right place at the right time. A recent article in the NYTimes described him as “. . . 38-year-old Spanish artist who counts Leonardo DiCaprio and George Soros as clients, parties with Lindsay Lohan and Scarlett Johansson, and appears regularly in the pages of The New York Post, which has called him the ‘next Andy Warhol.'” His primary colored, energetic, graffiti-like paintings inspired by celebrities, polo players, flamingo dancers and bullfighters regularly sell in the six figures.  The Mona Lisa is also a muse, one that he has clad in various “disguises” for several years now.

Domingo Zapata “Mona Lisa Torera” via domingozapata Twitter

Zapata had plans to include several Mona Lisas in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when that chance encounter in Ravenna inspired him to use an entirely new medium to present his work in.

Domingo Zapata “Mona Lisa Loves New York” via

Arianna Gallo, co-owner with Luca Barberini of Koko Mosaico in Ravenna, Italy was working in the studio on Passover when Zapata ambled in. There was no appointment; Zapata had been touring the nearby UNESCO heritage sites filled with Byzantine mosaics when he stepped in from the street.

“From the outset, Domingo showed great interest in the our materials and techniques,” Gallo tells MAN, “and so, with great pleasure, I explained how we work and what we do. Domingo was excited and, after a few minutes, we were already talking about doing two large translations of his paintings; Mona Lisa Loves New York and Gold Flowers.

Domingo Zapata “HD Mona Lisa Loves New York” 2013 60×72 inches Fabrication by Arianna Gallo & Koko Mosaico Ravenna

Domingo Zapata “Gold Flowers” 2013 120 x 50 inches.   Fabrication by Arianna Gallo & Koko Mosaico Ravenna

Zapata was greatly inspired by the mosaic process and, eventually, a second Mona Lisa, Besame Mucho and Le Danse Mosaic would be added to the Midsummer Night’s Dream exhibition. Zapata told MAN:

With these pieces, I wanted to Create great contrast and pay tribute to the history of art.  I find taking a painting done in graffiti and recreating it using these ancient techniques helps me to understand the contemporary moment. These works represent to me where we have been and where we are going – they derive their strength from this duality.

Domingo Zapata “Mona Lisa Besame Mucho” 2013 60×72 inches. Fabrication by Arianna Gallo & Koko Mosaico Ravenna

Domingo Zapata “Le Danse Mosaic” 2013 Fabrication Arianna Gallo & Koko Mosaico Ravenna

Collaboration between artist and mosaic artisans is something that we have great respect for here at MAN. We differentiate collaboration from mere copying when the resulting mosaic is something different from the original and stands in its own right as a work of art. This requires a huge amount of trust on the part of the artist and an enormous amount of artistic sensitivity and respect from the artisan.

By all accounts, this collaboration was a great success with several of the pieces sold before they even arrived in Venice. Zapata describes the experience of working with Gallo and crew at Koko Mosaico:

Working with Koko was an amazing experience. Every member of the studio knows so much about contemporary art and is very much in tune with what’s going on in the art world. This is really important to me as the challenge was to create something done with a very rapid technique like graffiti using a very slow, historically detailed process.  By breaking down the composition and reconstructing it in mosaic, we created not only an explosion of light and color but also a new way to understand my paintings.

Gallo says simply, “Between us was born an artistic feeling and a relationship of mutual trust.”

Zapata paints.  Lisa smiles.

We don’t usually talk about process here on MAN but Arianna Gallo and her partner, Luca Barberini, of Koko Mosaico are masters. Their  original mosaics have won international acclaim and kudos for innovation. Gallo brought to the Zapata project the same passion she has for her own mosaic work and that passion shines through in the words and images we are including here.

I took personal responsibility for the translation of Domingo’s works and used only the choicest of materials; the enameled glass called smalti (from Orsoni, Bulgarelli and Dona), gold smalti (Orsoni) and marble.  For the two “Mona Lisas”, we worked using the direct Ravenna method on a temporary bed of lime putty.  For “Flowers”, we worked directly on cement in the final support.  

(Editor’s note:  The Ravenna method allows the artist to easily make changes to a mosaic while it is being created using a temporary bed of wet lime putty.  For a more detailed description of the Ravenna method go here.)

Gallo transfers the drawing of “Mona Lisa Besame Mucho” to the temporary lime putty bed.

I found these translations to be both interesting and challenging. My initial approach to the works was to imagine and reconstruct the gestures of the artist who primarily uses spray cans and rarely the brush.  His art is dominated by the energetic gesture, sometimes instinctive – while mosaic is the result of methodical preparation – our “limbs” are almost the polar opposite.

Bozetto (cartoon) indicating Zapata's brush strokes and initial placement of tesserae

Bozzetto (cartoon) indicating Zapata’s brush strokes and initial placement of tesserae

Placing the tesserae into the lime.

New tools, ancient methods.

“Besame Mucho” in progress

Applying glue and cheesecloth to completed mosaic

Applying glue and cheesecloth to the front of the completed mosaic to lift it from lime putty bed.

Removing the dried lime putty from the back of the mosaic.


Mona's back has covered with cement adhesive and she is being applied to a permanent light-weight backing.

Mona is lying face down on the table covered with cement adhesive and a permanent light-weight backing is being placed on top of her.

Domingo Zapata “HD Mona Lisa I Love New York” 2013 60×72 inches Fabrication by Arianna Gallo & Koko Mosaico Ravenna

With four mosaics to be completed in a few weeks time, all hands at the Koko Mosaico studio worked long hours.

Team working


And it appears Mr. Zapata was inspired to try his hand at mosaic.


Luca Barberini, Lea Ciambelli, Elena Casadio, Domingo Zapata, Arianna Gallo, Marga , Âniko Ferreira da Silva.  Not shown: Filippo Bandini, Luca Marconi, Francesca Gismondi, Isaia Baldo, Melissa Moliterno, Andrea Poma

Luca Barberini, Lea Ciambelli, Elena Casadio, Domingo Zapata, Arianna Gallo, Marga , Âniko Ferreira da Silva. Not shown: Filippo Bandini, Luca Marconi, Francesca Gismondi, Isaia Baldo, Melissa Moliterno, Andrea Poma

A wonderful video by Marco Miccolli follows the whole process of making the Monas.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Palazzo da Mla Morosini on the Grand Canal continues through October 30th.  It’s on our list for our Venetian visit the first week of October.

Our thanks to Mr. Zapata and Arianna Gallo for their contributions to this article.

Enjoy – Nancie


  • Koko Mosaico website here
  • Domingo Zapata website here
  • Hus Gallery “Domingo Zapata: A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for paintings here
  • June 2013 video interview with Zapata here
  • Detailed description of Ravenna method here


  • Part 1 featuring the work of Mohamed Banawy at the Egyptian Pavilion can be seen here.
  • Part 2 featuring work from Marialuisa Tadei at the Italian Pavilion, Karin Sigurdardótti at the Icelandic Pavilion and and Bedwyr Williams at “Wales in Venice” can be seen here
  • Part 4 featuring work by Zhanna Kadyrova at the Ukranian Pavilion can be seen here

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  1. Lynn Adamo

    WOW! I am very excited that I will be able to see these works with you in October! Thank you for revealing this to your readership!

  2. peter bregoli

    It is interesting how a translation from one artform to another has the ability to give substance and credibility that the original piece lacks.

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