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When the Director of the Fuller Craft Museum gave Board Chair Chris Rifkin just five short months to put together the museum’s first mosaic exhibit, Rifkin put her Rolodex to work pronto.
For over 35 years, Rifkin has worked hard at the intersection of fine craft and fine art to promote and support creators of extraordinary objects. In addition to her position at the Fuller, the well-regarded stained glass artist has held board seats at The Society of Arts and Crafts, The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, The Friends of Glass, and The Massachusetts College of Art Foundation. Rifkin was also the Founding Chair of CRAFTBOSTON, a twice annual curated event, served on the Acquisition Committee for the American Craft Museum and has amassed a personal collection of art glass that includes some of the most renowned makers in the country.
It is no surprise, then, that Art of Mosaics: Piecing It Together is a fine and robust first foray into the world of contemporary mosaic for Fuller Craft Museum. With over 30 objects running the gamut from the familiar to the revelatory in jewelry, sculpture and wall pieces, the show also has a strong local focus with many of the artists coming from the Boston area. We’re going to hit on a few highlights here in the hopes that readers will find their way to Fuller Craft Museum before the show closes in October.
A new discovery for us was the work of Megumi Naitoh, a ceramic artist who currently chairs the Department of Art at Emmanuel College. Naitoh makes her own tesserae – screen printing images on multiple sides of her earthenware tiles – and then sets them on-edge into her substrate affording the viewer a different image depending upon their vantage point. Here is a huge nod to the pixelized images of ancient Roman mosaics combined with a commentary on the pixelized, bifurcated and often anonymous communications of today.
From Naitoh’s faculty profile:
Since 2001, I have been interested in Roman mosaics and their narrative depiction of daily life. I am intrigued by how the mosaics consisted of small pixel like squares that were structured in a non-grid, free form manner. I responded to the Roman mosaics by creating portraits with visible pixels. The tightly configured grid structure of the digital pixilated portraits is contrasted against the more free-formed Roman mosaic aesthetic. The portraits are abstracted and made indefinite by pixilation and present anonymity. The landscape format, size, and frames reference smart phones or computer monitors and suggest Internet communication and online activities.
My current work references mosaics and tile murals. My main interest in online activities continues to manifest in this series, exploring the relationship between technology and our lives. In 2007, I became concerned with Second Life, a 3D virtual world/login community. Second Life is created by its residents and inhabited by millions of users from around the globe who create many communities for entertainment, friendship, education, businesses, etc. Although users can express their identities by creating custom avatars, the environment is established to keep the residents’ anonymity. Anonymous blogs, forums, and social sites are a new way of social interaction. They are quite unique to our contemporary lives. By creating two vantage points and presenting images from both the real and virtual worlds in one piece, the work expresses the integration of real life and virtual life, and how we quickly weave through these two worlds on a daily basis.
On the other end of the mosaic spectrum – and no less astonishing – is the classical micro mosaic work of Laura Hiserote. Her “No Time To Be Koi” micro mosaic, incorporated into a design by master watchmaker Steven Grotell, is worthy of the wrist of a Romanov.
Hiserote is a self-taught master of a lost art, pulling her own glass filati to such fine widths that there are over 7,000 pieces in this watch cover. This level of expertise is worlds apart from the kitschy souvenir jewelry sold to tourists in Rome these days. No Time To Be Koi is a tour de force.
Rifkin nicely juxtaposed the classical micro mosaics of Hiserote with the decidedly modern work of the marvelous Cynthia Toops. Toops is a well-known polymer clay artist whose narrative micro mosaics have a duality that makes them enormously intriguing. Stories are being told here, if only we can just figure them out. What does that cute little dog have that the Big Bad Wolf wants? And what are we to make of the rabbit squeezed into the composition of Team?
Toops makes magnificent use of the color possibilities inherent to polymer clay – creating hundreds of hues that she puts to use in mere millimeters of space. The result – a schoolboy discretely blushes and a new life form is discovered.
We are happy to see the work of Cynthia Fisher included in Rifkin’s picks – MAN readers are familiar with Fisher as one of the eight artists selected for our Exhibition in Print 2011 by jurors Matthew Collings and Emma Biggs. In our review of Fisher’s work in the 2012 exhibit Terra Incognita we wrote:
In her mosaics, Fisher recreates the colors, textures and geometry of the “woods and wilds” of Western Massachusetts. An avid bike-rider, Fisher often combines the twin vantage points of the pavement below her – with its fractal fissures – with imagery from the natural world around her.
The Fuller is showing all four pieces in Fisher’s To Everything There Is A Season series, a wonderful opportunity to appreciate the artist’s use of a wide variety of materials in creating these evocative abstracts – winter’s ice glistens, spring’s first flowers emerge, summer sears the pavement and fall turns the littered ground on fire.
On the sculptural side of things, Rifkin combed her network to secure Mo Ringey-Gareau‘s fabulous Diner Stools.
Ringey-Gareau has been “upholstering” discarded appliances, diner fixtures and the tools of domestic goddesses with tempered glass for almost ten years now – morphing them from the utilitarian to the splendid. Making work is not for the faint of heart; the processes used involve some highly toxic materials and exacting techniques. Ringey-Gareau makes it all look effortless, expensive and fabulously chic. Here is how the artist has described her work:
Maintaining a tension between the feminine impulse to decorate and the masculine impulse to deconstruct, I see my work as sculptural self-portraiture with a quixotic fixity of purpose, in which I combine the ‘upholstery’ of antique appliances rescued from an era of rigidly defined gender roles, with smashed glass recycled from vacant buildings and pillaged automobiles by way of acknowledging the multi-faceted aspect of self as seen within the context of antiquated gender roles.
Sure to be a crowd-pleaser – especially with the young ones – is Casa PapaDoble by KeKe Cribbs.
Cribbs, a much sought after artist known primarily for glass and enamel work that often incorporates mosaic, is first and foremost a weaver of fairy tales. Working with a completely unrestricted palette of materials, Cribbs spins stories filled with pathos, humor and love. From her Artist’s Statement:
I am a painter, a sculptor, a story teller, and most importantly, an “Experimenter” who does not believe rules or fashion trends should dictate what an artist makes. I work intuitively and from the heart. Making things with my hands is in an effort to communicate with others and is the reason I make art. One of my heroines is Louise Bourgeois …. if any one ever tried to tell her what to make, or what material to use, she certainly never listened or allowed current trends to influence her work … that to me is the sign of a real artist.
Casa PapaDoble was created specifically for Art of Mosaics – the result of the artist’s long term relationship with curator Rifkin. Earlier this year, Rifkin returned to Cribbs a piece from her personal collection when it was in need of a small repair. While discussing the fix, Rifkin mentioned the upcoming Fuller Craft Museum exhibit and Cribbs immediately offered to create something within the aforementioned short time frame just for Art of Mosaic.
Enchanting and exuberant, Casa PapaDoble’s diorama-like presentation takes the viewer to fantastical lands for ancient rituals; the tea ceremonies of ancient Japan come to mind. And, what else would a pair of mosaic bunnies share but a sequined egg?
Pique assiette, the mosaic technique using shards from broken china, pottery and found objects as tesserae, is represented by several pieces in the exhibit including Bette Ann Libby‘s China Tea Leaf (2006).
Looking at this work, a Chinese friend immediately recognized the geometric/red pieces that Libby used as having come from a particularly ubiquitous pattern found on millions of rice bowls. We’ll admit that we are not big fans of pique assiette finding the majority of it to be clunky and visually unappealing. What Libby has done here, however, is create something graceful out of materials that were totally relevant to the object – it is very nicely done.
Art of Mosaics: Piecing It Together continues through October 27th. Fuller Craft Museum is a lovely facility nestled amongst trees and waterways in Brockton, a town just south of Boston so why not pack a picnic basket and discover something new in mosaic?
Enjoy – Nancie
- Fuller Craft Museum: Open Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, Thursday 5:00 – 9:00 pm
- Many thanks to Chris Rifkin, Titlayo Ngwenya of Fuller Craft Museum, the artists shown here and Michael Welch for information and images.