We are great fans of Helen Miles, the very fine Scottish artist who currently resides in Greece. Her classically inspired mosaics (like the portrait of her husband, David, above) charm us and her exquisite writing never fails to inspire us. If you want to know how the mosaically obsessed walk through the world, read on. We thank Miles for the opportunity to repost this article from her blog. Enjoy – Nancie
All summer I felt bereft; longing for mosaics, pining for my studio, aching for the peace and purpose of my work. Every summer I am obliged by the tradition of nine-week-long school holidays to down my tools and go where family and heart and other people’s needs direct me. We always go to Scotland, sometimes driving through Europe, sometimes stopping in England, once striking off eastwards to Turkey or simply staying in our little hillside house on the Greek mountain of Pelion and hanging out on the beach.
There is much to appreciate about the summers. For all their broken-upness, the two days here, three days there nature of them, they allow us all to reconnect. I see old friends, spend time with my increasingly decrepid parents and visit my favourite places. But nonetheless I feel bereft because I can’t be making mosaics.
Usually I compensate for the lack of mosaic time by dragging my reluctant boys to obscure (or not so obscure) mosaic sites. I tailor the summers to make sure our road trips take in mosaic places that otherwise I might never get to see. Over the years we’ve been to Aquileia, Rome, Ravenna, Venice, and even slogged across the Anatolian plains to visit Zeugma. This year there were no such opportunities. We stayed in London for two nights and I snatched a few hours to see Tessa Hunkin at work on a new project with her Hackney Mosaic Project volunteers, but other than that, the entire summer, all 63 days and counting, were entirely mosaic free.
But fortunately for me, there’s no world without mosaics. Mosaics are really nothing but the slow and deliberate accumulation of parts, the materials change, the way of achieving that accumulation changes, but essentially they all boil down to the same thing – to pattern, line, movement, form. So, bereft of mosaics, I found them everywhere. We use them to build walls, to shore up seas, to protect our cattle or our kings.
We see them in the flow of rivers, the line of hills, the shapes of plants and the markings of feathers and shells. We find patterns in the greatest of all human achievements – in mathematics, in music, in poetry, in architecture – they are essential to the way we exist. Codes, chess, mazes, maps, textiles – all, when you strip away the wrapping, are nothing more than patterns and lines. This summer, watching a performance at the Edinburgh Festival, I even saw mosaics in the choreography of the dancers’ moves – that fluid crescent, the perfect curve of energy, muscle and motion.
Without my own mosaics to focus on, I found my mosaic antennae constantly zinging and pinging, alerting me to real and imagined mosaics. I couldn’t stroll down a street, lie on the beach, go on a country walk, visit a museum or do any of the other myriad ordinary things that the summer entails without finding an actual mosaic or a mosaic connection. On the Sydenham High Street in London, lined with funeral parlours and fast food outlets, I looked up and found this decorating a public building:
Visiting an English Heritage house in Herefordshire, I was delighted to see this:
These casual, incidental mosaics like this one at an Edinburgh shop threshold, remind me that mosaics aren’t an esoteric, weird out-there kind of thing, but something that all kinds of people in all kinds of ways have sought for and appreciated from those Roman banqueteers adorning their dining floors to 19th century country gentlemen on their grand tours to our own elected councillors thinking how to brighten a dull facade.
Nature, of course, does it best.
Nature is the one that gave us mosaics in the first place (a leopard’s coat, a peacock’s display, a fish’s dappled markings) and then gave us stone. When that mosaic antennae of mine was pinging about but sending no signals back, I found stone, that lovely neglected stuff, to relish in. I got up early to really look at the stones that line our favourite beach and found that once I started looking there was more and more to see:
It turns out that once you stop you can’t fail to notice that the process of life, the slow erosion of all we build and create, produces it’s own mosaics. Paint weathers in the rain, street tiles break, porcelain acquires an exquisite patina of cracks:
Nature can’t seem to help itself – there’s a constant need to break out, push up, slide in. It’s what we do when we make mosaics, fitting parts around other parts and once we see that there is no world without mosaics, we see that that’s precisely what’s going on around us:
In the process of my mosaic finding I discovered too that my brother, well into middle age and living quietly on the shores of Loch Fyne on Scotland’s west coast, is busy making his own version of mosaics – cutting out random quotations from the Bible and sticking them with that restless obsessive mosaic making urge, onto styrofoam balls:
Add in my mother’s knitting and my great grandfather’s embroidery and you can see that my mosaic thang runs deep and strong:
Dear reader, I must confess that I was so determined to show you that there is no world without mosaics I went so far as to take a rather elegant photograph of sheep’s poo in a field in Perthshire but on the off chance that you are eating your breakfast, I thought I’d leave you with this rather more salubrious photograph of beachnut casings:
Mosaics by Helen Miles:
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges
Surely, Book Paradise will look something like this . . .
. . . the stunning National Library of Latvia in Riga designed by Gunnar Birkerts, current home of BiblioMosaico, a collection of mosaics devoted to The Book created by some of the medium’s modern masters.
Bibliomosaico is the brainchild of Rosetta Berardi, editor at Edizioni del Girasole, a specialty publisher of art books based in Ravenna, Italy. Berardi conceived the exhibit in 2009 in conjunction with the first RavennaMosaico, the International Festival of Contemporary Mosaics. That year, Berardi invited nine artists to “reflect on the form of books, on the representation of a book as an object that wants to be looked at but not read, a book that is ‘not a book’, a book which may have lots its words but gained a specific conceptional meaning as an open work of art.”
Since then, over 50 artists have participated in Bibliomosaico and now 34 of their works are scattered throughout the Riga Library where visitors will discover them hidden in the stacks, reclining on book trolleys and displayed on shelves.
Some of the mosaics are quite literal, like Verdiano Marzi’s Pinocchi or Sophie Drouin’s Censure. Others, like Gerard Brand’s Six Pages in Lace and Samantha Holmes’ Absence pay homage to Ravenna’s Byzantine mosaic heritage in new and intriguing ways.
This current showing of Bibliomosaico is part of a larger mosaic-centered exchange between Riga, the current Cultural Capital for the European Union and Ravenna, which is vying for the title in 2019. Also on display in the Library are large-scale reproductions of some of Ravenna’s most iconic Byzantine treasures.
We were first charmed and delighted by Bibliomosaico during RavennaMosaico in 2011 and found it to be one of our top three favorite exhibitions for RavennaMosaico 2013.
One of our favorites from 2011 was Raniero Bittante’s Bubble Gum Italia. Three copies of the Italian constitution encrusted with red, white and green smalti adhered with used wads of bubblegum were accompanied by a video of Italians blowing bubbles. This work turned out to be far more literal than we thought at first glance. Bittante is reflecting on the 150 years of Italy’s political unity in a classical mosaic sense – each individual, regardless of race or ethnicity, is part of the whole – like the tesserae of a mosaic. Bubble gum as the “mortar” or glue that holds it together? Of course. Just think of the DNA contained in a wad of used bubble gum. Brilliant.
We think BiblioMosaico is an absolutely splendid representation of how the medium can be used to convey powerful themes and individual expression. We are going to leave you here with images from all three editions of BiblioMosaico and commentary by curator Berardi. The exhibit runs through August 30th. All photos unless noted were taken by Berardi who is also a professional photographer. Enjoy – Nancie (And don’t forget to click to enlarge)
The artist’s book denies itself nothing, it can even dare to be unreadable. Every artist gives a personal interpretation of the book using the force of substance, the plasticity of structure, the diversity of materials and bringing into play his or her own sensitivity. The results are poetical objects that challenge the writing and concentrate on technique, form and harmony.
Viewers are encouraged to watch the artwork and read it on the basis of a visual grammar. The meaning of the book is expressed without words. The book, depository of the written word, changes its function: it is no longer meant to be read, but rather looked at to.
A creative exercise that involves both young and experienced artists, who engage in the production of artworks conceived for being displayed among paper books, like jewels set in a ring.
The exhibition was originally designed to give a look of precious elegance to a space that communicates and interacts with the works in an exemplary way.
Mosaics fascinate us, and the subject of the book makes them even more enchanting. – Rosetta Berardi