International award-winning mosaic artist and Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Sofia, Bulgaria Ilya Iliev knows what Rembrandt, Escher, Klee and VanGogh knew about the use of geometry in composing great works of art. (see ‘The Nature, The Geometry & The Materials: Iliya Iliev“) In his latest book, Ornament, Iliev offers a master class on the topic illustrated with meticulous drawings and photographic examples of how he has designed works based on geometric principles.
When we learned that British mosaic artist (and fellow mosaic traveler) Allan Punton had completed a work based on what he learned from studying Ornament we asked him to write a review of the book for MAN. Punton calls the book “a masterpiece.” We agree. Ordering information is at the end of the article. Enjoy – Nancie
Why did I buy this book? Because it was like going to see Bruce Springsteen live at Wembley and then deciding to buy all his albums; you become smitten by the man and his music. Well, it was the same for me with mosaic artist Iliya Iliev.
I was lucky enough to be included in a private view of Iliya’s retrospective exhibit at RavennaMosaico in October of 2013. Iliev was gracious in taking the time to explain each of his works to our group and I could see the sparkle in his eyes when he talked about his art. He is a master of the mosaic art form. So, when I found out about this new book, I had to get a copy.
This is more than a book; it is a cornucopia. This is not a mosaic projects book (hallelujah), nor a “how to cut stuff” tome (again, hallelujah). It is, instead, a masterpiece in explaining compositional form. In that regard it is unique – gloriously unique.
It is written in the first person in such a way that you have a real sense of the personal knowledge and research that Iliya has put into this discourse. It is also clear that his experience as a gifted professor has benefited the clarity of the text and illustrations.
It is a textbook that informs and enables the reader to study the approaches covered as developmental exercises. The more you study the content, the more you learn from the examples shown and the book is crammed full of tessellation studies.
The book’s scope is wide and progresses through the following topics: The Ornamental Motif and its Combinations, Linear Ornament, Surface Ornament, Rhythm Geometric Figures, Polygons and Polygon Grouping.
The introductory section is entitled “Let’s Start With Proportions” and Iliev shows an example of his work where he exploits the Golden Mean to demonstrate its impact on form (figure 8). Purely by coincidence, I had made a piece many years ago effecting the Golden Mean in its design, so I quickly felt that this book was going to be highly relevant to my personal approach to mosaic.
Geometric figures are explored in great detail within the book and Iliya explains their compositional variations very succinctly with examples of his own work – as he does with Snail of snails–Clam of clams (figure 133).
In the section on Polygon grouping, lliya discusses transformation and deformation of tesselation and refers to the work of MC Escher. To illustrate the text on this topic, Iliya includes several examples from Escher’s work such as how Escher turns the equilateral triangle into a tiling bird (figure 268).
I also had done some research on Escher’s approach to composition and created a composition drawn from an Escher sketch by casting glass elements in sand.
The final section of the book includes fourteen pages of Iliev’s own artwork and he has added personal notes on each one.
I am a slow reader and an even slower learner so it took me several weeks for my first journey in absorbing the contents of this book. Inspired to apply some of the book’s concepts, I began to give some thought to a suitable place to start.
A while ago, I had set aside three tree trunk off-cuts that I thought would make for an interesting project. My initial thought had been to create a compositional form sympathetic to the shape of these wooden “shells.” But, I had yet to begin doing anything with them.
As I was reading the book, these off-cuts came to my mind. Why? Because of a key sentence in the book’s Introduction; “If we assume that a square is a blank space – a symbol of unity, inserting another square within it would lead to some diversity while respecting and even underlining the basic motif.”
So, creating a design that would sit within a wood chassis and embrace/echo the form of the chassis was a creative challenge that I set for myself. I chose transparenti dalle de verre as my material for several reasons. First, because I felt that it worked well with the theme of “Inner Light”. In addition, faceting the glass would echo the texture of the thick bark of the wood chassis. And finally, with these materials I knew I could create tesserae of a size that would work well within the tessellated pattern I had in mind. I chose to use the same tonal range for the cuts within the primary pattern so that the light generated would highlight the form without distracting from the richness of colour.
Overall, I am quite happy with the outcome of this “geometric experiment” born from studying Iliev’s Ornament. It is a long way to Sofia, Bulgaria so I am very appreciative of this hard-bound “master class” that I can refer to any time I want.
Allan Punton, Arto Punto – October 2014
About the Book:
Author: Iliya Iliev
Publisher: Arhimed, 2014
Contents: 183 pages, 289 illustrative figures
Price: 25 EUR Hardcover; 20 EUR Paperback plus shipping
To order: In the US order at Wit’s End here (if out of stock, leave a message on their Contact page) or email the author at: email@example.com
Also by Allan Punton
This summer, a new mosaic tradition was born in Florence with the first edition of Musiwa, an international exhibition featuring works from some of the medium’s most important and revered artists in order to . . .
. . . create a huge, unusual opportunity to gather many renowned artists in one place for a universal meeting where there could be an open exchange of emotions and ideas brought on by magnificent mosaic works.
Mosaic art was spread out all over Florence with installations at the Impruneta’s Contemporary Art Center, the Town Hall of Pontassieve, the Hall of Heroines at the Borgo di Pontassieve and the Ancient Hospital in S. Antonio. Musiwa culminated with an exhibition of “finalists” chosen by a committee at the historic Guelph Palace that ran from June 15 through July 16th.
Beyond the city-wide presentation of mosaic, Musiwa is also noteworthy for its origins – a joint venture between WART (WorldArtist – Art, Culture & People), Florence’s prestigious jewelry school, Perseo, AGT (Accademia Giardini del Tempo) and AIMC (International Association for Contemporary Mosaic). Enthusiasm during the organizational phase proved to be contagious and the event quickly won the support of the communes of Firenze, Pontassieve, Lastra a Signa and Impruneta.
So, who was behind this? Musiwa’s Artistic Director and President and the mastermind behind the event is Maestro Francesco Chimienti, the founder and current president of WART. An artist himself, Chimento has a great love for mosaic and was a co-signer of the “Being Mosaic Foundation Manifesto” with Giulio Candussio. Other key players included Musiwa’s Vice-President, Maestro Massimo Campaioli, who is also the founder/president of PERSEO and Florence’s Ambassador of Jewelry to the World and Rosanna Fattorini, an accomplished mosaic artist and Vice-President of AIMC.
Technical advisors who aided in the selection of works included Professor of Art Drawing and History Gianni Becciani, mosaic restoration expert Dr. Clarice Innocenti, the Pallazo Pitti Museum’s Director of Silver Materials Dr. Maria Sframeli and well-known painter Maestro Alberto Gallingani.
While Musiwa was not a competition, two artists, Nane Zavagno and Toyoharu Kii received special prizes “for the outstanding quality of their work” and mosaic artist, educator and innovator Giulio Candussio received a special award “for his magnificent cultural personality as well as for the scientific proposal ‘Being Mosaic Foundation Manifesto’.”
Within the group of 40+ mosaic artists who were part of MUSIWA there were many familiar names – De Luca, Menossi, Iliev, Goodwin, Cicognani, Louro do Rego, and Magdi among them. There were also artists new to us whose works feel fresh and exciting.
Musiwa’s organizers are already expanding the reach of the program and preparing for next year.
Given the positive and enthusiastic results of Musiwa 2013, the Musiwa project will be turned into a foundation very soon. With international partners such as Florence, its Province, the Precious Stones Factory and other prestigious associations, there will be continued in-depth exhibitions and thematic meetings based on the mosaic art form in many new venues that will reach into schools, museums, art galleries and the media. The official headquarters of Musiwa 2014 will once again be Florence and the event is scheduled for June – August 2014.
A list of all the participating artists is below. Our thanks to Musiwa’s organizers for sending along to MAN all of this information and wonderful photographs. Bravo!
Enjoy – Nancie
Professor Iliya Iliev, Chief of the Department of Mural Painting, Mosaics and Stained Glass at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria has been exploring the possibilities of mosaics for over 30 years. Classically trained in both art and architecture, Iliev’s mosaics exploit both of these doctrines. His work is unmistakeable; always organic, always ordered by a geometry that gives wings to his eclectic materials. We asked Iliev to answer the question: Why mosaic? Why not painting or sculpture? His response is below. Enjoy – Nancie
I was born in Burgas, a port on the Black Sea, in the country of Bulgaria in 1931.
The sea gave me the freedom to be an artist during the difficult period of total oppression of my country between 1944 and 1989. During my lonely walks along the seaside the horizontal line, the eternal and always changing rhythms and shapes of the waves – their spilling on the sand, over the rocks and over the polished pebbles – the snails, the clams, the seaweeds, the jelly fishes passing away, the whole of nature . . . all of that inspired me to be an artist.
When I was not accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia 1950, I decided to study architecture. After graduation, I spent five years working in an architectural company in Burgas. At that point in my life, I thought this was a waste of time. Later, I realized that this work was extremely useful to me. In architecture, I learned the constructive thinking, the logic of building things, the scale, and the geometry that would become a strong characteristic of my work. It would add to my love of nature and lead me to mosaic.
At 29, I was finally admitted into the Academy of fine Art where I received my Masters degree in 1966. My background in architecture directed me into the Decorative and Monumental field at the school – an area that permitted me an escape from the ideological rules of the time. This discipline was focused totally on the architectural and natural environment; the scale and the character of architecture itself. In this period, I spent a great deal of time working in different mural techniques from fresco to the plastic decorative relief – sgrafito – in many large works.
After my post-diploma specialization in Paris with the king of colors – (industrial designer) George Patrix – I found somewhere in the south of France the beauty of easel mosaics.
I think I already had mosaics in myself from the spontaneous mosaics of the sea that I loved so much – the sands, shells clams and flooded water. A strange, polymorphic mixture from so different and maybe eclectic materials.
And, once again, I will say that the decision to pursue a life making easel mosaics also came from my background in architecture. Like mosaics, architecture starts with the creative design process, then there is thinking through the logistics of construction and finally there is the act of construction, itself.
When a mosaic work is to be a wall made of stones, lime, and cement it must follow the rules for vertical and horizontal lines.
For other fine arts, these concepts may just be principles, but for mosaics they are a necessity. The materials in classical architecture are the same as for classical mosaics.
In easel mosaics there is everything. There is painting in the color of materials. There is the graphic scale of black to white. There is sculpture in decisions around plasticity.
In mosaic, you have the possibility of making all kinds of compositions from cleanly abstract (which I don’t use frequently) to those which give the impression of space, perspective, depth, landscape, illusion.
Sometimes I explore real landscapes or the illusion of flowers, trees and even animals.
Sometimes I look to serious philosophical problems.
This divine technique, mosaic, gave me the option to be a contemporary artist and to take part in a creative life.
I love and give great importance to the materials used in my mosaics – materials which I have made and prepare myself or occasionally find in the magical space of nature. For the most part, I use the beautiful stones of my country. But, my work with the binding materials (cement adhesives) of mosaics is another game. I bend or dissolve or even destroy the spaces between the tesserae, introducing into this space some brilliant colours.
My visits to Ravenna, Thessaloniki and Istanbul gave my mosaics golden backgrounds and the brilliance of the noble materials.
I began using and making hot glass elements after my meeting with (industrial designer) Tapio Vircala of Finland and (hot glass pioneer) Bill Boysen of the US. My kiln helps me to produce different forms, interesting details, and coloured glasses. The discovering and making of materials is the job of the artist him/herself and that is a personal and creative laboratory which also attracts me to mosaics.
And so, these three things THE NATURE, THE GEOMETRY and THE MATERIALS are the three things that made me forever a friend of the easel mosaic. For the mosaic and my technique I am very grateful and do not regret my choice.
Prof. Iliya Iliev August, 2012
Brief Biography: 1985: Becomes professor of mural painting at Academy of Fine Arts, Sofia, Bulgaria. 1987: Participation in a monumental art and mosaic symposium Senege, Moscow, Russia. 1987: One-man mosaic exhibition Sofia, Bulgaria. 1989: National prize for decorative arts “Ivan Penkov”. 1990: Membership in the International Contemporary Mosaicists, Ravenna, Italy. 1991: Becomes chief of department of mural painting, mosaics and stained glass at the Academy of Fine Arts, Sofia, Bulgaria. 1991: Visiting professor in the South Illinois University, USA. 1996: One-man show (glass mosaics) in USA . 2000: Participation in the Mosaic show AIMC Alexandria, Egypt. 2003: Participation in VII Congress and mosaic exhibition in Ravenna, Italy. 2003: Participation in a “Dante” mosaic exhibition in Ravenna, Italy. 2004: One-man mosaic exhibition, Sofia, Bulgaria. 2004: One-man mosaic exhibition, Plovdiv, Bulgaria . 2004: One-man mosaic exhibition, Burgas, Bulgaria. Over 70 works in architectural spaces. Easel mosaics is in national galleries and private collections in Bulgaria, USA, France, Netherlands, Japan, Germany, Greece, Hungary, etc. Iliev is the author of two books, Parqueting Convexing Pentagon: Mosaics of The Pentagons (2009) and The Ornament.