By George Tibbett, curator
Perhaps even more exciting than the opening of the anxiously anticipated extension of the Q subway line along 2nd Avenue in Manhattan was the mosaic art in each new station. Many NYC subway stations have some mosaics but these new stations bring it to a new artistic level with artwork by Sarah Sze, Chuck Close and Vik Muniz all translated into large mosaics.
So will this push the art of mosaics into greater acceptance in the established art world? Mosaics as with ceramics, has long been relegated to crafts rather than fine art. But this may be changing. Established ceramicists, such as Betty Woodman, have had solo shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Emerging ceramicists like Lulu Yee have been the toast of Bushwick Open Studios. So as go ceramics, so go mosaics?
Mosaics should mean more than just a jigsaw puzzle of pieces that form an image. Great mosaic art should expand the range of the medium. Here is a list of the top five ground-breaking mosaic artists working today:
Jorge Campos aka Pixel
Pixel, is a Santiago street artist whose mosaic work pixelates cultural heroes such as Nicanor Parra, artists such as Van Gogh, and iconic artwork like from Roy Lichtenstein. Pixel brings his mosaics to the streets where his work blends with other forms of street art for people to enjoy on the streets of Santiago. According to MosaicArtNow, Pixel explains the relationship of his art with the public. He says, “At first, people think they are facing a painting. Approaching and touching, they realize they are in fact facing a mosaic. Then, they wonder if it was really hand made. They also play with distance to appreciate the work in detail, take photos, and when the image is revealed perfect and detailed on the small screens of their smartphones, they fall for it!”
Using a range of different materials, King’s mosaics are complex compilations that, as her website states, stimulate the imagination. Some of her work is described as coded messages. She asserts, “These mosaics explore the dynamic tension created when familiar organic shapes can be seen as both macro and micro visions of our landscape. Shapes that are simultaneously at rest and moving, pulling the tesserae together into a complex composition while exploring the interaction of each element and the mystery of the spaces between.”
Weisler describes herself as an urban artist with an interest in decaying and discarded objects. First starting in photography, Weisler was captivated by decaying, peeling and eroding street art. From there, she gravitated to collecting and assembling discarded and broken objects to not only capture their inherent beauty and mystery but also to create new mosaic images. She explains, “My mosaics are often unplanned and are created organically as the pieces come together to tell their story. A broken mug, a piece of shattered plate or a discarded misshapen object are all important elements in my work.”
Isaiah Zagar might be best known for one of his greatest achievements – The Magic Garden in Philadelphia, which is essentially a full house and side yard of compiled mosaic art. As described by Lonely Planet, “Think of all the things you have thrown away this week – an old shoe, a broken mirror, a loose button, an empty bottle of wine. Then picture all of it broken apart, artfully cobbled together with quirky objects like antique tiles and hand-carved Mexican dolls, and applied to a wall with cement, clay, paint and glue to form a gloriously colorful mural. This is the work of septuagenarian Philadelphia-born Isaiah Zagar: mosaic artist, world traveler, visionary, dumpster diver.”
Better known as a painter, Zapata had a chance encounter when he walked into Koko Mosaico in Ravenna, Italy. It was there that he saw the potential of mosaics to translate his paintings into formative artwork. “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,” he states on MosaicArtNow.
Hannelore Baron was a self taught artist whose work has become known for the highly personal, book-sized, abstract textile based collages and box constructions that she began exhibiting in the late 1960s. Although her compositions are completely abstract, she considered them to be both personal and political statements. In her own words,
Everything I’ve done is a statement on the, as they say, human condition...the way other people march to Washington, or set themselves on fire, or write protest letters, or go to assassinate someone. Well, I’ve had all the same feelings that these people had about various things, and my way out, because of my inability to do anything else for various reasons, has been to make the protest through my artwork... H.B.
Born in Dillingen/Saar, Germany, she and her family fled persecution in Nazi Germany, illegally crossing the border into Luxembourg in 1939. In 1941 Baron's family sailed from Lisbon to New York and settled in the Bronx, New York City. By the time she graduated from the Staubenmiller Textile High School in Manhattan, Baron was avidly reading eastern philosophy, making increasingly abstract paintings and probably already experiencing the symptoms of claustrophobia and depression that would lead to a series of nervous breakdowns throughout her life. In the late 1950s Baron combined a variety of techniques and began making her first collages. Occupied with raising two children (daughter Julie and son Mark) and beset by psychological problems, Hannelore nevertheless exhibited her work and in 1969, the year of her one-person exhibition at Ulster County Community College, she began to make the box constructions that would become her signature. In the early 1970s, Baron established a studio and devoted her time and energy completely to her artwork until her death in 1987.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s her work garnered critical acclaim, along with gallery and museum exhibitions in the United States, Europe and Japan. In 1995, her work was the subject of a one-person exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 2001 her work was the subject of a traveling exhibition curated by Ingrid Schaffner and organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Her works can be found in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, and Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Naomi Yasuda creates mesmerizing nail designs that use color as a starting point. She often tops these tiny paintings with beads and ornaments, transforming nails from flat canvases into sculptural works of art. She grew up watching her grandmother, a kimono tailor, make garments from intricately patterned fabrics. The designs shown here, created for Beauty—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, are inspired by those traditional Japanese patterns.
Art can be conceived and constructed in many different mediums. Jackson Pollack used house paint instead of oils. But there are some articsts that take their materials one step further. Margaret Braun is a renowned baker who also is sugar artist - one who uses sugar to create inedible art as well as edible art.
Margaret Braun’s medium is sugar. Growing up in Levittown, New York, amongst thousands of cookie-cutter houses, Braun was curious about the ways in which personal identity genuinely thrives when set against sameness. As a child, she responded to this environment by filling notebooks and covering surfaces with ornate sequential patterns. As an adult, she rediscovered this solace by decorating cakes.
During her time at New York's Museum of Art and Design, Braun designed, created and executed an installation of 2,000 hand-hewn sugar cups produced through a variety of techniques from molding sugar to painting decorations in gold leaf. Her process is rigorous and methodical, creating a studio environment that is equal parts the workplace of a fine artist and of a craftsperson operating under a strict production schedule.
Braun is the author of Cakewalk: Adventures In Sugar With Margaret Braun, teaches throughout Europe and South America, and has been featured extensively in film, print and TV.
Whether one categorizes Michael Mapes as a mosaic artist, assemblage artist or reconstructionist, what remains when viewing his work is his sense of artistic destiny created from smalll shards, detritis, bit of photographs and other assorted found items.
His latest series of work is inspired by Dutch Master portraiture. In a method consistent with earlier work, subjects are examined through a pseudo scientific method specifically working with materials and processes signifying entomological, biological and forensic science.
"My work suggests the meta-relationship of the subject content, which is to say, it creates a dimensional collage of a painting of a person. In doing so, I consider ways in which to reconstruct the original subject to suggest new meanings. Along with thousands of dissected photos of the original painting, I add a mix of other contrived materials ranging from hair samples to recent photos to costume jewelry. The finished “collections” become dimensional collages within the realm of contemporary portraiture of 17th century subjects."
The result is grand art based on microscopic elements.
Through her use of beads, sequins and embroidery, Stephanie Hirsch's canvases are literally 'illuminated' with phrases of enlightenment and hope. Continuing her personal investigations into individual development through text, Hirsch ups the ante by removing the "easy access" of familiar graphic elements inspired by iconic punk-rock album covers and adding a recognizable figurative element. The use of the figurative element humanizes her compositions and is based upon self-portraits driven by her fascination on the whole social media "selfie" craze. Wanting to delve deeper into how "selfies" create an image of how we want to be portrayed in the world rather than who we actually are, she shot her "selfies" while saying and feeling the emotional content in the compositions. Hirsch states, "I was also inspired by Cindy Sherman's work titled 'Aging Socialite.' Sherman perfectly executed the daunting look in the eyes that spoke of insecurity and fear of a life no longer lived. My fear of just existing while living promoted my 'selfie' study as well. I am also profoundly influenced by Barbara Kruger whose text based work questions autonomy and desire, which I yearn and struggle for within myself."
The journey of how Hirsch struggles with her external and internal self creates a unique entry point for the artwork. The viewer can identify and reflect upon their own personal experiences by simply reading the words and connecting with the visage. This simple, yet profound shift creates the intimate and introspective underpinning to the work allowing the viewer to oscillate between the beauty of the materials and the message implied. Using insights like "I'd Rather Die on My Feet than Live on My Knees," "I Was Not Built to Break," "We All Find Our Way," and "It's Never Too Late," Hirsch weaves a story of overcoming one's personal adversity and building an inner spirituality that hopefully filters out into the world.
Artist Nikko Hurtado uses both canvas and skin for his paintings. Both a lowbrow painter and tattoo artist, his medium of choice is almost irrelevant. What is important is the result - fine and compelling portraits, intricate and beautiful still lifes and raw subject matters. The work intrigues. And much of the results are, interestingly, rather classical. This so despite the backstory.
He describes himself as "I'm a tattoo artist/artist. I've been doing art pretty much my whole life. I specialize in portaits, and I like to do what are called alla prima painting its a style of painting thats its a on sitting painting of someone start to finish. I would really like to find some models that would like to sit for me, and it would help me grow in my skills of painting."
Jim Prez's 'book-tures' (sculptures comprised of a book base with found objects artfully fastened atop) make inspired use of thrift store bric-a-brac and second-hand books.
What is your background in art-making?
I have been making things since grade school but very early on I took to photography and worked on making photographs for many years. I don't have an art degree from college but I did get an MFA in Photographic Studies from Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY. Much of my background in art comes from looking at books from libraries in the various cities that I have lived in. I have tried to make at least one thing every day since 1977.
What was the inspiration for the idea of creating these booktures?
I was visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art and noticed that there were more people waiting in line to have their pictures taken with the Rocky Statue than were going to the museum. I figured that I could make more interesting works for people to visit and be photograhed in front of than the Rocky bronze so I started working on maquettes for monumental sculptures. The "booktures" came directly from that idea.
Who are some of your artistic (or other) influences?
I try not to be influenced by other artists' work but I surely do love looking at other artists' work. There are so many that it would be difficult to name them all. Of course I would have to list Vincent van Gogh, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, Joan Mitchell, Georgia O'Keefe, Lee Krasner, Yayoi Kusama, Howard Finster, James Castle and Richard Tuttle. I have been fascinated by the work of Suzanne Goldenberg for the past few years. Her work is pure magic. I love artists who make work but aren't concerned with selling, showing or getting reviewed. Work that comes from the heart and soul.
Does the title of the book play any role in what gets put on top of it?
The title of the book rarely plays a role in the book. I wish I was smarter and more clever in that regard. The book, however, is the point of departure for the work. I play off its shape, size and color.
Where do you find your found art?
I spent a year looking for the raw materials, for my booktures, in thrift stores, junk stores, and at the Salvation Army, garage sales, church sales, library sales, stoop sales and on the street.
I also visited the Strand two or three times a week during that year. I took another two years to assemble and photograph the booktures. There are approximately 250 of them. I stopped making them but did make three new ones for the Mulberry Library show.
Obviously your work includes books—was this your motivation for displaying work in libraries?
Yes, absolutely. The library is free and open to all. I like that idea very much!
Where else do you show your work?
I show my work in galleries, museums, artist spaces and on the street.
I like to post things on Facebook also. Printed Matter has been selling my bookverks since 1988. I will have had 25 years of bookmaking and finished my 500th book by the year's end. (2013)
A pop-cultural connoisseur with a magpie’s eye for what shimmers and shines, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt has been using plastic wrap, reflective foil, colored beads, pipe cleaners, glitter, staples and photographs for more than 40 years to create shrines to saints, sacred and secular, emblematic of queer identity. He includes himself among the elect in an early collage titled “Twinky as a Prima Ballerina (Self-Portrait),” completed in 1969, the year of the Stonewall Rebellion, in which he participated.
Lanigan-Schmidt began by exhibiting his art in his own apartment; an early major exhibit in 1969 was titled The Sacristy of the Hamptons. Another home exhibit was titled The Summer Palace of Czarina Tatlina. In these early home exhibits, and also in at least one later recreation of an early exhibit, he guided visitors through the exhibit in drag in character as art collector Ethel Dull.
While Lanigan Schmidt's art is not widely known, he has received critical acclaim.
Reasons for Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt's art not reaching a wider audience totally elude me. This is major, major work, reflecting and augmenting today's dialogue in a unique and commanding voice. Many artists, including a generation of Lanigan-Schmidt's students, have been repeatedly amazed, inspired and guided by its panache, rapier-sharp wit, subversiveness and opulent beauty.