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.
İnci Eviner is a gatherer: she collects the memory of crowds, unearths folk narratives, and retells their stories in her own language. She is a hunter: she traces misogyny, detects hierarchy, and targets it with the tools of a unique feminist visual lexicon. Although she doesn’t specifically identify her work as feminist, Eviner dissolves dichotomies and prescribed identities using the female body—but just as often, ungendered bodies—as an agent through which womanhood, gender, and the politics of identity are performed.
To understand Eviner’s art, which spans nearly every conceivable medium, one needs to break the mindset of a western linear understanding. The tales in her works mushroom in different terrains, hatching into a rhizome. As in Deleuze and Guattari’s model of the rhizome, which opposes a hierarchical, tree-like model of culture and thought, Eviner’s work rejects a continuous, unbroken, orthodox perception of the world. Unlike the tree that sprouts from a single seed, branching out from a stable trunk, the rhizome is a root-like organism that spreads and grows horizontally, making diverse, but not necessarily continuous connections and appearances.
Laura Lappi works in a wide range of media including installation, sculpture, photography and video. Her work crosses the boundaries between our perception of space and time and between reality and fiction. She is interested in creating bewilderment, uncertainty, unexpected situations and mystery by shifting the form of space and the viewer’s point of view. Emotions such as loneliness and yearning are important concepts within her work.
Lappi's work has been exhibited widely in solo and group shows in Europe, US and Asia including AC Institute in New York, Galleri Vest in Reykjavik, Galleri Uusi Kipinä in Lahti, Gallery Titanik in Turku, Kunstpodium T in Tilburg, Gramercy Gallery in New York, Fotogalerie in Rotterdam, Re:Rotterdam International Art Fair in Rotterdam, Twente Biennale 2013 in Enschede, Supermarket Art Fair in Stockholm, Access Art in New York and Green Papaya Art Projects in Manila. She has received grants from the Finnish Cultural Foundation, FRAME (Finnish Fund for Art Exchange) and the Arts Council of Finland.
Laura Lappi lives and works in Brooklyn, New York and Asikkala, Finland.
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.
Wendell Castle (born November 6, 1932 in Emporia, Kansas, USA) is an American furniture artist and a leading figure in American craft.
His work has an organic fluidity not often associated with everyday furniture.
In 1958, he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in industrial design, and in 1961, he received a Master of Fine Arts, both from the University of Kansas. From 1962-1969, he taught at Rochester Institute of Technology, School for American Craftsmen, in Rochester, NY, and is now an Artist in Residence. In 1980, he opened the Wendell Castle School in Scottsville, NY. He has garnered a number of awards, including a 1994 'Visionaries of the American Craft Movement' award sponsored by the American Craft Museum, a 1997 Gold Medal from the American Craft Council and a 1998 Artist of the Year Award from the Arts & Cultural Council for Greater Rochester. He has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Comfort Tiffany Foundation. In 2001 he received the Award of Distinction from The Furniture Society.
Artists take risks in their materials but Nadia Martinez and her work with computer parts must deal with a larger array of potentially unhealthy materials. And yet, her sculptures, constructed with these discarded parts hold a certain poignancy and presence. She says, "El Bosque de Qualtron (Qualtron’s forest). - Qualtron was the name of a computer parts manufacturing company that went bankrupt after 20 years in business. I found an inherent beauty in the abandoned parts and created a forest out of the 100% man-made materials giving them a second life. Every sculpture represents something from nature, an animal, a tree, water, etc. or a memories from Honduras."
Nadia Martinez works in a variety of mediums, with her work reflecting on daily encounters and experiences that are often difficult to express in words. Martinez strives to make statements that are positive and uplifting and draws from her background in architecture to explore the interaction between humans and nature and the qualities that shape our faith and values today.
At MAD, Martinez will use computer parts to create sculptures and jewelry that respond to the inherent beauty in abandoned materials by giving them “second lives.” She uses assemblage techniques, along with mold making and casting methods. Martinez is also interested in visitor response, namely, visitors’ reactions to her work and how their insights and thoughts can inform her process.
Martinez studied architecture at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras and received a certificate in fine arts and a diploma from the National Academy School of Fine Arts, NY. Martinez exhibits in New York and internationally. For more information please visit her website: www.nadiamartinez.com.
Gil Batle was born and raised in San Francisco to Filipino parents, in and out of five different California prisons over 20 years for fraud and forgery, now living on a small island in the Philippines. Batle’s self-taught drawing ability evolved behind bars into sophisticated and clandestine tattooing skills that protected him from murderous gang violence in prisons such as San Quentin, Chuckawalla, and Jamestown—"Gladiator School,” as it’s known to the unfortunate cognoscenti. Where Bloods, Crips, and Aryan Brotherhood gang-bangers in racially segregated cell-blocks rule with intimidation and threat, Batle’s facility for drawing was considered magic by the murderers, drug dealers, and armed robbers whose stories he now recounts in minutely carved detail on fragile ostrich egg shells. With only the men’s names, as he says, “changed to protect the guilty.”
Almost one out of every hundred Americans is now in prison, the largest percentage of any developed country in the world. The other 99 percent of us have little inkling of the ferocity of life inside. Articles about prison abuse appear weekly in the press, but are mere snapshots of the hard truth chronicled in Gil Batle’s orb-like relief carvings; each with an architecture of pictorial panels supported and separated by a fine lattice of chain-link fencing, razor-wire, or carved hand-cuffs. The violent men he knew, the sad mistakes that sometimes led to the incarceration of regular guys, the terrifying events he witnessed, and the bonds formed under the worst conditions, all appear with precise detail on pristine eggshells, nature’s most perfect creation and manifestation of life and birth. - Norman Brosterman
Mark Seidenfeld is an artistic polymath, working in paint, collage, sculpture and photography. But it is his photography that mesmerizes.Work from around the world capture a dramatic essence and beauty from even the most disturbing and exotic subjects.
He says, "I am a storyteller by nature. My work is the way I move forward, with each new artwork being the culmination of every artistic gesture, experiment, and statement that I had made previously. For me, creative expression is the path into the future. Not only does a deeply rooted place of clarity enable me to create these works, but they, in turn, open new doors of perception for me. The process of creating each one is a transformation accelerator, taking my understanding to both new heights and new depths. So I am hooked on the act of creation, which is a rocketship, taking me on a journey into the universe that lies beyond the waking mind. These artworks are my philosophy in action."
Sharon Mizota writes that "rubber can be a funny material. It's bouncy and used to make things like whoopee cushions and rubber chickens. Jeanne Silverthorne takes advantage of these associations to poke fun at artistic genius by reproducing its hallowed site -- the studio -- almost entirely out of rubber. At Shoshana Wayne Gallery , the installation includes a faux-wood patterned rubber chair and easel, a trash can full of rubber light bulbs, several rubber shipping crates and of course, rubber plants, complete with ambitious rubber ants.
Silverthorne seems to exhort us not to take art so seriously, but her pliant studio artifacts are also laced with signs of decay and disease. There are dying flowers, tiny flies and candles shaped like DNA sequences for mental afflictions like depression and panic (also all made of rubber). The quiet charm of the exhibition emerges as it uses this dark sense of humor to buoy the inevitable doubts and failures of artistic practice.
The objects function on several different levels, one of which is simply that they are made from an unexpected medium. The chair, easel and crates look like wood but are made of rubber, which turns them into a species of cartoon prop that one imagines might go bouncing or shimmying around the room.
But then there are objects like the trash can of light bulbs studded with flies, which could be just that, but might also be a metaphor for discarded, rotten ideas. Also of indeterminate status are the DNA candles, which could be artworks, but might also be read as novelties or a darkly humorous statement about artistic practice fueled by mental disorder. This multivalent approach allows the pieces' goofy humor to surface alongside their more macabre implications, cleverly defusing some of the drama we normally associate with the depths of creativity."
For many years now, Silverthorne has taken the studio as her subject. The physical site of her creativity is also the inspirational probe of her art. Her studio in a 19th-century, unrenovated building . . . with visible wiring, creaky floors, exposed ceiling pipes, bare light bulbs supplies all the images she needs. Her subjects surround and envelope her. sometimes she works directly with her space. She will make a mold, for example, of her studio floor and then infuse it with symbols of gothic decadence of ruin and collapse, such as dandelions and weeds growing between the floorboards. It is a vision of one’s environment that is existentialist in its portrayal of the absurd and the fleetingness of existence. These are metaphors for the inevitability of age and decay, but tempered with humor , hope and humanity.
Although the artist says she looks at her studio as an archaeological site, it is more than just the excavation of a physical place. The excavation uncovers an emotional place as well, where the viewer recognizes the darker aspects of the human condition and identifies with them in these works. Starting from her particular site silverthorne creates another, more universal place where we have all been.