This week, local artist Colleen Patricia Williams educates us about the rich history of her artistic medium--mosaics.
Mosaic is an art form that is at least 4000 years old and originated in Mesopotamia, with bits of colored stones, glass and other materials. Mosaic also had a version that used terracotta cones, with the points pushed into clay to create a decorative surface. The Greeks used pebbles to create decorations.
Mosaic developed even further with the Greeks, who took the stones and pebbles and turned them into even more intricate designs, but mosaics really reached their ancient glory with the Romans, in Africa and Syria, the wealthiest Roman provinces. Beautiful floors have been found in Herculaneum and Pompeii. The mosaics in the Roman Empire featured domestic scenes, geometric designs and depictions of the gods in their pantheon. The lowest quality mosaics in the Roman Empire were to be found in Britain since not many mosaic artists were to be found at the farthest reaches of the empire.
The first glazed mosaic tiles were found in Susa, in what is modern day Iran, around 1500 BCE. Mosaics spread into Macedonia, into Carthage, then Rome.
The development of tesserae, a manufactured tile that was capable of great variation in color, size and shape that made great detail as well as subtle color changes possible. Sometimes these tesserae were very tiny pieces, allowing the artist to paint with tile.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, mosaics in the Byzantine era went from mainly floor decorations to beautiful and intricate wall pieces that depicted religious subjects. This is also where we see the development of a new type of tile called “smalti”. Smalti tiles are made of glass, with the inclusions of air bubbles and they are often backed with silver foil or gold leaf. This gives the tiles a depth and beauty that just glows.
There are many interesting things about the Byzantine mosaics; that they were mostly ungrouted, in order to allow light to reflect off of edges. Also, the smalti tiles were set at a slight angle in order to catch the light reflections from different angles. This resulted in sparkling mosaics no matter what view they were seen by viewers.
In the 5th century, the city of Ravenna became known as the city of mosaics. The best known building in the city is the mausoleum of Theodoric, a king of Byzantium. The best known mosaic is the mosaic in the cathedral built for this same king, but now renamed Sant’Apollinaire Nuovo. The scenes in this cathedral featured images of Christ as well as images of Theodoric and his household. Many of those have been replaced by later rulers; interestingly, there is a scene of the Emperor Justinian and the Empress Theodora. This is interesting because the images of Theodoric were removed because the principle of having no images of a ruler in a cathedral.
At the same time, in the Islamic world, mosaics were also developing, with stone and depictions of geometric figures and mathematical principals. The Islamic mosaics often were made according to a technique called “zillij”. Zillij involves creating tiles specifically for the particular project, and then further handworking on each tile to ensure a custom fit that covers the entire surface in a seamless piece. Examples of this can be seen in the Great Mosque in Cordova and the Alhambra.
Mosaics have come a long way, with a venerable history. Today we use art glass, stones, found objects, whatever makes a piece work. With the new products that are out there today, mosaics have a great future ahead of them!
Stop by Artistic Portland to view and purchase Colleen's own beautifully handcrafted illuminated mosaics.
This week we're stepping away from our usual artist interview format and are instead diving into the creative mind of local artist Ben Gilbert of Crayons and Cardboard. An artist's mind is rarely tidy (so says an anonymous quote), but always expect to be intrigued and inspired.
I'm working on a series of themes the number of which changes on whim. Spam. Portraits of women who appear in my Gmail junk inbox... Key. The Key Bank insignia caught my eye with its sometime weird red glow... Snark. Crazy whimsical things with slightly naughty or impudent titles to keep me from being too snooty.. Mass Media. Mostly movie stills and rarely of major stars or iconic scenes. Instead the subtle gems in the background that look more like real life. Asian portraits... An attempt to break into a foreign market.. No great success there...Animals and plants because it's one of the categories it's good to practice. Landmarks and landscapes for practice. I can do ego stroking pieces but they will cost you 4 times a reg piece...
I live in a state of chaos... A barbarian living on the edge of society... Looking inward... Ignored except when it comes to needing a body... Solitude has its perks... Freedom and anonymity... I'm enjoying sticking to the path of the artist against the advice of the less risk adverse. Riding on the edge of catastrophe... It's all about the ride and actions and reactions. All surfaces are ripe to be drawn on just need to figure out the right substance to use on it... I continually through globs of ideas against a metaphorical wall hoping something will stick... Hasn't happened yet...
Ideas on back burner... Coffee stained clay coasters... Reinforced tin foil hats...
I'm called a Fauvist because of color choices but I like the weird, the shocking, the bizarre, the "spicy" . flowers are an exercise...bodies are beautiful…
Anyway I'm hoping to improve on creating unsettling creepy profound works... As well as improve my skills in foliage.
I'll slap the image of anything on anyone for anyone for the right price except for things that are excessively immoral... ( R X NC 17 images can be made by personal request... I just won't sell them publicly... Send requests discretely...) It's all shapes and shadows exercises in the end but I won't do anything reactionary... Rainbow flags yes confederate flags no.
Stop by Artistic Portland to see and purchase's Ben's art in person.
Meet Beth Adams, local watercolor artist and the creative brains behind OliveMeArtsie.
You recently joined Artistic Portland (and we’re happy to have you!). What appealed to you about the Co-op?
I wanted to be a part of a community that not only encouraged my love for art but also to learn from other great artists.
Where are you from?
Born and raised in the Portland metro area.
What jobs have you had other than being an artist?
I worked mostly in long term care - providing support for the elderly and disabled. I supervised 50 plus caregivers and provided support to people with special needs.
Have you always loved creating? Tell us a bit about your development as an artist.
I have always loved arts and crafts. I had a natural talent that people would express to me, and I just didn't see it. It wasn't until I was given a watercolor postcard gift from my mother-in-law that I tried watercolors. It was in that set that I truly fell in love with watercolors and the way the water and paint moves on the paper.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by lots of different artists and forms of art. I love abstract art because it allows your imagination to fill in the blanks and see what you want to.
What do you enjoy about creating with watercolor?
I love the movement of water on the page with the paint. It always amazes me how each painting is different based on the level of moisture and paint added to the page.
What frustrates you about watercolor?
It is frustrating sometimes to have to wait between layers for things to dry and not be able to move fast. But it also forces me to slow down and enjoy there process.
You do a lot more than just paint. What other way do you like to create?
I love to create and usually it doesn't matter what I do as long as it's something to express myself and learn. I love sewing and creating personalized mugs.
You have a watercolor class coming up in a couple weeks at Artistic Portland. What should students expect?
Even a beginner can paint fluidly in watercolor! Used traditionally, watercolor paintings have a fluidity and transparency unrivaled by any other painting media. Often described as the "hardest medium" in which to paint, watercolor doesn't have to be intimidating. In this self-paced watercolor class, I will walk students through basic techniques and supplies in watercolor, creating special effects in watercolor, and composing paintings in a loose, informal style. Students will make three different cards and envelopes to showcase just a few of the techniques they learned.
What do you like to do when you're not creating?
Being with my husband and friends. I'm a part of a close community of friends that are very close and we try to do as much of life together as possible.
If you could wake up tomorrow with a new artistic skill what would it be?
I'd love to be able to make pottery. I love how it looks and feels as well as its functionality.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others?
No matter what you think about your own creations, there is always someone out there who will love your work. Art is not just one way or thing.