Mosaics, shards, pixels and objects

1. Raymond Isidore, called “Picassiette” (from Goddard, 2000)

Raymond Isidore was born on the 8th of September 1900. He held several jobs including that of keeper of the Chartres cemetery (from 1949). In 1937, he started covering the exterior walls of his house with mosaics composed of materials found in dumps (tea pot spouts, ash trays, perfume bottles). He created the mortar with lime and sand and coloured the material by adding cement crushed with blue chalk. His tools: trowel, spoon, fork, pen knife. Motifs made are mainly illustrations of churches, female characters. Main themes: religion, death, Woman, the exotic.

In 1956, he left his job to entirely commit himself to the “mission” (he said that he was guided by a divine force). When his house was covered (exterior, interior, sewing machine, etc.), he built a church, linked to the house by a yard and passages to the « Maison du Dimanche » which he occupied later on. Between 1958 and 1962, he created the sculpture garden, the “Jardin du Paradis” (Garden of Paradise), with a covered passage and a “Porte du Paradis” (Gate of Paradise), and a “Cour des Esprits” (Court of the Spirits). In a yard, he built the “Trône de l’Esprit Céleste” (Throne of the Celestial Spirit), in another, the “Trône du Balayeur” (Sweeper’s Throne): these two works reflect the conflict between the material and the spiritual. Raymond Isidore, or “Picassiette”, died on September 7th, 1964.

2. Ceramic shards and mosaics: a long association

According to the traditional mosaic technique described by Vitrovius (Ling, 1998), to make a pavement mosaic, three layers were needed before installing the mosaic: the statumen, the rudus and the nucleus. The rudus was composed of lime mortar, stones and recycled terracotta fragments.

Roman mosaics were discovered in England in which an abundant use of terracotta had been made with fragments installed in joining strips. The red colour was obtained by using sigillated ceramic fragments, often older than the mosaics themselves (Lavagne, 1987). In other cases, the presence of pottery shards helped in dating the mosaic (Witts, 2005). Ceramic shards and cut marble were used along with pebbles in certain mosaics found in Crete (Dunbabin, 1999). Some mosaics were previously restored by filling the missing section with a mixture of mortar and shards of different sizes or pulverized (opus signinum). Often, the details of a motif were enhanced by addition of lead lines or by alignment of ceramic shards placed on edge (Ling, 1998). Shards, made with white or blue colored fragments, and placed on their edge, were observed in pavement mosaics in traditional gardens of China (AW, personal observations, 2007).

Gaudí and Jujól composed polychromatic masterpieces with the use of recycled materials: bricks, tile, stones, ceramic shards, bottle glass. Under the “roof” of the Güell Park, medallions were made with the “trencadis” method (Llinàs and Sarrà, 1992; Zerbst, 1993). The Sagrada Familia towers represent the 12 apostles, and their summits, the vicars, with their attributes (ring, crosier, mitre, cross). The mosaic that decorates these structures is called “venetian mosaic” (Triangle Postals, Menorca, 2004).

Raw Art creators such as Neck Chand (India) have constructed imposing structures decorated with ceramic fragments (Maizels, 1996). My most recent discovery of works made with ceramic shards: the (third) chapel built by Brother Deodat in 1939, on the island of Guernsey (see Webpage reference).

Contemporary artists known throughout the world have incorporated ceramic shards in their works, in some cases entirely composing the piece created, such as a piece by Arman (would this therefore constitute a mosaic?), or inserted in paintings by Julian Schnabel and his “Plate Paintings”. Did Schnabel thus succeed in creating harmony between the two arts, mosaics and painting?

3. Pebbles, shards, tessera and pixels: pointillist media

Do mosaics actually represent the origins of pointillism represented by works by Seurat (Düchting, 2001), who was very interested in the theory of colours? Colour printing based on the association of dots and digital photography based on pixels are but variations of a visual art developed a long time ago with mosaics and its assemblage of tessera, shards or pebbles. Wall mosaics have produced works that are visually breathtaking for their colours and forms. Observed at a distance, the images seem to be made with continuous lines and perspective effects: “the discontinuous nature of the materials is an essential point around which is organized the conflicting interactions that have been sustained all along history between mosaic art and its rival, painting“, translated from Lavagne, 1987.

4. The “Found objects” movement

This movement’s origin is attributed to Marcel Duchamp. Collages and all types of assemblages are artistic modes of expression that represent this movement: they are an association, a grouping of objects that each of which has quasi mystical properties for the artist. Almost by magic, the objects collectively express themselves in the created collection (see Lugli, 2000): artistic synergy. Whereas mosaics, in their classic form, attempt to transcend the discontinuous trait or surface to represent continuity, on the other hand collages and assemblages toy with the closeness of objects, forms, images, combining their uniqueness to reflect the artist’s instantaneous imagination. Mosaic art occasionally reaches this “dreamy” expression. Stribling (1970), a mosaic artist, has dedicated a book to art created with natural or discarded materials. Roch Plante’s “Trophoux” (Lanctôt Éditeurs, 2004) are wonderful creations that have profoundly inspired me. Conceptual art work can be associated to this movement, in particular pieces including materials made by Man, even biological matter he produces. To this latter style is opposed “Stuckism”, a return to an art based on painting: representation of a pendulum movement between two extreme modes of expression, movement that has been observed before between mosaics and painting.

The « Found objects » movement continues to attract followers that are aware of the human environmental imprint. What to do with “Found objects”? Recycle them and transform them, or course! This trend, to which I adhere (see “Exhibits and activities”), is rapidly developing and the number of recycling artists or artisans increases on a regular basis.

5. References

  • Dunbabin, Katherine M. D. (1999). Mosaics from the Greek and Roman World. Cambridge University Press; 357p.
  • Düchting, Haro (2001). Seurat. Taschen, Cologne, 96p.
  • Farneti, Manuela (1993). Glossario technico-storico del mosaico. Technical-Historical Glossary of Mosaic Art. Con una breve storia del mosaico. With an Historical Survey of Mosaic Art. Longo Editore Ravenna; 238p.
  • Fiorentini Roncuzzi, Isotta and Fiorentini, Elisabetta (2002). Mosaic Materials, Techniques and History. MWEV Editions Ravenna; 262p.
  • Goddard, Lina (2000). Picassiette. Raw Vision no. 30 (Spring 2000), pages 22 à 29.
  • Hurley Marshall, Marlene (1998). Making Bits and Pieces Mosaics. Storey Books Eds; 90p.
  • Lanctôt Éditeurs (2004). Roch Plante. Trophoux. 167p.
  • Lavagne, Henri (1987). La Mosaïque. Que Sais-Je no 2361. Presses Universitaires de France, 125p.
  • Ling, Roger (1998). Ancient Mosaics. Princeton University Press; 144p.
  • Llinàs, José, Sarrà, Jordi (1992). Josep Maria Jujol. Taschen; 156p.
  • Lugli, Adalgisa (2000). Assemblage. Adam Biro Éditeur; 124p.
  • Maizels, John (1996). Raw Creation. Outsider Art and Beyond. Phaidon Press limited, London; 240 p.; (version paperback en 2000).
  • Stribling, Mary Lou (1970). Art from Found Materials, Discarded and Natural. Crown Publishers Inc., New York; 244p.
  • Triangle Postals, Éds (2004). Le Temple de la Sagrada Familia; 240p.
  • Witts, Patricia (2005). Mosaics in Roman Britain. Tempus Publishing Limited; 192p.
  • Zerbst, Rainer (1993). Antoni Gaudí. Taschen; 239p.