Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 12, 2012 -- Patterns of Old Japan

My book on Japanese patterns arrived in the mail two days ago, and I’ve been poring over it, along with my other books on Japanese art and design, thinking about color and pattern  mixing.
I believe I’ve found the perfect color palette in a ukiyo-e print by Hiroshige (19th c.). 

On a 2010 trip to Japan, I admired the variety of colors and patterns and textures seen in kimonos worn by the geisha, noting how the women mixed patterns for the various elements of their costume with exquisite sensitivity to color, scale, and seasonal theme. 

On a 2010 visit to Kyoto, we were fortunate to cross paths
with several geisha in traditional costume.
As a mosaicist, it’s my challenge to come up with a way to interpret those textile patterns—most of them created by silkscreen, some by weaving—in an art form where pattern is developed unit by unit, tile by tile. It’s like trying to speak a new language when there is no common vocabulary. I will have to look for patterns that lend themselves to translation in mosaic.

Today I’ve divided a large sheet of Kraft paper (about 35 inches high x 72 inches wide overall) into six vertical panels, pinned the paper to a wall in the foyer, and started planning a mixed pattern design. I’ve printed out about a dozen possible patterns and scaled them up in various sizes. (The desktop copier, with its enlargement feature, really comes in handy when you’re playing with pattern and scale.) I’m taping in areas of pattern across the composition, but finding that on first pass most of the patterns are too busy (too densely figured) and not working together as smoothly as I had hoped. Will put this aside now and come back to it with fresh energy.

December 22, 2011 -- Inspiration Feeds the Creative Soul

I recently returned from a trip to Los Angeles where I had a chance for the first time to visit The Getty Center and the Norton Simon Museum (in nearby Pasadena). Actually, it was quite an art-intensive trip, with additional stops at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and time spent visiting some interesting contemporary galleries in the Bergamot Station area of Santa Monica.

Many art aficionados have made the pilgrimage up the hill with sweeping views of L.A. to the Getty Center, designed with modernist precision by architect Richard Meier. The museum and art research and conservation center opened in 1998 to house the vast art collection of oil billionaire J. Paul Getty. (Another Getty museum in Malibu concentrates on treasures from ancient Greece and Rome.) It was a gorgeous day, sunny and crisp, and as tempting as the art was, we found the setting—with its dazzling architecture, landscaped plazas, and shallow fountains, and carefully designed gardens—as much a draw as the art.
Scene from the Getty Center campus
As much as I enjoyed the permanent collection, of which we saw only a fraction, the highlight of the afternoon, at least for me, was the temporary exhibition, Pacific Standard Time, highlighting modern art in L.A. between 1945-1980. (The PST installation at the Getty was just one of several contemporaneous shows covering this period at museums across Southern California.) Happily, there was a strong emphasis on materials-based work throughout the show, and I was fascinated to see how artists coming out of CalArts and other California conservatories, inspired by new technologies and post-WW2 materials (like silicone, plastics, space-age ceramics, and slick paints), advertising images, the car culture, and a feeling for unlimited space, made groundbreaking large-scale work that bore little resemblance to what was going on in NYC during the same period. So cool.
Poster for Crosscurrents, the PST installation at The Getty Center
Two days later, we drove to Pasadena to spend a day at the Norton Simon Museum. This collection, too, reflected the taste of a single individual: California industrialist Norton Simon, who came to appreciate and collect art only when he reached middle age. But by then he had the fortune to support his appetite, and his appetite was legendary. He specialized in European (14th to 18th centuries) and American art (19th and 20th centuries), and his vast wealth enabled him to acquire only the best in every category. In 1964 he bought the historic Duveen Brothers Gallery in NYC—lock, stock, and barrel—to get his hands on its storied holdings. At the end of Simon’s life (he died in 1993), he expanded his focus to include South and Southeast Asian art, and these pieces became an important feature of the collection. An exquisite sculpture garden with works by Rodin, Henry Moore, Maillol, Picasso, and others rounds out the visitor experience.
Approaching the entrance to the Norton Simon Museum, past a casting
of Rodin's The Burghers of Calais
I have to say that spending the day making my way through this lovely museum, with its spacious, well-lit galleries, accompanied by an excellent audio guide, has been one of the great pleasures of my art-loving life. I cannot wait to return and spend time in the Asian galleries. The paintings are simply superb: early European masters like Memling and Bellini; 17th-18th century greats like Rembrandt (there are three!), Zurburan (including a magnificent still life with strong religious overtones), Tiepolo, Rubens; the most significant collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist work on the West Coast, including a vast array of work by Degas; and an impressive showing of 20th century Modernism, including masterpieces by Picasso, Giacometti, Calder, Jawlensky, Kandinsky, Brancusi and others. 

The painting that made my heart stop filled the final gallery on the main floor, a gigantic Sam Francis multi-panel abstract installation known as the Basel Murals. The scale, luminous color, and energy of these paintings is beyond my power to describe. It seemed to me something that could only have been painted by a Californian. For a taste of what I saw, click here:

In a state of euphoria after spending time with the Francis, I literally floated into the museum store just before closing, where I happened upon a Dutch book on Japanese patterns. My creative juices were flowing, so it was easy to be swept away by this delightful book, filled with Japanese-inflected imagery suggested by the natural world. Suddenly I could envision a multi-panel mosaic featuring an assortment of these patterns across a multi-panel format in the style of a Japanese folding screen. My next mosaic project took shape in my mind’s eye.

Have you ever entered an unfamiliar art museum, encountered something extraordinary there, and emerged transformed, with a deeper understanding of something essential? Please share your experience.  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

December 14, 2011 -- Mosaic Where You Least Expect It

Spotted in the back room of an art gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, CA. 
Nice textural variation!

December 9, 2011 -- Where the Sand Meets the Sea selected for MAI 2012

Happy day! I was just notified that my mosaic triptych, Where the Sand Meets the Sea, created over the summer for Capital Health Medical Center–Hopewell, has been selected for exhibition in SAMA’s “Mosaic Arts International 2012,” large-scale/architectural category, held March 1­–April 30 at The Lexington Center Museum and Gallery, Lexington, KY.

Where the Sand Meets the Sea, a triptych, overall 30 in. H x 66 in. W, ©2011 RHMA. 
This mosaic was adapted from a design seen in a metal gate at Buddhist University in Kyoto on a visit to Japan last year.

This is the fifth time since 2003 that one of my mosaics has been juried into SAMA's international exhibition. Since the mosaic is permanently installed at the new hospital, it will be represented in the show by photographs of the work.

November 29, 2011 -- The Khan Academy

Here’s a fantastic web resource I stumbled across yesterday: Khan Academy. Check it out at

I first investigated the site after hearing about its amazing art history tutorials with excellent close-up videos of the painting/sculpture/etc. (by period, by movement, by artist, work by work). Then I discovered this morning that art history is only ONE of the subjects covered in the online academy.

There’s a library of over 2,700 videos (and growing daily), featuring bite-sized lessons on subjects ranging from mathematics, chemistry, and physics to finance, history, and test prep. It’s a perfect set-up for individualized learning “when you want, at your own pace.”

On the website you  can  scroll a  list of subject  categories  and topics  and sample a few lessons. 
I bet you'll want to bookmark the site, return to it often, and pass it along to friends and family, as I did. It's great for students of all ages, especially lifelong learners like me. 

Whether you're just curious about something, want a clear explanation of a topic you've read about in the news, need to brush up on algebra or physics or review for a test, or want a broad overview, you'll find it there. It's really amazing. The lessons are short, concentrated, and delivered with lots of visual aids. In the works: programming in other subjects.

Salman Khan, the founder, is a former Silicon Valley guru who cashed out and is on a mission to educate the world--particularly in third-world areas where access to quality education is limited. The academy has received a lot of press. You can see the interviews with PBS, NPR, and major commercial networks on the site.  Here's one:

Have fun browsing and learning!

October 6, 2011 -- Going Radical with Kelley Knickerbocker

I've been a fan of Seattle mosaicist Kelley Knickerbocker since 2008, upon seeing her dazzling and dimensional 33oF in SAMA’s Mosaic Arts International exhibition, held that year in Miami. 

33F, by Kelley Knickerbocker, 2007, 17 in. h x 18.5 in. w;
glass, mirror, smalti. Used with permission. 
So when I heard she was coming to Doylestown, PA (just an hour away from my home) to teach a Labor Day weekend workshop called Radical Dimensions in Glass Mosaic, I signed up immediately, eager to learn her stacked glass techniques. The experience did not disappoint. The workshop combined a lecture and slideshow of Kelley’s work (Friday evening), followed by two full days of demos and hands-on practice. Our host was Katia McGuirk, whose tile studio classroom provided the perfect environment for our group, many of whom drove up from Philadelphia.
Kelley had recently been on a buying spree at Youghiogheny Glass and brought with her an inspiring assortment of matte-finish translucent and textured architectural glass, perfect for layered mosaic making. She demo’d three techniques she had developed and used in her own practice:

Flat Stacking, in which stained glass is layered atop itself for unique color blending and 3-D effects;

Edge Stacking
, in which clear, opaque, and translucent stained glass strips of varying heights and lengths are stacked on edge to reveal their beautifully striated riven edges;

Texture Field, in which multiple patterns of clear architectural glass are combined to form a dense but harmonious texture field. 

She then described three ways to organize the composition—tableau, river, or simple spine—and we set to work, experimenting with the material to create small-format mosaics of our own design on mirror substrate.

A generous and attentive teacher, Kelley circulated among the group, instructing, guiding, and encouraging each student. Like the true wonks we are, we reveled in the chatter about tools, adhesives, and techniques, picking up lots of pointers along the way. Jokes flew and there was some happy munching on artisan pizza. Most of us were able to complete at least two mosaics during the weekend. Here are mine:

Skating the Spine
©2011 RHMA

Moon Over Vermont
©2011 RHMA

On Sunday afternoon Kelley offered a critique of our work, and I think we were all astonished at the variety and imagination we had brought to the task.

For me, a workshop like this one provides a chance to shake my perceptions, break old habits of working, experiment with unfamiliar materials, and learn some very cool new techniques, some of which may find their way into future work. I had been busy much of the year on a mosaic commission that called for nine mosaic landscapes—highly detailed representational work—and so it was a real treat to be able to step away from that mindset for a couple of days and enter a world of abstraction and pure color. I came back to the studio on Monday refreshed and inspired and rarin’ to go.

September 23, 2011 -- Mosaics Delivered to Capital Health Medical Center

Big day! The final group of mosaics—15 abstracts—commissioned by Capital Health Medical System are complete and swathed in layers of bubble wrap. They will be loaded into my Subaru station wagon and delivered today to the new state-of-the-art hospital in Hopewell, NJ where they will await installation by art consultant Lin Swensson and her team of professional art installers.
My logistics manager wheeling seven of the abstracts to the hospital door.
The first group of mosaics to be finished—nine panels depicting New Jersey landscapes–were delivered in August and are already hung in the Adult Emergency Room Waiting Area.
New Jersey Landscape Suite: this grouping installed on the left. ©2011 RHMA.
New Jersey Landscape Suite: this grouping installed on the right. ©2011 RHMA.
Today's delivery completes the commission. There is one single-panel mosaic, one diptych, and four triptychs. Six of the panels were purchased from existing inventory, but in each case, I was asked to enlarge the composition by adding one or two new panels. All told, the commission represents ten months of steady studio work with very few breaks. Given the amount of variety in the assignment, it was a real joy from start to finish.

I feel fortunate to have my work so well represented in a new hospital in my own community where it will be a meaningful addition to the healing environment. It is a particular honor to have my mosaic Flow installed as the artistic focal point in the hospital’s inter-faith chapel. I believe that original art in medical settings can play a powerful role in creating a soothing, stress-reducing environment for patients, their family members, and staff and applaud the hospital’s visionary leadership in seeking out original work by almost 80 local and regional artists from New Jersey and Philadelphia.
Flow, 32 inches square, in handout opaque, iridescent, and metallic glass, ©2011 RHMA. 
November 6th is the official opening day for Capital Health Medical Center–Hopewell, but there will be community open house events throughout October to give the public a sneak peek of the new facility, equipped with all the latest medical technology in a LEED-certified “green” building. With its soaring architecture, cozy seating areas, walls of windows, healing gardens, and private patient suites, people are likely to think they’ve entered a contemporary luxury resort, not a traditional hospital. It was exactly the impression Capital Health sought to create: “ an environment designed to calm and comfort, heal and nurture, protect and support.”  The hundreds of paintings, sculptures, mixed media panels, and sculptures featured throughout the public spaces and patient rooms certainly enhances that impression.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

August 16, 2011 -- Brain Food

I don’t know about you, but one of the major benefits of being a working artist whose practice calls for spending hour after hour, day after day, in a basement studio is the chance to read…or to be read to, to be more exact. I’m talking about audiobooks, and since becoming a full-time mosaic artist in 2001, I estimate I’ve listened to hundreds of titles, many more than I could have pored through in book form. For a one-time English major, the prospect of getting on with the next chapter of a great novel or a fascinating biography is enough to pull me down to the studio even when fatigue or distractions argue for calling it a day.

Literary classics—particularly the novels of Dickens, Edith Wharton, and Henry James—are a favorite, as well as well-written works of contemporary fiction like those by Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe, and Ian McEwan. I’m crazy about Southern writers, and for a long time I was deep into books about the harrowing lives of broken girls who overcame adversity (like Bastard Out of Carolina, The Secret Life of Bees, The Liars’ Club, and The Glass House). Since I love theater, I sometimes listen to a cast recording of a Shakespearean play. Current events is good for a change-of-pace, particularly if it affords a behind-the-scenes look at politics, another passion. I also appreciate a good novel that plunges me into a new culture and helps me understand a place I’ll likely never visit, like Afghanistan, Iran, or India. (Well, I do hope to get to India one day.)

Two audiobooks, New York Times bestsellers, waiting in the studio.
I’ve never been a fan of chick lit or densely plotted mysteries or spy thrillers, so I steer clear of those. There’s been a good crop of medical novels in the past couple of years—in particular, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot) and The Emperor of All Maladies (Siddhartha Mukherjee).

When I enjoy an audiobook as much for the expert narration as a riveting storyline, I may listen to it more than once. My all-time favorite is the Evelyn Waugh classic Brideshead Revisited, narrated by (or I should say enacted by) Jeremy Irons. I finally purchased this audiobook so I could enjoy it bi-annually. I believe I could listen to Jeremy Irons read the phone book and be mesmerized. His narration of Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov is also masterful.

My all-time favorite audiobook, narrated by Jeremy Irons.
Each week I scan the New York Times Book Review for promising titles and keep a running list. It took me about three years to move through the shelves of audiobooks available at our local library and its branches, and having exhausted that free source, I now subscribe to a service that sends me a new book once a month, or more often when I am deeply into mosaic work and working on deadline to finish a project.  

Sometimes people will ask whether I get lonely working in the basement all day, and sometimes into the night. Never. Once I’m past the design phase of a new mosaic, the process of cutting and placing of glass becomes almost meditative. That’s when I start the tape or CD, and I’m off, lost in a good book.