Friday, November 5, 2010

Mosaic artist returns from Turkey with tail between legs.

We returned from Turkey one week ago, and I still feel disoriented.  The jet-lag was made more difficult by my 7-year-old who spent the first several days home on opposite-time, so the transition back to our regular schedule has been very hard.  It has been a struggle for me to get back to work in the studio after an entire month off, and while I expected to come home full of ideas and creative energy, instead I feel completely stumped.

I am a self-taught mosaic artist, having taken only one workshop, though I've read a lot of mosaic books and I spent the past 10 years working hard to learn the technical aspects of the medium.  One area I have not really covered, mainly for lack of interest, is classical mosaic.  When I planned the Turkey trip, I felt it would be a good opportunity to force myself to learn about the history of my craft, and to appreciate those early styles.

During a tour in Cappadocia, we had a very knowledgeable Turkish guide who led us through a Hittite-era underground city, a Byzantine Cathedral carved in rock, and a beautiful canyon lined with signs of early civilization.  He was able to talk about geological, cultural and religious history in detail, without notes.  Though from a Muslim background, he explained more about the Bible and Christianity than most American Christians have learned in a lifetime, with respect and fairness.  When he learned that I am a mosaic artist, he asked, "So, which do you prefer; Greek or Byzantine mosaic style?"  Feeling supremely ignorant, I just said that my style is contemporary, and I was there to learn more about the classic styles.  Honestly, I didn't know the difference.  Did I mention that I've been a professional mosaic artist for 10 years?  He quickly lost interest in me at that point.

Throughout the second week of the trip, we visited many more sites featuring examples of Byzantine mosaic, and I was utterly impressed.  The level of skill was amazing, and nothing compares to seeing it in person.  Mosaic artists know this: you see a mosaic in print, but when you see the real thing, it is a different experience, often unexpected.  I started out cutting my tesserae into little squares and placing them in rows to fill spaces, but later began to abandon that method, preferring a more free-flow approach that makes better use of my salvaged materials.  But the work I saw in the Sultanahmet Mosaic Museum and Kariye Church was so stunning and made such a strong impression on me, I feel compelled to learn to use my andamento more effectively.

There's a bit of a struggle in my brain right now between the part of me that wants to stick with the style I know and enjoy, and the part that wants to challenge myself to learn another way, and to become more versatile.  I have a project on the table now, the first in a series of Rapunzel mosaics, that is an attempt to bring some of that classic style into my contemporary work.  It is more time consuming, and I hate working with such tiny pieces, but I think it is good practice. We'll see where it takes me.


  1. Good on you for trying something new. The ancients are inspiring and daunting at the same time. The fact that you are focusing on one point concept, andamento, and how to work it into what you know and love bodes well. Best of luck to you.

  2. I am also not all that enthusiastic about classical mosaics although the rules for andamento are fascinating and I am glad I have taken a few classes to learn them. However, don't beat yourself up for not gravitating towards these more ancient forms; sounds like your trip inspired you to learn more, and inspiration is better than "forcing" yourself.

  3. We definitely need to meet the next time you're in Portland, Jenn! I'd love to talk with you about this. I've also been to some of the places you just visited in Turkey, and have been equally inspired—and daunted—by them. As you know, I already do have a penchant for small, quadrangular tesserae, and have been bitten by the bug to use classical andamento in contemporary work. Sorry it didn't work out to see you today— it took us over 4 hours to get back to Hillsboro from Seattle.