The best news I have lately is that I’ve begun working on my current mosaic in earnest. I tend to be a slow starter in so many things, but I’m working with thinset for this one, and a “wrong” tile is so much harder to pry loose, so, in my world, this involves many, many hours of staring while the art muses arrange things in my head with absolutely no help from me, until the path seems settled enough for me to begin to glue.
I think of myself as a visual person. I love color, shape, texture, deep philosophical meaning (oops), line, form — you name it — but I was never able to visualize a piece of art until I started making mosaics, and even then it was several years coming. For this piece I knew what I wanted, three sculptured swoops that raise above the substrate, with tesserae laid in three swirl patterns, culminating at the top of the swoop. The mosaic would trace the path of life in all its complexities, culminating in death at the peak, which sounds a bit depressing, but I see it as an offering of an individual soul to blend with and enrich the “Soul Ocean,” as it were.
From the start, I wanted the piece to be white, and spent several weeks amassing and considering varied sorts of white tesserae. I ended up tossing most of what I thought I wanted, but I feel good about the mix now. There are a few whole shells, but mostly broken pieces of shell, from the sublimely exotic to the toenail-sized fragment of colorless scallop, because I have always been drawn to fragments as infinitely more compelling than the whole. I have some broken pottery, some abalone, desert roses, bits of coral, chunks of pyrite, a gold and white patterned china, and pearls, both real and fake (as in life). Some of the pottery pieces are bumpy, and came from the head of a ceramic buddha. Some came from the wrinkles of an elderly ceramic dog. I like these metaphors and, though no one else will recognize them, they add something to the wholeness of the piece for me.
So far, there’s only one thing about this piece that bothers me. The working title is “My Mother Lived and Died,” and my goal is to show the progression of a life, with its fullness and its sparsity, not in specifics, but through emotion. I’m comfortable with the way that’s working so far, but I keep asking myself, why are there three lines? Artistically, it looks good, but is that reason enough? Because she was only one person. She did have three children, and no doubt she lived in some ways through each of us. Or maybe she saw three phases of her life. Or maybe she saw herself as three different people, not in a “Three Faces of Eve” kind of way, but in a pulled-in-too-many-directions kind of way. I don’t know the answer yet, but I know there is one. I really don’t believe that design is arbitrary.