Maplestone Mosaic Gallery in Creemore

Yesterday I and three other mosaic artists from the Toronto area took a trip to the small Ontario town of Creemore, population 1300, home to the only (as far as anyone knows) art gallery in Canada dedicated exclusively to mosaic art.

The front of the gallery, on a snowy dayCreemore is also home to Creemore Springs microbrewery, which adds to its tourist appeal. Well, it did for me.

Gallery interior, showing a red wall with mosaics and large window with Creemore Springs Brewery visible outsideThrough the large picture windows of the Maplestone Gallery, large snowflakes that were slowly falling onto the main street of this tiny town yesterday looked particularly picturesque.

Abstract mosaic on gallery wall in greens, blues and browns

A Terry Nicholls mosaic on the right

The gallery’s two rooms are filled with mosaic artworks by contemporary local and international artists in a range of styles and materials. From rustic to glitzy, in layered glass or wood and stone, from fine art to functional objects, from the nature-inspired abstracts of Terry Nicholls to the precisely crafted compositions by Lin Schorr, to Heather Vollans‘ work with upcycled and reclaimed materials, Maplestone gallery has an inspiring variety of contemporary mosaic art on display.

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Fragments of books: An Optimist’s Tour of the Future

To understand how much I enjoyed Mark Stevenson‘s An Optimist’s Tour of the Future, the first thing you need to know is that after I borrowed it from the library and read it, I went out and bought a copy and read it again just four months later. In my life as an unstoppable devourer of literature, this was a first. Usually a couple of years pass before I re-read even the most beloved of books, since my reading lists are so long that they give birth to baby-reading lists who in turn have baby-readings lists of their own in the time that it takes me to get through them.

Cover art for Optimist's Tour of the Future

Of all the cool things described in this book, there is not one word about jetpacks. Why they put one on the cover, I might never know.

However, a few aspects of An Optimist’s Tour proved completely irresistible and demanded an immediate re-read.

First, the number of new scientific ideas and emergent technologies that are described, accessibly and engagingly in this book, is incredible. Did you know there are several different research groups who’ve successfully created genetically engineered bacteria that consume waste CO2 and excrete fuel, such as diesel or ethanol? Or that an AI has learned not only how to derive new scientific laws, given a bunch of raw data, but also how to explain the meaning of the results it found to its creators?

None of the ideas in the book are hypothetical. In the course of writing it, Mark Stevenson visited (a very impressive roster of) research labs and startups that have conducted successful experiments with and built working prototypes of some mind-blowing technologies. From flexible solar film printed quickly and cheaply in big rolls on a former photographic printer, to nano-coating which can protect anything from clothes to monuments from weathering and dirt, the stuff of science fiction is being made manifest  today in laboratories around the world.

The second aspect that makes An Optimist’s Tour of the Future such an enjoyable read, is how damned optimistic it is. In startling contrast to most books dealing with the subject of the near future, this one maintains an unwaveringly positive outlook about the success of and the possibilities offered by these nascent technologies. Lucidly and rationally, (but often excitedly, because it’s going to be so bloody cool when it ramps up and really gets going), Stevenson explains the potential of each technology to transform the lives of individuals, societies, and the planet for the better.

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Favourite books series: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Beautifully evocative and captivatingly strange imagery is densely woven throughout the poetic and complex narrative of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel that won its author a Nobel Prize and defined the genre of magical realism, this book has had a firm and lasting grip on my imagination since I first read it in Russian translation in my early teens.

The lives and deaths of the generations of the Buendía family in the fictional town of Macondo are full of wonders that are taken in stride and miracles that are commonplace. The mundane and the magical intertwine, passions rise and dampen, children are born and die, girls of unspeakable beauty ascend into the sky amid laundered sheets, young men elope with gypsies, prophesies come true, time is fluid, history is forgotten and repeats itself inescapably.

One of the novel’s most vivid and visually expressive episodes for me has always been the story of the deluge – the period in Macondo’s history during which it rains “for four years, eleven months, and two days.”  The continuous rainfall interrupts the normal order of life, uproots banana groves, kills the crops and the animals, rusts all machinery. Houses sag and walls cave in from the damp and rot, clothing sprouts moss, and people turn a greenish hue from algae growing on their skin.

The image of the swampy streets in which abandoned furniture and animal skeletons lie covered with red lilies was particularly evocative for me, echoing both the devastation and tenacity of life that characterize this part of the story.

Stained glass mosaic of a cow skeleton from which red lilies are growing lying in the rain in a flooded street

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Bluegrass night at Barfly, Montreal

Barfly, Montreal logoWhen I lived in Montreal six years ago, bluegrass night had already been a decade-old Sunday night tradition at Barfly. Last weekend I had the chance to visit this favorite haunt of mine after a wretchedly long absence, and was happy to see that this landmark of the Montreal music scene is still going strong and about to celebrate its 15th anniversary on November 11th.

Though a legendary dive, Barfly can be hard to find with its tiny front on St. Laurent boulevard in the heart of Montreal’s trendy Plateau district. Decorated with Montreal Canadiens hockey memorabilia, dents in the walls, and a bust of Elvis, the bar with its cheap beer, excellent live music and free pool draws a crowd of university students, music lovers and whiskey-sodden barflies in varying proportions.

The musicians that show up to play old time country and bluegrass music on Sunday nights are equally varied in age, style, and musical experience. With a typical turnout of about ten, the group usually includes a couple of guitars and banjos, a mandolin and a lap steel guitar, a stand-up bass and a fiddle. The players rotate in fronting the band for three songs, in a lineup randomly generated by chalking their names on a blackboard as each arrives. This spontaneous arrangement results in a new show every week, the style, feel and quality of which often varies immensely depending on who shows up and at what time of night.

A group of musicians on stage at Barfly

A typical bluegrass night lineup with fiddle, mandolins, upright bass, guitar and Dobro

If you think you don’t like country music because you associate it with the mainstream acts in oversized cowboy hats and glittering outfits singing about keying their ex’s car to the overly engineered sound of electric guitars, you are in good company. That’s how most patrons of bluegrass night feel the first time they are reluctantly dragged to Barfly by their enthusiastic friends who have been there before. The raw, acoustic, alive, complex bluegrass sound you will hear there is as far from what you think of as country as you can get. The intricacy of Flatt & Scruggs breakdowns will knock your socks off, the multi-part vocal harmonies of Stanley Brothers‘ gospel songs will give you goose bumps, and the dexterity of the banjo pickers will blow your mind. Inevitably, the extensive oeuvre of Johnny Cash will also be featured.

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Favourite books series: The Master & Margarita

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is a richly multilayered novel that includes elements of fantasy, historical fiction and social satire in one gorgeously wrought whole. A favorite of mine since early adolescence, it is a book I keep re-reading every few years in its original Russian, and recommend and often gift to all new friends who haven’t yet read it.

The Devil, with a retinue of imps and demons, visits 1930’s Moscow. He leaves mayhem, bureaucratic confusion, terror and comedy in his wake. He takes over a centrally located apartment by variously dispersing with its occupants via internment in a mental institution, instantaneous transport to a seaside resort, or death. He holds a magic show in a prestigious concert hall from which the distinguished audience members emerge shaken, ridiculed and mostly undressed. He is cruelly honest with the hypocrites, serious with the philosophers, he is playful, powerful, profound and complex, and so is the novel as a whole.

In parallel with the Devil’s story, runs the plotline of the Master – a talented and tormented writer working on a historical novel about Pontius Pilate and Christ. He meets and falls in love with Margarita, a beautiful and deeply unhappy wife of a wealthy official, and their affair enriches them both with happiness in the midst of a gray and dismal Soviet existence until the day the Master despairs, burns his manuscript and disappears from Margarita’s life.

For the sake of finding him again, and restoring his masterpiece from the ashes, Margarita accepts the Devil’s invitation to act the Queen at his side during the annual Satan’s gala ball of murderers, ghosts, witches, and all manner of tormented evil souls.

Margarita’s flight to this gathering is one of the most vivid scenes in the book. Alone in her large Moscow apartment, she is melancholy, apprehensive, and worn down by life when she begins to apply the ointment given to her by the Devil. As its magic infuses her skin, the worries of the everyday world start to fade away and a lightness and a feeling of freedom take over. Rejuvenated, awakened, nude, giddy and reckless, she flies on a floor brush out of the window of her building and into the warm spring night.

Mosaic in blue, black and gold of a nude witch's back flying up towards the moon on a broom.

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In progress: Flight

Flight, the mosaic inspired by The Master and Margarita, and the first in my new Favourite Books series is almost complete! The tiling is done and only grouting remains.

Of course grouting is the part that is most likely to mess things up. As usual, I am deciding on colours and then second-guessing myself. Light brown, I think. Unless cold blue would be better? What sense does warm brown make sense amid the black smalti of the night sky? I might attempt multiple grout colours or I might not bother.

While I’m deciding, here’s a progress slideshow for your amusement. As you can see towards the end, some dark tiles in the background around the hair had the be scraped off and replaced with gold. Looks much better this way. Thanks to my husband for frowning at it so intensely that I realized just how serious the need to fix that section was!

Reclaimed objects: large beveled mirror

This mirror was an experimental design, made just a few days before I was to exhibit all my new mosaics at a fair and when I completed it I thought it was a bit of a mess and maybe I shouldn’t exhibit it at all. In the venerable tradition of last-minute artistic experiments that are a bit of a mess and are in a style very different from the rest of the works, it was a hit. People would glance at the mosaics on display and when they noticed this one in the lower corner, their eyes would light up, they would approach it reverently, examine the finish closely and then give me a look that said: “This other stuff is fine and all, but this one…!” Some even said this out loud.

Large beveled mirror with a stained glass mosaic frame

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Reclaimed objects: curvy coffee table

Thankfully, in this day of cheap disposable household goods of ever-worsening quality, the garage sales, second-hand stores and garbage-day curb sides of the city still remain excellent sources of solid wood objects of quality and craftsmanship that would be otherwise unavailable or unaffordable to an artist.

Close up of mosaic table with scalloped edgeEach piece of used furniture to which a mosaic is added begins a second life of enhanced beauty. Each also poses a unique creative challenge.

The shape of each piece sets some constraints on the layout of the mosaic. Working within those constraints usually generates ideas that I wouldn’t have come up with given a blank canvas and free rein. Any individual defining features of a vintage object are likely to be incorporated into a well-tailored design, making it impossible to replicate on a different surface.

an old photo in a scalloped vignette frame

A vignette is a decorative border which covers up some of the picture’s edges. They are most often just oval

(See, for example, this coffee table, whose burned surface lead to an inlaid mosaic design – a very cumbersome thing to execute and one that would be completely unnecessary given an unblemished surface. The resulting piece is as impressive as it is unlikely to ever be replicated.)

The small coffee table that is the subject of this post comes from a good home and is part of the hand-picked haul of a street-wide garage sale.

It has a interesting shape, which I was tempted to call “vignette” until I googled it and was told that vignette is not a shape. The closest thing to describe it seems to be “scalloped”.

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Recently completed projects: Black, White & Red

I spent the last few weeks focused on making new mosaics for the DECA fair, which is only a couple of weeks away now and will be the first ever exhibition of Fragmentalist mosaics. Much excitement!

The great thing about setting out to make as many new pieces as possible in a short time period is that so many ideas jotted down, sketched out and imagined over the years suddenly get used and brought to life.

Nearly five years ago, after completing my first mosaic – an abstract pattern of two contrasting colours, a dark brown and a pale beige – I thought: “it would be really cool to try out the same idea in pure black and white with red grout. That could be mind-blowing.”

And so here it is, manifest reality of black, white and red. It’s pretty awesome.

Mosaic mirror frame with abstract black & white design and red groutMosaic mirror frame with abstract black & white design and red grout

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Recently completed projects: 4 jewellery hangers

Here is a new series of jewellery hangers with simplified lines but similar aesthetic themes as the first jewellery hanger I made earlier this year.

I’m particularly pleased with the mirror-image design and the color palette of the brown & turquoise one. The reversed colours idea is worth experimenting with some more in the future.

One more close-up of the green & gold one after the jump.

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