Sneaky Dee’s bathroom graffiti mosaic

Yes, it’s more than a little crazy, I agree. But isn’t it also illustriously grungy?

This is the first completed mosaic in the bathroom graffiti series I’ve started. This one represents the unholy mess at Sneaky Dee’s.

(More info & original photo I was working from in an earlier post: here.)
Sneaky Dees graffiti mosaic
The whole bottom part of this is a mirror – which of course a joy to photograph – hence the artsy contorted photo shoot. Here is the same thing with the sky reflected:

Sneaky Dees graffiti

There is stained glass, pieces of mirror, and four colours of grout in this thing but what I’m particularly proud of is how the “STEAL! records” sticker turned out.

If you want to see this insanity in person, come out to the Art Walk North this Friday or Saturday. It’ll be there. Messing with people’s minds.

Oval dragonfly mirror

A friend of mine commissioned this mirror for her hallway. Years ago, I painted a really trippy elephant for her, and by a strange dint of association she decided that the elephant needed some dragonflies to go with it. This kind of surreal logic appeals to me.

full mirror web

Oval Mirror sketch

My friend asked for brown, blue and a bit of yellow, so this was the original sketch – with the curlicues to be figured out later

On the other hand, the request for an oval-shaped mirror didn’t appeal to me at all. Not after the mysterious trouble that plagued my last attempt to have a circle mirror cut to size, when the glass-cutting place had to redo it three times because there was always a tiny chip in the edge. I figured if circles were that troublesome, then ovals will surely be worse.

But since this is my very old friend and she asked very nicely, I relented after I found a frameless IKEA mirror of about the right size, which meant I could buy the mirror pre-made and just have to cut the plywood for the frame. This I could do myself with a jigsaw.

But you know what? Ovals are troublesome regardless of the material out of which you’re trying to cut them. Next time I’m asked to make an oval-shaped something, I will run away. (No, I won’t, I’ll just take the plywood to a laser-cutting place.)

edges in progress

And tiling the edges of an oval? It has to be balanced on its side and rotated in sections as the glue dries so that tiles don’t slide off. I rigged this up for the job.

To draw an oval of a specific size by hand, you use two pushpins and a piece of string. Pretty cool in terms of math, but pretty lousy in terms of precision drafting.

And then to center the smaller oval of the mirror inside the larger oval of the frame, a ruler’s no help at all. The only hope is to break out the pushpins and piece of string again. And let me tell you: IKEA has trouble with their ovals too. Their mirror wasn’t totally symmetrical either.

Fuck ovals.

On the other hand, the dragonflies I’m quite happy with.

progress 1 web
detail
taping off detail

If you’re wondering what’s required to make a thin curvy line of light-colored grout while everything else is grouted in dark brown: an obsessive tendency towards precision and a boatload of painter’s tape

Favourite books series: Neverwhere

The chapter in which the hero of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere drops out of the everyday reality into the fantastical world of London Below is seriously spooky.

On his way to the office one Monday morning, Richard Mayhew discovers that taxi drivers no longer see him, ticket vending machines reject his coins, he is invisible to the other passengers on the train and, upon arriving at the office, that his desk is cleared and none of his co-workers know who he is. In fact, they don’t even see him unless he addresses them first, and then it takes them mere seconds to forget he’s there. When his fiancée fails to recognize him and he makes his way back home, he finds that his apartment has already been rented to someone else. His existence has completely slipped the world’s mind.

This has always been one of the book’s most vividly magical moments for me – when its protagonist slips from the normal world to begin his extraordinary adventure among the warriors, beasts, noblemen tricksters and supernatural assassins of London Below. So for this mosaic I chose the scene that precipitated it all: Richard’s finding of the wounded Lady Door.

On his way to an important dinner with his fiancée, Richard stops to help an injured girl who seems to have slumped to the pavement right out of a blank brick wall – someone his girlfriend can’t even see at first and when she does, she demands that Richard not waste time on this ragged lowlife. Despite this, Richard takes the girl to his flat to recover and hide from those who wounded her.

Door mosaic based on Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere

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One of a Kind Spring show

One of a Kind Toronto Spring show opened today at Exhibition Place and will run for five days until Sunday March 31.

The 3D printers and a glimpse of the jewellery at the Hot Pop Factory booth at OOAK

3D printers and a glimpse of the jewellery at the Hot Pop Factory booth at OOAK

OOAK has been running for many years and is one of the largest shows of handmade objects, art and crafts in Toronto. It’s huge. You likely know all about it, so I won’t go into too much detail.

A couple of interesting new things that are worth looking out for when you visit:

3D Printing Shop
The most delightful thing I stumbled upon at the Spring OOAK was Hot Pop Factory, a 3D printing shop with a very stylish jewellery collection. They also make custom 3D portraits, scanning your head on-site and producing a miniature custom bust within a few days. There’s a 3D printer operating in their booth and it’s great to watch it in action.

I love the new directions that are opening up to artists and makers and it’s great to see 3D printing outfits in high-profile craft shows such as OOAK. May there be more art enabled by new technologies everywhere and soon!

Etsy section
For the first time this year, there is an Etsy-branded section, with a sampling of about 40 artisans from the thousands who have online shops at the largest virtual marketplace for handmade goods. Etsy is currently trying to raise its profile in Canada and their section at OOAK is part of this effort.

Etsy section at OOAK

Etsy section at OOAK

As with many things that sell well online, the crafts on Etsy tend towards the lightweight and inexpensive, and most artists in this section are first-time OOAK exhibitors. Both of which factors probably contribute to this section being set up as tightly and compactly packed as it is.

There are many Toronto Etsy Street Team members in both the Etsy and the Rising Stars sections,  including Ele Willoughby (minouette)featured recently on this blog – whose science and nature-themed prints are gorgeous in real life.

Favourite books series: Neuromancer

In 1984, William Gibson’s Neuromancer became the defining novel of the emerging cyberpunk genre. It also gave the world one of science fiction’s most often quoted, referenced and spoofed opening sentences:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

Set in a dystopian, technologically advanced, darkly urban future, Neuromancer was one of the earliest works of fiction to portray an edgy world of cyber criminals, virtual realities of globally networked data and neural computer implants. It introduced the term “cyberspace” into popular use.

Yet, like all futuristic science fiction, it was not really about the future but about its own time.

In the early 1980s, personal computers were beginning their ingress into regular people’s homes, running basic book-keeping programs and low-res games. Sharing information over a globally interconnected network of computers was still a decade away for the average user, though government and financial institutions have been sending data using packet switch networks since the 60′s.

Rapid technological change was happening just far enough on the margins of everyday lives to be glimpsed out of the corner of your eye. To the techie types and to many readers of science fiction, the implications of this were mind-blowing and cool. Also cool was black leather and mirror shades.

And so the novel sets the scene for the technologically advanced seedy future underworld by comparing the sky above the Sprawl megapolis to the static noise of analogue television. The current generation of kids reading Neuromancer for the first time is most likely to interpret this to mean that the sky was a bright flat expanse of blue. The next generation may be confused by the “dead channel” reference: does that mean its content hasn’t been updated for a while? The evocative impact of “television” itself will lose all semblance to a pertinent metaphor for the latest technology invading our homes, and will instead become part of the lore of a quaint society that had no control over the timing, structure and content of its own entertainment.

It is unfairly limiting to talk about this novel (or any other novel) in terms of its opening sentence alone, though that sentence may highlight its groundbreaking prescience at the same time as rooting it in its own technological era. No matter. This mosaic is about that sentence.

The Sprawl urban landscape mosaic

It grew around the sky the color of television tuned to a dead channel. Around that sky, I wanted to give just a hint of the Sprawl – the urban metropolis stretching along most of the east coast of US from Boston to Atlanta.

I struggled with this mosaic and laid it aside for a long time after filling in the sky. I didn’t really have a clear idea of what the Sprawl should look like.

Now that I finally forced myself to finish it, I am much happier with the result than I ever thought possible. The Sprawl looks like an 80′s idea of a futuristic city. It looks like a low-res graphic on the coolest gaming console you wish you owned. As visions of the future interpreted in an archaic medium of mosaic go, it looks just right.

Canadian Visual Artists: Heather Vollans

Heather Vollans is a mosaic artist specializing in salvaged materials and concrete sculpture. She works and teaches mosaic courses in her studio near Hamilton, Ontario.

Mosaic in red and gray

Red Power was was inspired by a photograph of Chinese labourers painting the exterior of a power plant, hanging on long ropes.
Photo © Heather Vollans.

You’re originally from Australia and you’ve traveled a lot around Europe and the Middle East. How have your experiences in different parts of the world influenced you? Did your travels play a role in you becoming a mosaic artist?

My years of travelling definitely influenced me – especially in terms of use of colour. Being Australian I was already influenced by desert colours and earth tones, but then living in the desert those colours became an even stronger influence. The textures and contours of the sand, the vegetation and shadows also had an effect. And all these years later l see some of those same textures, shadows and contours in the snow!

The textiles of Europe were another big influence. I am drawn to textures wherever I am – and it’s all around us… rusting metals, patterns of dirt and grime on a truck, plastic wrapping materials, old paint peeling, bark, ripples on water… I journeyed through many arts/crafts before finally discovering mosaic about 10 years ago, but all of those influences are part of the place I have come to.

The mosaic on this side of the wall is composed of stones, driftwood, black glass, travertine, marble, slate tile, slag, terracotta - all salvaged or taken from nature.

Mission Statement mosaic is composed of stones, driftwood, black glass, travertine, marble, slate tile, slag, and terracotta – all salvaged or taken from nature.
Photo © Heather Vollans

My favorite piece of yours is this amazing four-paneled mosaic wall you’ve built on the property beside your studio, which you describe as your mission statement. It embodies your enthusiasm for making mosaics using natural and salvaged materials, and it represents many of the themes and values central to your art including man’s journey through the ages and his relationship with nature. What was the most important you learned while making it? Does the wall provoke any reaction from passers-by who see it from the road?

The materials were important to me. They symbolised the waste in our world. I wanted to use materials which were just lying around, having been discarded, to make this statement. Much of the ‘process’ for me was the gathering of the materials, cleaning them, sorting and storing them before coming up with the design.

The other side of the Mission Statement wall - this is the side seen from the road

The other side of Mission Statement wall, facing the road

I’ve learned such a lot doing this large project: the biggest is – dream big, think about it, research it, keep the passion, work at it … you can make it happen. The thinking/dreaming/planning process for this wall took far longer than it actually took to build and mosaic! The building and mosaic work took 2 summers. Other things I learned were: you don’t have to do it alone. Surround yourself with enthusiastic supporters – get friends involved, run a class around it, throw a bar-b-que in with it and people will come to help. Another thing: research materials and construction methods well before you take on something this big – and build beyond specifications, especially in Canada where nature takes its toll on everything. Build to last.

Slate mosaic

This piece was created using slate roof tiles discarded after renovation of a victorian house.

We get a lot of reaction from people passing by on the highway – strangers come up the drive and ask to see it. Often when I meet people and tell them where I live they say “you mean the place with the big wall?” It’s gratifying that people notice and even more gratifying that people understand why I did it.

I love your philosophy of creating art from materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. You use salvaged construction materials and discarded objects in your mosaics, as well as natural stone.  Do you have any good scavenging stories?

I have salvaged stuff all my life and yes, I have many great stories. It’s the materials I find that fire my work. I always begin with materials, rather than the idea or design. My work is all about the process – the thrill of the find, the endless hours of thinking about how to combine my treasures with other materials, and the final production.  All of this process is as important as the final result.

Working in construction, I have come across some wonderful dumpster materials – aluminum, ceramics, wood, rusty nails, copper and other metals. Once you take away from your mind the expected use of these materials you can see them purely as textures to be played with.

Mosaic sculpture using salvaged construction materials

The crushed Tim’s cup in the tool belt? My favorite part of the sculpture!
Women in Skilled Trades, back and front views. Photo © by Heather Vollans.

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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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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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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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