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Tile Style - Mosaics

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Photography courtesy of SICIS, Mosaicist and Jo Thorpe.

As both art form and functional design element, mosaic has rarely drifted out of vogue since the Mesopotamians first embedded terracotta cones into the surfaces of pillars a staggering four thousand years before Christ. Evolving in detail and complexity at the hands of the Greeks, specially manufactured tesserae (tiles) were crafted from stone and glass providing subtle colour variations and textures used to depict more sophisticated subject matter. In time, the Romans adopted similar techniques used typically in mosaic floor medallions favouring geometrical patterning and guilloche intertwined rope borders.

The fifth-century rise of the Byzantine Empire heralded an influx of Eastern influences, characterised most notably by the use of smalti tiles (handcrafted opaque glass tiles). Used to stunning effect in wall and vault mosaics – examples of which can be found to this day in Italy, Venice and Istanbul – the minute air bubbles and silver-and-gold backing resulted in a new shimmer effect as light refracted on the uneven surface.

Fast forward to the eighth-century and the introduction of mathematically intricate, Islamic designs, brought into the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors, signalled yet another new direction for mosaic. However, flowerdespite countries developing unique, decorative styles such as the use of zillij tiles (terracotta tiles covered in enamel) in Arabic countries, the Middle Ages brought about a temporary waning of interest in mosaic art.

a resurgence
Fuelled by the Victorian era’s concentration of wealth, the inexorable art form resurfaced and has shownlittle sign of relinquishing its hold on the design world since. With the flamboyant art of Gaudi’s Güell Park

and the idiosyncratic work of Raymonde Isidore to bridge the gap between functionality and high art, mosaic has, not surprisingly, been embraced by companies like Florida’s Mosaicist.

Using an entirely handmade process, including ancient hammering, cutting and smelting techniques to produce charmingly irregular smalti with their trademark colour purity and porcelain-like brilliance, Mosaicist boasts artisans of the calibre of Master Luigi workingScodeller, fifty year veteran of the Scuola di Mosaico Irene in Spilinbergo, Italy.

pool-mosaicAs well as offering bespoke pieces, borders, Venetian rugs and medallions intended to heighten a sense of illusion, the Byzantine Empire Collection depicts lavish, classical themes in an array of luxuriant palettes, tones, blends and finishes. Elsewhere, precious and semi-precious marble inlay recreates a sumptuous grandeur to befit the most ornate cathedrals, mansions and grand palazzos the world over, while the contemporary Environmental Collections feature captivating aquatic artwork in limitless combinations and designs of almost photographic exactitude as well  as more interpretive pieces.

tiles of a stylista
Across the pond, free-spirited personal mosaicist, Jo Thorpe’s eye for colour and composition has cast her as a foremost innovative mosaic artist. Her trendsetting works are primarily inspired by nature, painting, contemporary life and her ceiling

intoxicating joie de vivre. With titles like Passion Flower, Peacock and Dayglo Flo, she composes with the sensibilities of a fine artist, inspired by pleasure, beauty, texture and colour. “I think about colour all the time,” she laughs.

Thorpe’s multifarious influences include pop designer, Sister Corita Kent, Russian mosaicist, Boris Anrep, and elusive Parisian hit-and-run tile artist, Space Invader. While specialising in decorative cut-piece mosaic in vitreous glass, smalti, ceramic and marble for public and private settings anywhere from swimming pools and wet rooms to wall panels and floors, Thorpe still finds time to teach and is one of few local artisans capable of restoring glazed tiles.

Not surprising then, that commissions include work for the National Portrait Gallery, the War Office and the Victoria and Albert Museum – not to mention a host of celebrity clients. Importing tiles from around the world, Thorpe’s quirky and visually stimulating masterworks range from unique, custom pieces to button mosaic vintage coffee tables and an in-situ smalti and gold leaf installment depicting the Martyrdom of St. Thomas at Westminster Cathedral.

Soon to add her distinctive style to a specially commissioned mosaic for Seagull Condominiums on Grand Cayman’s famed Seven Mile Beach, Jo Thorpe’s designs are the perfect fit for Caribbean flair.

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pioneering design
Driven by a desire to move mosaic, “from the annals of history to the modern age,” industry leaders at Italy’s SICIS’ Art Mosaic Factory, have changed the face of mosaic art with collections that are consummately progressive and design savvy.

 

birdColibri glass collections, incorporating luminescent gold, silver and platinum tiles, create magnificent walls of texture and style inspired by Art Nouveau, Egyptian grandeur and Hollywood glamour. Flower Power celebrates colour and form,juxtaposing simple, monochromatic blooms against dramatic geometric backgrounds, while Metallismo’s trailblazing steel and brass tiles introduce a new and exciting urbanistic edge. Add to this SICIS’ modular woven stone rugs, evocative of the mood and energy of ancient empires, and cutting-edge bath, lighting and portrait galleries and the effects are pure brilliance.

From traditional to trendy, medieval to modern, mosaic’s durability and universal appeal blur the distinctions between high art and folk craft; religious and secular; ancient and modern. Effortlessly versatile, it is a classic design chameleon, able simultaneously to span time and distance, to reinvent itself anew in order to create effects time and time again that are greater than the sum of each tiny part.­

For more information on SICS - The Art Mosaic Factory, visit their website.


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