A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 167: The Living Mosaics of Gaudi

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Lately I have been having some fun with mosaic. Or it has been having fun with me. It started with me cutting up some craft foam and playing around with it. Since then, a few artworks have emerged which I’ve posted to this blog over the last few weeks. Yesterday I thought I’d actually do some research into great mosaic art in the world and, lo and behold, I was reminded that I once spent a rainy Spring afternoon in the midst of a host of mosaic masterpieces.

When I was 21 I studied in Spain during the Winter and Spring of 1987, living in the small town of Denia on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Each month we had a weekend excursion to a different locale to learn more about the culture and history of Spain. One of those trips was to the incomparable city of Barcelona. It was there that we spent a chunk of one of our days roaming around Parc Guell, a stunning public park designed by the one and only Antonio Gaudi of La Sagrada Familia fame. Here is photo evidence of me at the park in Barcelona on that soggy Spring day:

Ron at parc guell

Handsome young fella, isn’t he? Wonder what happened to him…

Anyway, the park! Well, the park felt like it was alive. Gaudi’s creations are so organic, so full of motion and soul, that you feel like they’re growing and breathing around you. There isn’t a straight line to be found, much like the reality of the natural world we live in. It is us who have tried to superimpose order on what is meant to be much more free-flowing, entwining, and, yes, invasive. Gaudi sought to reclaim some of that in his architecturally brilliant and eccentric creations. Parc Guell is another magnificent example of his genius.

So in celebration of the mosaic and a true master of the form, here are a few photos of that incredible place I had the good fortune to visit all those years ago…

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 163: Rage, Rage…

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“Rage, Rage…” Mosaic on canvas, Craft foam and coloured burlap , 2017

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas and one of my favorite poems inspired my latest artwork. I have been into the mosaic form of late, trying out some new things, experimenting a bit. I had purchased what I like to call “Wal-Mart Art” from a second-hand store in order to use it for artwork but didn’t really know what I was going to use it for. By “Wal-Mart Art” I mean those factory-produced pieces you can purchase at a store for home decorating. I know that sounds demeaning but, honestly, if you’re going to spend money on art, buy some made by a local artist, not a your local Ikea or whatever. That being said, I appreciate that someone originally bought that so that, eventually, I could buy it and turn it into something else!

Ah, life is full of ironies…

I recently came home with a book of poetry (also purchased second-hand… I sense a theme here) in which I’ve been discovering or re-discovering some amazing works. The Thomas poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night” resonated with me strongly, probably more so now that I am into my 50’s, dealing with some physical and mental strains, than back in my 20’s when I first studied the poem in college. As I thought of those powerful words of the poem, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” and my work in mosaic of late, I decided to combine the two.

First, I painted the entire “Wal-Mart Art” piece black (start humming the Rolling Stones tune… now!). I then did some sketching out of how I wanted to space the words. I cut out some templates for the bigger words to make sure everything fit and drew some light outlines of them on the canvas. Then I chose what colors and what shapes I wanted to use, sliced and diced my craft foam and colored burlap, got out the Modge Podge and went for it.

I didn’t do a great job of photo-journaling the process, but below are a few pics to help you see the start-to-finish of this work. First, I’ve printed the Dylan Thomas poem again:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

 

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 143: Bob Dylan Dream

Bob Dylan Dream

“Bob Dylan Dream”, Craft foam and colored burlap mosaic, 2017

Continuing on in my mosaic theme of late…

I had purchased more craft foam and some sheets of colored burlap from the dollar store. I had a canvas covered in black gesso all ready to go. I had a new jar of Modge Podge. All I needed was an idea.

And nothing. Nada. Zip. Nothing came to me. Nothing for about two or three weeks.

It’s like that sometimes for me. Maybe it’s that way for you, too – whatever your form of expression may be.  I’ll wait for that elusive muse. Often the wait drives me crazy. But I know better than to force something. When I do, my heart’s not in it.

This time around, as I was waiting, all it took was a glance at the Bob Dylan book of lyrics setting next to my favorite chair in the living room. I had been paging through it, using it as a reference for last Sunday’s God Quote (Day 141). I put it down and looked at the iconic photo of the 1965/66 Dylan from the Highway 61-era.

Boom! There it was. I had my inspiration. I was hoping to create a painting per month in 2017 in honor of the artists who have inspired me. We’re five months in and I’ve only done two. Sigh… But here was my chance to do up some artwork in honor of one of my favorite musicians all time. Not a painting, however, but what the hell? Art is about breaking your own rules too.

I wanted it to be more than a portrait; something that reflected the artist and his art. Dylan has always been an enigma. I can’t remember who said it but my favorite quote about him goes something like, “Dylan has so many sides to him, he’s round.” It should be something that reflects his status as the most frustratingly impossible-to-pin-down singer-songwriter in rock history. I also wanted to include some words because, well, Dylan without words is like Ansel Adams without film for his camera.

But what words? The man has written thousands and thousands of words. I didn’t want it to be the cliche Dylan lyric. Nothing from “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Tangled Up in Blue”. So I started paging through that book of lyrics to find inspiration.

It didn’t take me long to come across a line that seemed to work well with what I knew was going to be a trippy portrait. It comes at the end of one of his “talking blues” songs from early on in his career, from his 1962 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The song is “Talkin’ World War III Blues” and it is freakin’ hilarious. Here is the section of lyrics from that song where I found my quote for the mosaic:

Well, now time passed and now it seems/ Everybody’s having them dreams/Everybody sees themselves/Walkin’ around with no one else/Half of the people can be part right all of the time/Some of the people can be all right part of the time/But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time/I think Abraham Lincoln said that/”I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours”/I said that

So I had it all now. The materials, the inspiration, the image, the words. Below are a few photos of the process. At the end, I had a wildly colorful, puzzle-like portrait befitting the complicated man simply known as Bob.

 

Bob Dylan Dream

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 122: Be Cheerful!

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Be Cheerful and Live Your Life, Ronald Kok, 2017, foam mosaic on canvas

And now for something completely odd

If you’ve visited this space over the last couple of weeks, you’ve seen me experimenting with different forms of mosaics. First it was an Easter cross I made for that Sunday morning, next it was a self portrait in colored foam from the dollar store. Here are those two pieces:

As is often the case when you’ve got something on the brain, just a couple days after finishing the above self portrait (as well as guiding my students in creating their own foam mosaics), a Facebook page I like, Colossal, posted an article about an amazingly well-preserved mosaic from the third century that was recently unearthed by archaeologists in Turkey. Here is that mosaic:

mosaic-1

Below is a brief description found on the Colossal website:

Archaeologists in Turkey recently unearthed an exceptionally preserved mosaic inside the remains of a building from the 3rd century. One section of the three-panel artwork includes a reclining skeleton with an arm over its head, holding a glass of wine and resting an elbow on a loaf of bread. On both sides of its head reads the phrase “Be cheerful and live your life,” written in Greek. The purpose of the building surrounding the mosaic, and even when it was made is currently being debated. Some experts believe the triptych was simply the floor of a wealthy person who could afford to have it built, while others think it might be a message in a soup kitchen urging people to get their food quickly and leave. The History Blog has a great analysis and quite a bit more background if you’re interested. (via The History Blog)

Here is a photo of the triptych to give you an idea of size and context:

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This was all too wonderful for me to pass up. The incongruity here, the humor combined with commentary had me hooked right away. Why a skeleton along with the words “Be cheerful and live your life”? Was the artist inserting a reminder of mortality, an “eat, drink, be merry for tomorrow we die” kind of vibe? It has to be the quirkiest mosaic I’ve ever seen. So, naturally, since I was having fun with mosaics myself, I decided to recreate it in foam as I did with my self portrait.

I don’t have photos of the entire process but I share a few here that I did take. To say that this was fun is an understatement. I suppose there is a bit of commentary along with the comedy in my version of this mosaic, as well. The fact that I used animal patterned colored foam from the dollar store could be a statement all by itself!

The bread and wine became pizza and some kind of beverage in my version of the mosaic. The reclining posture of the skeleton, along with its expression and ribs and hipbones, etc. was a joy to recreate. In some ways I think I might have been feeling the same sense of joy the original artist felt. When you think about it, that is both funny and profound all at once, kind of like the mosaic itself!

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 118: Self-Portrait on the Cheap

Self portrait in craft foam 2017

Self-Portrait in Craft Foam, 2017

Happy Friday, everybody! True to form (or foam), whenever I’m trying out something new, I often try it out on a self-portrait.

I decided to create some kind of mosaic with craft foam we had hanging around at work. Not knowing what I would make, I chose my fall-back subject matter: Me. This is truly a self-portrait on the cheap as the foam and school glue used to affix it to paper were all purchased at a dollar store. I was very limited in my color choices but that just made the whole thing more challenging and fun.

The mosaic style has always fascinated me: How our brains take shapes and colors, laid out on a flat surface in some pattern, and turns them into something that looks like something we can recognize! On one level, it is just rough, geometric shapes sitting close to each other on a piece of paper; on another level, it’s a portrait of a dude with a beard that kind of looks like me, even if there is quite literally no color in the image that corresponds directly to the colors you would see when looking at me in real life.

Art and its ways of lying to get at the truth never ceases to fascinate me.