Mosaic and tile work at The Clay Studio sees the forest for the trees

arts / Article

March 24, 2015 by CSchwartz

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Right now The Clay Studio is asking visitors to see the big picture with a pair of exhibits from Chinese tile artist Hao Luo and the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA). Both shows at this Knight Arts grantee are focused on the sum of their parts: combining small pieces of ceramics and other materials to construct larger images that range from portraiture to landscapes and beyond.

Hao Luo, "Famous People."

In Hao Luo's “The Face of the City,” the Resident Artist at JianGuo Ceramic Culture Institute in Jingdezhen, China utilizes commercial tiles as the material of choice for his painted portraits, both large and small. Proceeding from the notion that a city is an enormous organism that consists of the collective daily lives of those within it, Luo goes about exposing some of the more famous individuals that contribute to the city as a whole.

Hao Luo's fragmented vision of Benjamin Franklin.

Hao Luo's fragmented vision of Benjamin Franklin.

One collection captures “Famous People,” from film stars to Nobel Prize winners in a cavalcade of faces, some more recognizable than others. In “Mr. President,” he turns his focus toward the political figureheads of the United States, diligently recreating every president on a small, square surface with china paint before firing them. Highlighting two of the more well-known founding fathers – George Washington and Philadelphia's very own Benjamin Franklin – Luo composes large-scale, 54-tile depictions of the two utilizing combinations of otherwise abstract, individual tiles; just like the city, no one person exists all of their own accord.

SAMA, whose pieces are on display in the Harrison and Reed Smith Galleries, obviously also work in aggregates, but their methods and products are substantially different from the representation and urban philosophy of Hao Luo. In the midst of “Mosaic Artists International,” the non-profit group includes work by four international figures active in the medium.

Karen Ami, "Limber."

Karen Ami, "Limber."

Karen Ami pieces together ceramic, stone, cut glass tiles and other substances on wood, polystyrene, and Hexalite to sculpt magnificent black and white forms that defy definitions. At one moment resembling woodcut prints, and at another marble statues, these creations are captivating in their ambiguity. For “Limber,” we find a pair of curved, dark regions connected only by a stretched, white band of sinew. As if alive, the two sections separately look weighty and solid, but the strand that joins them provides the illusion of flexibility in their interconnectedness.

Ilana Shafir, "Temples."

Ilana Shafir, "Temples."

Land and seascape scenes are the subjects of Ilana Shafir's dense constructions, which oscillate between city streets and ocean currents, sometimes seemingly within the same piece. The artist places stones, coral, shells and metallic tiles into the shapes of thoroughfares and houses, barnacles and kelp. Containing a wide range of organic patterns and textures, even where the titles and forms clearly indicate structures – in “Temples,” for instance – the component parts themselves hint at something aquatic, and for “In the Deep,” where the depiction is obviously underwater, the cobbled pieces of stone could be aerial views of streets. What is sure is that there is no shortage of variation here.

With the addition of culturally satirical assemblages by Carrie Reichardt and the lustrous, minimal compositions by Elaine M. Goodwin, the SAMA exhibition, along with the show by Hao Luo, provide plenty of artwork that allows us to truly see the forest for the trees. “The Face of the City” will be on view through March 29, and “Mosaic Artists International” will be up through April 19.

The Clay Studio is located at 137-139 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia; [email protected]; theclaystudio.org.

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