Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



August 2008

"I could not stop smiling the whole time I was in Gaudí's Parc Güell. The mosaics made me want to go home, smash all of my pottery and cement the pieces onto the stone walls in the back yard. I want a huge, multi-colored mosaic lizard peaking at me from a tree. I want to be drunk with colors and hang upside down from arches plied with mosaic medallions."


Judy's Journal, June 2008

Construction/Deconstruction: Landscape Mosaics

Dear Reader,

Before I begin, I want to give you a heads-up to check out my ad in the September '08 ARTnews Artists Directory.

And if you haven't already ordered your copy of my limited edition (100) artist's book, Reciprocity, you might want to do it soon. This is my final production month; I will have made the last ten books to complete the edition. My plan is to place them on in the fall, and I want to make sure that my faithful readers don't miss this opportunity. Please go to the home page link for more information!

Now, to the subject at hand: the process that yielded my latest obsession, Landscape Mosaics. At this point, no images are available, so you will need to use your powers of visualization to imagine what I am writing about. As I compose this, there are five completed paintings in my studio and a box of ten canvases waiting. I never know how many paintings will spell "series," but I need to continue the exploration.

The seeds of obsession were planted in Barcelona (Judy's Journal, June 2008). The beginning quotation summarizes the extreme emotion I felt that day in Parc Güell when I saw the mosaics everywhere. The architect and ceramicist Josep Maria Jujol worked with Antoni Gaudí to create the zany, colorful dreamscape.

Recognizable shapes of flowers and geometric patterns abound throughout the Parc, but the undulating bench, which is purported to be the longest in the world, drove me wild. I asked John to photograph several sections up close. "The bench is decorated with abstract compositions coeval with the first non-figurative paintings of Kandinsky" (Juan-Eduardo Cirlot, Gaudi: An Introduction to His Architecture).

Where would this passion take me artistically? Well, for weeks, nowhere, but it was not surprising. Travel does not usually result in paintings specific to what I have seen. "Matisse…traveled in order to see his inner landscape in a fresh light" (Hilary Spurling, Matisse The Master: The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954).

However, images of the Parc mosaics were simmering, boiling, overflowing and finally, exploding. The flash point occurred because of an earlier experience: the flight from Paris to Madrid. I was lucky to have had a window seat, which gave me an aerial view of farms tucked in the valleys between the mountains. The undulating topography dictated fields shaped unlike the neat and immense rectangles of the US mid-west. They appear as freely formed, oddly outlined sections of crops: golds, greens, browns and oranges. Orchards were dotted with trees, casting long shadows in the early morning sun. Patterns within patterns. Faced with this spectacle, I searched for a way to name what I saw: abstract landscape mosaics.

About six weeks later, I made a 12" square painting which referenced my aerial view of the Spanish landscape. I hung it in the dining room, which is a place like the bedroom to live with and to study a recent piece. I cannot be sure what caused me to look at it one day and think: "This piece needs to be broken apart, like pottery." It would be a way of giving the areas of color visual "air."

Here was a painting that was resolved, finished, asking for nothing more to be added or changed. Why take a chance on wrecking it? Exactly. I heard myself saying: "So what? Let it go! Take the risk!"

My next step was to study John's close-up photos of the Parc bench and three Gaudí books I had purchased. I was searching for mosaic tile shapes and the look of the grout in between. I was most interested in the latter because of the grime and imperfections that come with age and being out in the weather. I noticed sharp, black shadows at the edges of tiles caused by the angle of sunlight when the photographs were taken. I recalled Susan Sontag's description of Willem DeKooning, who "admired gasoline stains on the sidewalk, marveled at the flicker where Mondrian's black bands cross, watched the interference patterns at the end of a day's television programming, [and] studied how the surface of coffee meets its container."

I cannot convey the thrill of breaking up the space of the first Landscape Mosaic. My hand was painting lines like cracks, but I was focused on the tile shapes that were being created. How would this area break, if it were a pottery plate? Joy, happiness, unimaginable bliss! I covered the sides of the canvas with more "tiles." I worked on.

By Landscape Mosaic III, I was ready to begin the composition by painting random shapes, instead of deconstructing a finished painting. When I was working on the fifth Landscape Mosaic, I started to break out in hives (Judy's Journal August 2006).

How long will this obsession last? I do not know, and I do not want to know. I will take it as far as I can, until I am repeating myself and/or am becoming bored. Who knows? I may have already painted my last Landscape Mosaic. But, I hope not because I am learning about line, color, shape and design, as well as having way too much fun.

Next month, I am planning to write about another inspired series, this time in reading. Meanwhile, you can write back to me if you have stories or insights about your artistic journey and/or connect with an experience in this month's journal (