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Elements of Tile : Mosaics Add Flash to Furniture, Architecture and Even Teapots

November 04, 1990|BARBARA THORNBURG

Mosaic. The word conjurs up ancient tableaus: Pompeian murals, Roman baths, domed Byzantine ceilings. In the 20th century the Art Nouveau architect, Antonio Gaudi, covered the undulating facade of Casa Battllo with polychrome tile and adorned the gothic spires of his most famous masterpiece, The Church of the Sagrada Familia with a dazzling display of mirror and glass. Closer to home, local folk-artist Simon Rodia labored on his world-renown sculpture--Watts Towers--encrusting them with crockery, sea shells and broken glass. Today artists, designers and architects throughout the Southland are experimenting with the age-old medium--reinterpreting it for the 90s.

Mosaic--the art of decorating a surface by inlaying small pieces of colored stone or glass in mortar--first appeared nearly 5,000 years ago in early Mesopotamia when it was used as a decorative protective covering for the perishable sun-dried brick architecture.

Modern mosaics, however, are more ornamental than functional. Artist Claudia Grau's Melrose boutique with its facade's four-eye-catching Gaudiesque columns. Inside the store, amorphous mosaic niches nest her textured clothing while an undulating floor mosaic snakes its way through the store. "I wanted the store to be organic, " she says.

After they moved into their new home, screenwriter Barbara Charboneau and her husband, Gershon Wanjtraub, decided to add mosaics to the area around the pool, which was designed in 1949 by Lloyd Wright for then-owners Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lanchester. "It looked like a penitentiary," Barbara says. Ceramic artist Jim Durney added colorful mosaic patios at either end of the pool. The abstract sunburst seems reminiscent of an ancient Mayan motif.

Durney designed the yellow and blue tiles in the center pattern and bought the rest from showroom around town. "The Wajntraubs wanted an almost pre-Columbian feel to the yard--the same feeling originally intended by Wright," he explains.

While mosaics in the past often covered sacred spaces, ritual instruments and jewelry, designers today, them to ordinary rooms (the bathroom walls in trendy Noa Noa restaurant sport mosaics by designer Larry Totah(TK)) and everyday objects.

Artist Holly Ann Collins did her first mosaic teapot 10 years ago and has been hooked on the medium ever since. Modern mosaics also incorporate an incredible array of new materials, including bottle caps, buttons, jewelry and marbles. Collins uncovered many of her treasures in an old beach dump. "I found little pieces of pottery and china, broken beads and dolls arms: The ocean had tumbled and transformed them into jewels."

Artist Barbara Field incorporates tiles from the 30s and 40s into her work. Field sugguests the resurgence of the colorful mosaic is a reaction to current architecture styles that have grown cold and bland. "We have a renewed interest in texture and warmth, " she explains. "Artists today are taking an ancient form and using it in a new way."

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