Mosaic artists and teachers everywhere these days are turning to photography as a starting point for mosaic composition. Whereas a drawing was once the beginning point, representational mosaic artists increasingly use the digital information of a photo to make decisions about color, tone, perspective, and scale.
Kate Kerrigan links the two mediums in a direct way, having been a photographer before she studied traditional mosaic methods and materials in Italy. In the mosaic world she has inhabited for the past 17 years, she is known for precise yet moody urban landscapes, full of architectural details, pavement and shadows. Since her move to Lake Tahoe about four years ago, she has brought the same attention to compositions with mountains, lakes and trees, always focused on representations of the light.
At the Contemporary Mosaic Art Summit in Ashland earlier this month I had a chance to chat with her about the growth of the photographic trend, which is noticeable despite the concurrent favor enjoyed by abstract mosaics at the other end of the compositional spectrum.
Surprisingly, she was not fully aware of the number of artists today who build their mosaics literally on top of a posterized photocopy of a selected photo. Some instructors teach this method for classes in mosaic portraiture, for example. Because the end result utterly transforms the photo image, while creating an amazing similitude, they are not concerned with such issues as photographic copyright or the originality of the chosen photo.
Kate, on the other hand, only uses her own photographs in her work, and in fact states that she really can not or wouldn’t want to use photos taken by anyone else.
“My inspiration to create stems from what I see every day,” she has written. “I love composition and am constantly framing my surroundings. Through photography, I am able to capture it, the light, the moment, the perspective. Through mosaic, I am able to take what I see one step further and interpret it.”
Thus the initial view -- that which causes her to snap the shutter -- is the starting point of both the photo and the mosaic, if she chooses to make one.
“I think art starts with an original idea and requires the skill and technique to then execute it. The meaning is in the origin...the idea or concept. If I were to use someone else’s image, I am not producing art, I am simply replicating,“ she said.
In other words, both the composition and her emotional response to it are embedded in the original image and remain to be developed in the second medium.
“As an artist who works from my own photography, I don't strive for photo realism," she says.
"I take the concept/idea from my photographic compositions and then interpret it through stone or smalti. I either free hand draw it or loosely trace it, leaving all of the color choice, detail and execution up to me,” she told me. “It leaves a lot of room for interpretation. I love the texture and beautiful qualities that the art of mosaic brings to the piece. The mosaic is not a copy of the photo but rather becomes its own thing.”
Here are some examples of the transformation that occurs from one medium to the other, in Kerrigan's own work: