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Scott Fitzwater: 'Sketches in Slate'

If the grey metamorphic rock known as slate could revert to the flow of its volcanic origins, it might resemble the dynamic new works of the mosaic artist Scott Fitzwater.

Portland mosaic artist Scott Fitzwater will attend the opening night reception at IMA, Sept.19.

Portland mosaic artist Scott Fitzwater will attend the opening night reception at IMA, Sept.19.

Opening September 19, the Institute of Mosaic Art will host the Portland artist’s solo exhibition “Sketches in Slate,” featuring Fitzwater's year long exploration of slate as a mosaic material. From the flowing lines and curtains of color in his early “Progress” to the chunky chaos and subtle color overlay in his most recently completed “Diversity Gradient,” “Sketches in  Slate” gives viewers the rare opportunity to see this body of work in one show. 

Fitzwater is a largely self-taught artist who began his exploration of mosaics in 2008 after retiring from a career in software engineering.

“It looked constructive yet was expressive; the small pieces could display fluidity and texture; could make angles and curves yet mosaic techniques remained mysterious and unknown to me,” he recalls.

He went to the best sources, traveling throughout Asia, Europe and the U.S. to study the techniques and scope of this diverse art form. 

“I discovered that mosaic art was ancient, contemporary, architectural, functional, religious, community based, fine art, folk art, geometric patterns, portraiture, scenes of nature, animal depictions and abstractions and it all mesmerized me,” he has written.
"Bee Muse" a study in Fibonacci geometry, won the People's Choice Award at the IMA Seeing Color exhibit in 2014.

"Bee Muse" a study in Fibonacci geometry, won the People's Choice Award at the IMA Seeing Color exhibit in 2014.

Not surprisingly, he favors the abstract. Geometry plays a strong role in his designs, which often reference ancient Roman, Byzantine and Moorish patterns. Noted Bay Area mosaicist Michael Kruzich, a master of the Italian Ravenna technique who is also known for intricate, perfectionist designs, notes that Fitzwater’s work reveals “an advanced sensitivity and awareness of line, composition and the effect it can have on the eye and emotions.”

Of note to math geeks and techies: several of Fitzwater’s works were inspired by the 12th century Italian mathematician known as Fibonacci.

“Having been a creative and technical type throughout my adult life, Fibonacci math and objects called to me,” he explains. “I saw it in art, in architecture, in nature, in the universe - everywhere. So, when I started creating art, I naturally relied on Fibonacci to guide me in my creativity. I'm no longer so dependent on it.”

When he started working with slate - prompted by a discovery of slate roofing tiles -- the nature of the material led him toward a more organic and improvisational creative process. 

"Subterranean" 2014  Slate, thinset, Wedi substrate

"Subterranean" 2014  Slate, thinset, Wedi substrate

In his piece, “Subterranean,” his intention to explore the movement of lines as they flowed encountered the stone’s opposing course, which he “inevitably, slid past,” he says. He was able to repeat this process in subsequent slate works.

'A Prayer for Earth' 2014, slate, tusk shells, thinset, hand-made substrate

'A Prayer for Earth' 2014, slate, tusk shells, thinset, hand-made substrate

“A Prayer for Earth,” begun with a contemplation of “heaven, hell and our corporeal existence,” was waylaid by a new focus on “our physical lives on earth and  how humans have exacted a terrible toll on our small, rocky planet.”

Indeed, many of the works in this exhibit, with titles like “Gene Pool,” “10Billion Max,” “Biotic Attrition,” and “Reef Gap,” evidence a preoccupation with human-caused environmental impact on the planet, perhaps related to his growing intimacy with the material.

“Scott has had great success building a relationship with slate, which, in my experience, has a mind of its own and is a very challenging material to bend to your will,” Kruzich observes. “Unlike some other natural stone, which is more willing to be formed, you often have to merge your vision with slate and allow yourself to use it for its inherent personality rather than insisting it behave like something else.”

Scott Fitzwater will attend the Opening Night reception Sept. 19 from 5-7 pm. at the IMA, 805 Allston Way, Berkeley, between 5th and 6th Streets. It is free and open to the public. The show runs until November 8, 2015. For further information visit http://www.instituteofmosaicart.com

See more of the artist's work at: http://fitzwatermosaic.net

--Laura Paull, General Manager, IMA