Will the real Michael Kruzich please stand up?
Is he the mosaic artist whose glass portraits of San Francisco drag queens smashed open the subject spectrum of contemporary American mosaics in 2010? (and who walked off with the Member's Choice Award at the 2011 Mosaic Arts International Exhibit in Austin for his extravagant portrait of “Miss Anita Cocktail”?)
Or is he the artist known for incredibly meticulous stone, smalti and marble mosaics that look much like those of the ancients - but newer?
Or -- wait a minute -- wasn’t there also a dancer who performed with the Smuin Ballets/SF and the San Francisco Opera named Michael Kruzich?
Truth is, he is all of the above and more: a gifted mosaic teacher and an artist on the ascent whose penchant for technical mastery bridges his careers in two vastly different art media.
Upon learning that Michael is/was a professional dancer not so many years ago, many mosaic students want to know -- how in the world...?
So: we asked. And to the extent that one can ever explain why one is driven to excel in a particular art medium -- no less two! -- Michael’s answers are worth passing on.
One art form is “ephemeral” and the other “permanent,” but dance and mosaic art are both non-verbal expressive art forms, he explains. Both arts require "almost superhuman commitment, will, repetition, and are extremely labor intensive over a long period of time. And both require LOTS of time and practice to get good at it.”
“Sadly,” he adds with an ex- dancer's melancholy, “one burns a lot of calories and one does not.”
How he developed this formidable work ethic and found his way into these two equally demanding arts, and how they have fed one another in his output, are fascinating tales for a longer article.
“Many aspects of my professional dance and theatrical background present themselves in my mosaic works,” he says. “They are often characterized by light, movement, energetic visual dynamics and a high level of detail. These are the what turn me on and motivate me the most.”
At the same time, his work is deeply informed by classical aesthetics and -- needless to say -- technique.
“I work most often with natural stone and Italian glass, primarily using ancient techniques developed in Italy before and during the Byzantine period. I find the qualities of these materials, combined with the classical methods, convey a sense of timeless strength, importance and elevation to whatever subject is rendered in this meticulous discipline,” he says. Clearly he takes his callings very seriously.
"Art has been my life’s work," he says. "I approach it with great passion, devotion and responsibility. To create an enveloping experience for the viewer is my goal, and in every discipline, I bring together many detailed pieces to make up a grand overall impression.
With a series of visiting artist workshops with Michael Kruzich scheduled at the IMA in February, we’re interested in highlighting how his strong values and diverse experience play out as a teacher.
Who should take his classes? And why?
Well, other than the fact that he is cool, and well-organized, and encourages people to stretch frequently throughout a day-long workshop...Michael’s classes provide a solid foundation in the skills that artists will need to accomplish their individual vision. Although students will complete classes with projects shaped by his preparations, their purpose is not to offer an artistic template for students to replicate, but to give them the vocabulary to be truly creative.
“Techniques are languages," he says. "It takes time and commitment to ‘doing the work’ to become fluent. In visual arts, your words are formed with physical materials, and the more you know your materials and language, the better you will communicate."
To that end, Michael is offering a progressive curriculum of intensive courses in theory and practical methods that build upon the skills learned in prior classes. His own work is the best example of how mastery of these techniques has served him as an artist. Scheduled at the Institute of Mosaic Art are:
Feb. 13 and 14 Hammer and Hardie Boot Camps
Feb. 18, 19 and 20 Drawing Andamenti and Tessellation,
Feb 21 Creating a Working Palette: Value/Color/Gradient Skills
Feb. 24-28 Ravenna Method 5-Day Intensive
Any of the courses can be taken individually; the entire package could be seen as foundational and higher level training in the art of mosaic -- at a much lower cost than a trip to Italy. To sign up for any of these workshops, visit http://instituteofmosiacart.com/class-listings.
A dancer, bathed in sweat and barely controlling his elevated heart rate, takes a bow at the end of a performance knowing that "it is only the final magic the viewer perceives -- not all the work that went into achieving the effect," says Michael. So it is with the demanding, painstakingly slow art of mosaic. And that magic moment makes all the hard work “worth it.”