Before I Was An Artist, #7 / by Jacqueline Iskander Mosaics

In my last post in this series, I had made it to the early-mid 2000s. Around 2005, I  had my first website, which was just one of the benefits of having a computer nerd for a daughter. Not many mosaic artists had personal websites at that time, but within just a few years that would change. The internet gradually replaced my well-worn books as a strong source of inspiration, as I searched and increasingly found more mosaic sources online. 

Early in 2005 I found some information—some kind of blog post I believe—about Orsoni's Master Classes. After much thought, I decided to look into attending a 2-week class in June of 2006. This was quite a big thing for me to do, to travel to Venice all by myself, and for 2 weeks! At the time, I had been making mosaics for almost 10 years. However, I knew very little about art. I had no educational background and never really thought of art much beyond it being an aspect of room decor. 

My Orsoni experience proved to be quite pivotal for me and, although I did not know it at the time, started me on the path to becoming an artist

Master Class. 2006. 20" x 16" | 51cm x 41cm. Smalti, mosaic gold.

On left is the mosaic I made in my Orsoni master class. This was a huge challenge for me! First of all, nippers were not allowed in class—only hammer and hardie. I had virtually zero skill with the hammer, which resulted in oh-so-less-than perfect cuts. I fussed and fussed, trying in vain for a degree of precision that was unobtainable. I would try to force myself to accept what were, to me, unacceptable cuts. 

Antonella, observing my frustration, kindly laughed and said something about it being against my nature. It was that perfectionism that I wrote about in my last post, a perfectionism that, up until this point, had been my ally. But in a classroom environment when using new techniques, my perfectionism was proving to be a menace.

I chose the design so that I could learn a little about shading and blending. I could have done a bit of shading with pencil, perhaps, but translating it to individual pieces of color really was a challenge for me. Amazingly, I did get this panel finished before the class ended. 

One day during the class, Lucio Orsoni was showing us around the gallery/showroom which displayed some of his stunning, large-scale gold works, a few of Antonella's pieces, and some other mosaics. One of the pieces was a beautiful portrait, in what I believe was the Venetian double-indirect method, done quite some time ago after a painting. We were all oohing and aahing over it when Lucio said This is not mosaic!  Note that he did not say This is not a mosaic. He explained that it was a copy of a painting—done in service to a painting. At that time, I did not quite understand his point, neither did I understand when, in class, he would say Think mosaic! But, he planted a seed, so to speak. 

Overall, my Orsoni experience was quite positive, and I returned home fully energized and had begun my transformation from hobbyist to artist. From that point on, I was going to make art!

Of course, my first project would be smalti, Orsoni smalti. I had taken a picture from the classroom, which overlooked a balcony, and I decided to mosaic that image. I did my best to recreate that image with as much detail as I possibly could, and it was very, very difficult! I was proud of my accomplishment. 

When Maestro Orsoni told me that my work was technically perfect, well, that was quite a compliment. Too bad that it would be some time before I realized that there was something very important in what he did not say. 

L'entrata. 2007. 42" x 32" | 107cm x 81cm. Smalti.

I love this mosaic and in no way would I say that it is not a good mosaic. I achieved such fine detail and it really is a beautiful piece. Ironically, however, I believe that this work illustrates Orsoni's point when he said This is not mosaic! I had faithfully copied a photograph; the mosaic was created in service to the photo. It is a mosaic, but is it mosaic? This seemingly subtle distinction, as I have come to understand it, gradually revealed itself to me throughout the years of around 2007-2009, and I began to learn to think mosaic in the spirit that I believe Lucio Orsoni meant. 

Well, I think this is enough for one post. I'll continue with 2007 in the next installment.