Mosaic Painting

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On personal trips to Rome I discovered ornate and enormous mosaic floors. In Palestrina you walk over windows revealing intricate Roman mosaics below. These were the floors of vast villas or grand bathhouses. On a more intimate scale Romans created minute micro-mosaics for personal items. The miniature tiles are so small as to fool the eye into thinking they must be small paintings.

Our perceptual system comfortably accommodates the mosaic arts. We scan and aggregate unfocused information into a singular identity.  Just as we enjoy looking at the loose brushwork in an impressionist painting, mosaics present a fractured image which we easily assemble into a seamless experience by stepping back.  We then re-focus our experience to discern how we have been deceived. The discovery is a delightful one.  Both the artist and the viewer walk back and forth when studying a painting to experience its magical ability to deceive while almost simultaneously showing us how the deception works.

Contemporary artists like Raqib Shaw work in the micro-mosaic tradition of cloisonné.  With enamels applied through syringes within wired perimeters the image slowly aggregates into an illusion of great precision. Shaw frequently distorts historical paintings to create new works with his cloisonné system. Example one presents an historical precedent by Albrecht Durer of the visiting Magi. Example two presents Shaw’s re-interpretation.

Example 1. Albrecht Durer, Visit of the Magic from around 1500.

Example 2. Contemporary artist Raqib Shaw with his cloisonné retro-fitting of the theme.

Example  2a. A detail from The Raqib Shaw work illustrating the automomous cloisonne shapes as they are joined together side-by side.

Contemporary artist Kehinde Wiley will create a flat pattern and let this pattern interweave with his 3-dimensional painted illusion/portrait. The image wants to be both a flat pattern and a 3-d illusion. ( example3).

Example 3.  Kehinde Wiley contemporary portrait,

In my following examples I use a pre-existing painting as a source for flattened decorative effects which are revealed after I over-paint the painting and start a new image on top. The older substrate becomes a source for decorative mining in the second stage of the painting.

Example 4 presents the older work which I recover with the image in example 5. Example 5 has been selectively excavated to reveal bits of the submerged earlier work.  The excised areas appear as odd bits of lost mosaic scattered across the surface of the new painting. Their new shapes and context give them a new identity.

Example 4.  Step one, an earlier work which is sacrificed for the excisions revealed in step two.

Example 5. Step two, present state of the image “Wild Garden Experiments” with revealing excisions of parts of the substrate.

My last example uses another older painting (example 6) which is then over painted, selectively excised and then finally spot-painted in a mosaic-like fashion (example 7).

Example 6. Step one, the original painting to be over-painted then selectively excised.

Example 7. Step two, Present state of new image ” Natural Patterns” with excisions and overlaying patterned paint marks.

I invite you to join me in November at Art of the Carolinas, sponsored by Jerry’s Artarama in Raleigh, N.C. I have three one-day workshops. Friday, November 15, it’s “Spectacular Flowers” from 9 to 4, use code FR 1907 to register.  Saturday, it’s Water Scapes” from 9 to 4, use code SA1907 to register.  And, Sunday, it’s “Natural Patterns, Abstracting Nature” from 9 to 4 use code SU1907 to register. Go to to register.

I have a few openings in my Raleigh NC workshop at the Centerpiece Gallery. This is a three day workshop covering historical as new techniques and ideas. September 11th through the 13th. Call them at 919-838-8580  or,




4 Responses

  1. Denise Petit

    Intriguing and inspiring!!! I have to exercise more restraint on my “painting over something else” trials. I tend to cover too much, and then not take the new away enough.
    The transformation that happens in yours is wonderful!

  2. Linda Peduzzi

    It’s great to see the new paintings that hold some aspects of the originals. They have an entirely different feeling to them. I’ve done this with a few of my own paintings and seeing these examples makes me want to tackle a few more. Beautiful work, David!

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