Why I Make: The Voice Within

Why I Make: The Voice Within


La Corrente (detail), 2010; Smalti, sea spines, shells, 24k gold leaf smalti, chalcedony and natural stone on mixed media base; 29 x 22 x 22 inches; Mosaic Arts International Best 3-D Mosaic Award, 2011

Stacy Bratton Photography

"There's a piece in my head and it needs to get out." This is the immediate answer to why I make fine art mosaics. I have two "branches" of work: the architectural mosaics I make for residential and commercial clients: floors, walls, kitchen backsplashes, even mosaic-clad pizza ovens - and what I call fine art sculpture. While I enjoy the challenge of designing and fabricating original works for architectural use, it's in my own sculptural work that I find my passion and voice.

I've always been drawn to sculpture more than any other medium. Once I start thinking about a piece, it takes on a life of its own, drawing meaning almost magnetically from whatever I'm fretting about at the moment. Whether the piece ultimately is pristine white and delicate, like La Corrente, or deep blue and serene like Night Shirt, each mosaic is an embodiment of something I need to say about the issues swirling around us. Environmental destruction, social and economic inequality, motherhood, and even the local water supply have inspired ideas for my work. I guess deep down I'm a worrier, but also a pragmatic optimist. I can't stop the fertilizer runoff leaching into the Gulf of Mexico, nor can I prevent a major oil spill. But I can fulfill the role of the artist by using the tools I have to create work that expresses my concerns and calls attention to our collective errors.

My growing "mosaic wardrobe" feels like a niche with endless possibilities. I can think of many pieces I'd like to make and each one is rooted in an issue. The challenge then is how to manipulate the slow and often tedious process of cutting and cladding in mosaic for the good of the whole idea.

I happen to love the handcrafted texture of mosaics, so that's the medium I'll always choose to express these ideas. I enjoy the process of creating a mosaic, too. Maybe it's a continuation of a love for jigsaw puzzles. A mosaic is a challenge in which you must fit your carefully shaped pieces into a cohesive whole - with no box cover for reference.

One of my Italian instructors implores his students to "let mosaic be mosaic," which I try to integrate into each piece. But I also want my sculptures to have a unique voice because they are engaging, modern ideas clad in an ancient technique. I hope that this dynamic tension between the medium and the message engages the viewer.

Julie RicheyJulie Richey earned a BA in Art History from the University of Dallas and lives in Irving, Texas. She has studied art history and mosaics in Italy and returned this fall to lead a Mosaic Masterpieces tour of Rome, Ravenna, and Venice. Winner of the international Orsoni Prize for mosaic art in 2009, her Night Shirt is part of the biennial Ravenna Mosaico exhibition October 8th - November 20th. See more of Julie's work at juliericheymosaics.com.

Why I Make is a guest series exploring the human impulse to create. Read more posts in the Why I Make archives or submit your own story.