Archive for January, 2016

#HeartsinSF: On Wings of Love

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 29, 2016 by Laura Paull

When I was offered the chance to “make a heart” for an annual fundraiser for the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, I hesitated for a moment. I’d never made a three-dimensional mosaic, per se. It had to have technical issues — that point at the bottom, for example, where everything converges? That cleft between the two upper chambers?

But a challenge is a challenge. And besides, I have a special feeling about San Francisco General. In the mid-1980s, as a rookie reporter for the old San Francisco Examiner, I spent an afternoon in what was then called “the AIDS Ward.” It was the height of the AIDS epidemic, people were dying in droves in cities like San Francisco, and those who weren’t yet ill were in a panic. But every Saturday, a skinny blonde woman from the Midwest called “Rita Rockett,” who had come to California looking for the Hollywood dream and found only waitressing jobs, volunteered in the AIDS Ward to “give back” to the gay men who had made her dislocation tolerable. She  cooked massive amounts of food and the hospital allowed her to wheel it up to the ward, where so many were wasting away. The patients invited their friends, family, lovers and ex-lovers.  Everyone ate a non-institutional meal, and for at least that one day out of every seven, it was almost a party. Many of the patients had nowhere else to go in their condition; it would be their last ‘home.’  So the sense of community established by this crisis ritual was essential in staving off the terror: the terror of those who would tumble importunately into eternity, and of those who would lose them.

I remember learning that a handsome, green-eyed visitor who conversed with me in a deep baritone voice was the star of many a gay porn video; he said he felt a deep responsibility to “be there” for the fellas. And I remember that the squeamishness I had to repress when pushing the ‘up’ button of the elevator, was very much gone by the time I pressed the button to go down.

So yes, I said yes, and started the project. Thirty days we were given, to turn it in.

Soon a little box arrived from the HeartsinSF campaign offices, incredibly heavy for its dimensions. Inside, I found a pure white cast heart on a stand.  The mosaic equivalent of the white page. I loved contemplating its possibilities.

White HeartHeart- beginning

It didn’t take long to decide I was going to make a cockatoo. People asked me: how did I come to that? I have to confess: it was the color of a piece of stained glass I found, ranging in shades from deep orange to white through the spectrum of peaches and corals — it just said “cockatoo” to me. Which brought to mind a white cockatoo named “Marilyn,” who I used to visit in a Modesto flower shop.

From there I began to cut and sort the tesserae, and pencilled the bird on the virgin heart. With the very first pieces I laid down- the cockatoo’s face — I knew it was going to work. The project was a pleasure from start to finish, although fitting the pale blue tile into the upper crevice of the heart was indeed very difficult.Heart-Cutting Tess

Cockatoo face beginning

Heart rear before grout











Heart bef Grout

The pale gray grout tended to tone down the bright oranges and blues (see before – above- and after- below.) But it was the best possible choice, I think.

On Wings of Love front viewOn Wings of Love rear view

Eleven hearts designed by San Francisco artists will be displayed in the windows of the Neiman Marcus department store in Union Square and four in Wilkes Bashford, until February 16, when they will hopefully be sold at auction to benefit the new Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.

It is indeed a very good thing that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife gave $75 million to this cause. But I gave my heart.

My Heart in NM window

Four of the hearts (‘On Wings of Love” is at left) in the window of Neiman Marcus in Union Square, San Francisco. 


Darkness Visible

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on January 25, 2016 by Laura Paull

On an inspired flight back from my first SAMA (Society of American Mosaic Artists) conference, in Austin, 2011, I sat furiously typing notes into my iPad for a dozen or more new mosaic pieces. Seeing such a variety of brilliant, original work had shattered my concepts of mosaic art in the best way. Images lined up in my imagination whose fulfillment would devour my foreseeable future.

Then I looked out the airplane window and realized we were on the ground. We had made a pit stop in Denver and were waiting on the runway. It was late night. Nothing was moving but a slow mist descending on the asphalt, making gauzy moons of the harsh airport lamps. Winking lines of blue and red lights spoke to pilots in the air. Parked airplanes lined the runway like a descending chord, tail fins shrinking into oblivion. In the distance, a suggestion of mountains was another shade of dark. Click. Another vision shaped the slow trajectory of my creative production.

It was the summer of 2015 before that image fell into the front slot of my mental slide projector. I was heading for a summer workshop with Sonia King at West Dean College, in England. I needed a project that was portable and small enough to accomplish in the 5-day class. About the size of an airplane window.

I made my sketch before leaving home and was surprised at how vivid the image had remained in my mind, how relatively easy it was to convey perspective and distance given a line of airplanes of diminishing size. But what I realized was that I had stumbled onto a subject that, unlike anything I’d done and very little that I had seen before, was about darkness. All that was light in it would be in service to the portrayal of the night. It was a study in black.

Me working at West Dean.jpg

Blissful beginnings at West Dean.

I brought a variety of dark art glass–one  with misty swirls of white, another with the navy blue glitter of a wet night sky–and some small tiles with variegated black and silver patterns. I brought metallic glass for the airplanes, red and blue for the runway lights. I found matte black Cinca tiles at West Dean. I had no idea how I would combine these materials, but that was the work of the intensely peaceful five days I spent at West  Dean under the tolerant, encouraging tutelage of Sonia King.

Despite the fact that my piece was entirely different from anyone else’s work, or anything I had ever seen in mosaic, and that I am sure nobody entirely understood what I was trying to do, I  moved forward as if I did.

Three days into the exercise I jotted down in my notebook,

“This is not about an airport runway. It is about forms disappearing into the dark.”

For whatever reason, these are the visual compulsions that truly govern us.

The only downside was that art whose dominant color is black is notoriously impossible to photograph, not to mention the intrinsic challenges of conveying the 3-D values of mosaic in 2-D photography. Two professional photographers took a shot at it.  This is the best I’ve got, for now.

Darkness Visible



Where Do Our Creative Visions Come From?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 25, 2016 by Laura Paull

When I went to England last summer to take Sonia King’s course at West Dean College, I left behind an uncompleted mosaic that represented a new challenge for me. While representational in style–a landscape with specific elements–I wanted to make an ungrouted mosaic that used natural materials–stones, matte ceramic tiles–nothing ornamental. I didn’t want to be the crow attracted to shiny objects. NOT that there’s anything wrong with that.

The landscape I had in mind was one that I had seen every winter in the California Central Valley–vast expanses of pale buff hills populated by grazing sheep. Migrating white cranes would settle into the fields, enjoying a symbiotic relationship with the sheep that had something to do with their dung, and the contrast of the wooly animals with the sleek white cranes fixed in my mind. The sky was often leaden grey, darker than the land itself. Towering thunder clouds would build drama until expended in rain. I found some stones that were totally clouds — and look! they could double as sheep! That made my task of recreating this scene a whole lot easier.This was as far as I got before leaving for England. The major, and I think most important part by far, would be the ground itself – the quality and texture of the andamento that would unite all the other elements and render the landscape true.

This was as far as I got before leaving for England. The major, and I think most important challenge by far, would be to cover the ground itself with a quality and texture of andamento that would unite all the other elements and render the landscape true.

Sheep mosaic very incompleteMy project for the West Dean workshop was a completely different one – a small one that I could carry on a plane and hope to finish or at least get a good start on in one week. (see next post!) So imagine my surprise when I arrived at West Dean College, in the southern county of Suffolk, and found myself in a landscape that looked like this:

West Dean sheep blue sky

Or sometimes like this:

West Dean sheep rainy day.jpg

I do realize the English countryside pre-dates me, but it felt as if I had conjured this landscape from the persistence of my inner vision. Clearly this subject was not going to leave me alone!

I took many walks among the sheep (which were more plentiful than this photo shows,) through West Dean’s hills, (which were far greener than in California,) and was able to study them and their relation to the landscapes on which they depend. But when I returned home to resume the mosaic, I felt it didn’t matter, because I am not a painter, and the style of mosaic I had in mind was not hyper-realistic.

If my stones could suggest the sheep, if my rocks could be seen as weightless clouds — that was what I was after.

What mattered was an emotion I held for the life of animals on the land, their quiet pursuit of sustenance, their co-existence with one another and with us.

That. And the intrinsic challenge of the mosaic medium: to lay down line after line of earthly materials in a way that reminds of us something real, but through composition and texture achieves its own unearthly beauty.

Wet Dean sheep with Castle in BG

The sheep of Suffolk, in happy symbiosis with the estate of West Dean College of the Arts.