Pictured above: Detail of carved stone on a gemstone lapis lazuli and mirror mosaic monolith
Much of Irish artist Sunny Wieler’s work is influenced by his love for Ireland’s landscape and his passion for combining stonework and mosaics. Here, Rhona Duffy catches up with him about his work.
BY RHONA DUFFY
When we spoke in March 2022, Sunny Wieler was working on a 45-square metre pebble mosaic with a Celtic knot at its centre for a large courtyard. “I have about four months to do the job. But it’s a job where you’d ideally have six months to complete it,” he says. And having recently become a stay-at-home-dad to his toddler son three days a week, life is busy for the artist.
Wieler trained in fine art and sculpture at Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork, and started off working as a landscape gardener. “I got into stonework that way. And that led to exploring different ways to create things out of stone in an artistic way,” he says.
The first stone mosaic Wieler ever made was a centrepiece of a garden seating area. It was supposed to be a firepit, but the client decided at the last minute not to have a fire because they had a young child. “So I decided to make a stone mosaic,” he continues. “I then had mosaic as part of my arsenal. People liked it. It snowballed from there.”
In his next job, Wieler was asked to create a garden wall panel for a client and he decided to use mirror in it. “I’ve always loved seeing mirror in gardens,” he says. “It was an experiment and it worked out well. So I began using mirror in my work more and more.”
Wieler enjoys creating large, stone monoliths incorporating elements of mosaic, usually involving mirror and gemstones. “These sculptures are best placed outdoors,” he continues. “In an outdoor setting, mirror mosaic really comes to life and constantly changes appearance due to the ever-changing reflections. It can also pick up reflections of the sky and surroundings. And sunlight enhances the great natural textures of the stone.”
He’s also worked on a number of school projects, most of which were part of the government’s Per Cent for Art scheme. “A lot of schools want pupils to be part of the projects, so mosaic lends itself very well to that,” he says.
While Wieler is currently working full-time on pebble mosaics, he says that might change depending on what opportunities arise in the next couple of years. He’s inundated by requests from people wanting to learn his mosaic techniques and, while he’s put face-to-face teaching on hold since Covid-19 hit, he plans to resume teaching in the future.
Asked what advice he’d give to aspiring pebble mosaic artists, Wieler advises not to be afraid to experiment. “This is especially true when it comes to outdoor mosaics,” he explains, “because your space is likely to be considerably larger when you’re using the outdoors as your gallery – so you have a lot more space to get creative. Mosaics also really come to life with a backdrop of nature. Mosaics that otherwise may look flat become visually rich in light and texture. The majority of my most popular mosaics come off the back of experimentation.”
Technical tips from Sunny Wieler on using glass in mosaics
1. A lot of what I learn is by doing it. So I learned the hard way with mirror! You have to use a specific type of glue – a silicone-based one – when working with mirror in exterior art. Cement-based adhesive erodes the silver foil on the back of the mirror, so you should avoid using that.
2. Mosaic is a great way to upcycle old mirrors but don’t be tempted to break them up by smashing them. This can render much of the mirror unusable and turns pieces into razor blades that can cut your hands.
3. Use a glass cutter to break up the mirror. Invest in a good quality oil-filled glass cutter. There are many types, my personal favourite is the ‘Thomas Grip’ oil-filled cutter by TOYO, but there are lots of different ones to suit every hand and budget.
4. Take care not to damage the silver backing when cutting up your mirror. If recycling old mirrors, check that the silver backing isn’t scratched or damaged. It’s often the case that you only see the damage once the pieces have been glued into place.