Pictured above: Roundel for Walthamstow
London-based artist Maud Milton specialises in creating street art in mosaics, often including ceramic tiles handmade by local communities. Here, Rhona Duffy talks to her about some of her projects, and the challenges and successes that come with her work.
WRITTEN & NARRATED BY RHONA DUFFY
Listen to Rhona narrate her article:
The knowledge that lots of people get to enjoy her art brings Maud Milton tremendous job satisfaction. “Because we have mosaics all over the place, I get messages nearly every day,” says Maud. “People take photos and tag us in their posts on social media too. The value of our art came into its own during the lockdown. People appreciated having free art on their doorsteps to enjoy while out walking.”
There’s a real community feel to the public art created by Maud and her team at Artyface, the arts organisation she founded. Members of local communities, sometimes including schoolchildren, get the opportunity to make some of the numerous ceramic tiles that make up each mosaic. Before lockdown, all of this work was done in face-to-face workshops. Maud was able to retain the community element of her projects during lockdown by sending trays of tiles to schools and homes. “People stamp the tiles with anything meaningful to them – leaves, flowers, their grandmother’s jewellery or their favourite toys, for example – or they can simply use rubber stamps,” she says. “Then they send them back to us, for us to glaze and fire them in the kiln, and to create the mosaic.”
This new technique also means that Maud can do projects further afield, as she doesn’t necessarily need to travel for numerous workshops. “So I can now deliver projects without being on-site,” she adds.
After studying art for five years, culminating in a degree in ceramics from Cardiff University, Maud did two art residencies – one in North Wales and another in her home town in Gloucestershire. For her first mosaic project, she was commissioned by Groundworks to create a seating area for a park, which still exists today, in Caerphilly, Wales. After completing her art residencies she moved to London. At first, she struggled to make it as an artist. “So I got a job with an online bookshop but then I got repetitive strain injury in my shoulder and I had to give up the job,” she says.
Maud decided to try the art route again. After lots of knocking on doors and building connections, she secured a project to make a mosaic for a school in Islington. “One of the teachers who interviewed me – Catherine Clark – ended up working with me when she retired. We’ve now been working together for 20 years. She does a lot of the design and drawing work. She was a designer in the days before computers existed and she still draws by hand. She’s amazing. And she can draw much more quickly than me.”
Street art in London (left and middle) and Catherine Clark working on a design
Maud has a strong team around her to help with the increasing volume of work. “Fabric designer Rebecca Tyndall has worked with me for 14 years. Flora Pickering, who has now returned to teaching, still works with me one day a week, and Laimons Grinbergs is our star volunteer.”
Nowadays, people mostly approach Maud to request work. “But it’s been swings and roundabouts over the years,” she continues. “There have been very lean times with just small projects on the go. And the admin on a small project is the same on a big one. I’ve had lodgers in my home for many years.”
She finds applying for grants gruelling and the paperwork side of her work tedious. “I’d love it if someone came to me and said, ‘there’s your budget for the year to create ten mosaics’,” she says. “But it’s not like that. It’s a lot of hard work, juggling budgets and finding creative ways to pay for everything.”
Maud and Artyface have hit a sweet spot with the train station signs (roundels) they’re working on. They’ve been commissioned to create several roundels for Arriva Trains London and two for Southern Trains. Their latest roundel project is for Blackhorse Road and is a partnership between The Big Local, London Borough of Waltham Forest and Transport for London. It involves one large and 15 small mosaics with different themes. “Some are about pride and diversity, some are about trains, buses and tubes, while others are about wildlife or creativity. All are about local events, places and achievements. People have created the most amazing tiles. Each little tile is a masterpiece.”
People love finding the tiles that they’ve created themselves in artworks. “There’s a series of our mosaics on the route to my son’s school, so I get to see children looking for their tiles all the time as we walk by,” Maud continues.
One of her favourite projects is at a school in Bethnal Green in London. It’s made up of a series of mosaics, which have been featured in television shows and The Monocle Guide to Better Living.
Maud says that one of the nicest things about her job is creating connections between people. “When I do a job, I meet people in lots of different community groups. So I introduce them to each other. It means that when I’m gone, they now know each other and can continue working together and supporting each other into the future.”
Enjoy this short film about Maud and her mosaics.
Produced by John Rogers. Thank you to John for his permission to publish it here for Mosaic & Glass readers to enjoy.