Pictured above: A circus mosaic for a housing development
Rhona Duffy interviews Oliver Budd, a second-generation mosaicist who has created an array of mosaic art over the last four decades with commissions from across the world.
WRITTEN BY RHONA DUFFY
After finishing art college in 1983, Oliver Budd started working with his father – mural artist Kenneth Budd. They produced over 500 public artworks together, which reflected the social history of the communities they’re located in. “The 1980s were crazy,” says Budd. “We basically did Wales, starting in Newport. Almost every town wanted at least five mosaics. And these weren’t small mosaics. Each mural was about forty metres square. Welsh people love their history and I think we told the stories of their ancestry pretty well.”
All of the work they did in Wales was funded by Gwent County Council and their mosaic projects were part of the ‘Percent for Arts’ scheme, which meant that 10% of every road scheme had to be spent on art for the local areas.
They worked together until his father died. “He died quite young, unfortunately – in 1995. He was only 69,” continues Budd. “I had all these contracts that I had to fulfil. It worked out ok but I was quite lonely for a while.”
Budd says some things changed after his Dad died. “There wasn’t as much money available for public art. So after that, some of my projects were smaller than before.”
He found it difficult to secure funding from England’s Arts Council. “When I was starting out, the Arts Council seemed – in my opinion – to be spending more money on admin than on projects,” says Budd. “Then in the 1990s, I remember going for projects and they said that they didn’t want to give an individual that kind of money, but that they would be fine if I worked in collaboration with somebody. But I preferred to work alone because my style was my style.”
He did eventually secure some funding from the Arts Council but it came via local authorities. “They’d get the money and I’d get the contract.”
After suffering a minor stroke in 2021, Budd’s medical consultant advised him not to do any more very large-scale projects, particularly installation work, because of the stress factors involved. “I had high blood pressure and hypertension and I think he was concerned I was going to blow my head off or something. Which I almost did!” So Budd downsized to a smaller studio and he works using a new system he developed while working on mosaic doorsteps for Seasalt, the clothing company.
“I had to work out a way of making everything in my studio that could be fitted into their doorways overnight and be ready to walk on the next morning,” he explains. “So I worked with an engineer to come up with a solution to complete mosaics in aluminium trays as completely solid units. I now have a trained team of installers to do the fitting for me.”
That also solved a problem Budd and his father had for years. “Often a client would say they wanted a mosaic to be attached permanently to a wall or other surface. So that’s what we did, securing the mosaics with cement-based products. Then they might approach us 20 years later and say they were redeveloping the area and wanted to move the mosaic, which was impossible because they’d wanted it to be as permanent as possible. The beauty of the new system is that, not only can you break down a larger mosaic into units that fit together like a jigsaw, but you can move them to another location at any time. So they’re movable but also really tough. I don’t use any cement products now – I just use epoxy adhesives and grout.”
The ”two hats” of a mosaicist
Budd says that you need to have “two hats” when you’re working in mosaic. “You’re a designer-artist but you’re also a technician. If you don’t get both of them exactly right, you’re in trouble. I’ve seen many jobs where the art is brilliant but the technical part is awful. It’s not often the other way around. A few years later, the mosaic can fall apart and the client will be understandably upset. And that gives mosaic a bad name.”
As he gets older, Budd is keen to share his skills and expertise with others. “Over recent years, I’ve had a number of young artists visit me in my studio keen to learn about the technical aspects of mosaic. I’m at the age where I don’t need to make as much money as I did before, so I have more time to share my knowledge. I’m not going to be making mosaics in ten years’ time so I’d like to pass on my expertise. My children aren’t interested in continuing the business. My daughter works for a documentary film company and my son is an architect. They both like keeping their hands clean!”
The joy of collaboration
Budd has enjoyed collaborating with others on some of his recent projects. He worked with artist Carolyn Blake who devised a project for a three-town mosaic heritage trail, which was accepted by Central Bedfordshire Council’s Market Town Regeneration Scheme. Together, Budd and Blake created 15 mosaic panels for Sandy, Potton and Biggleswade.
“We spent a couple of months researching the areas’ history and I came up with the designs,” Budd says. “I passed the designs and materials to Carolyn, who carried out workshops in the local areas. They all came back to me, so I tidied them up and put them into their trays, and they were displayed around the three towns.”
He also teamed up with artist Roger Wagner to create a memorial mosaic dedicated to William Clarke for St Matthew’s Church in Bayswater, London. Budd says that collaborations can bring challenges along with positive experiences. “The challenge wasn’t Roger in this project – he’s lovely. He’s a well-known religious artist and he did the original design. He gave me free rein with how I wanted to create the mosaic. But working this way adds another client into the mix. So I actually had three clients to satisfy – the lady who commissioned the work (William Clarke’s wife), Roger’s agent and Roger – which can get stressful at times.”
During his almost 40-year career, Budd has never had a period of more than two months when he didn’t have work. He has now worked six years longer in mosaics than his father did, he’s made 60 square metres more mosaic than his father did. On his workbench at the moment is a miniature remake of the first mosaic his father ever made.
Budd’s now happiest working from his studio with his ever-present muse – his cat Mr Impington. “I love being in the studio. Being able to listen to music in there makes it even better.”
Oliver Budd’s advice for artists working on large-scale projects
- First, choose your materials and decide how you’re going to make the mosaic.
- You should always create a design to complement your materials.
- Understanding how to design for mosaic is also crucial. By its very nature, mosaic fragments an image. The simpler the design, the better the mosaic will be. Avoid trying to do too much detail, which can look too complicated.
- If you’re making a mural, your design needs to work from a distance and close up.
- Get the design and technical aspects right.
- The most important bit of advice is to price your job right. You need a square-metre price for different techniques and materials. “If you’re not sure how to do this, call me and I’ll be happy to explain it to you!” adds Budd.
Oliver Budd is a visiting lecturer at Chelsea College of art, a member of the exclusive Art Worker’s Guild in Bloomsbury, London, and a former president of the British Association for Modern Mosaic. He lives in Kent with his wife and has two adult children.