The essence of life in glass

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Pictured above: Persephone

By Pete Jauneika

After 40 years working in IT designing corporate computer systems for global companies, Yorkshire-based Pete Jauneika embraced early retirement in 2019 to concentrate on his other passion: mosaic art. Here, Pete writes about the inspirations behind one of his latest pieces and how social media interaction with fellow artists was core to its creation.

Mosaic had, until that point in my life, been just a hobby in my spare time and, for the previous 20 years, I created tables, pots and wall art using traditional methods. Deciding to concentrate on portrait work, I started the “Portrasaic” brand to work under. Commissioned pet portrait work became a precursor to studies of the human face and I was soon accepting commissions for people portraits. 


The challenge of trying to portray the essence of a person and human emotions on a face using a hard medium like glass intrigued me. However, although paid commission work is the staple funding source to cover the material costs, I always felt that I wanted to create something with more layers than “just” the visual ones. Having spent my “previous life” constantly striving to reach production goals, I desperately wanted to turn this around and enjoy the creation process itself without the stress of timelines.

Persephone – work in progress

Virtual community art

Mosaic work can be quite a solitary art form. You can easily find yourself sitting in deep concentration for hours on end, isolated in a workroom, so I reached out to and joined the online glass community on Instagram. The acceptance, support, love, camaraderie and inspiration given by that community is both amazing and humbling. It’s social media at its best and I knew I wanted to explore the concept of engaging that community in my creative process.

It’s not often that two completely independent ideas like these actually coalesce into a single driving ambition to create something totally new. Fortunately and accidentally, this is exactly what happened with my Persephone project as my artistic life experienced its own “eureka” moment when three inspirational gifts came to me.

Persephone – work in progress

I often work with music and heard, for the first time, a track called Persephone by Kula Shaker. I have to admit, it’s not one of my favourite pieces of music, but it’s so quirky that it just lodged itself into the depths of my subconscious and I thought no more about it. 

On another day, while scrolling through my Instagram feed, I came across a wonderful piece of work created by one of my favourite mosaic artists, Atoosh in Iran, showing a portrait of a female face with flowers in her hair. Again, it lodged in the dark recesses of my subconscious and I moved on. 

But it was the third and final piece of the puzzle that was the trigger. I happened to see a photo posted by an Instagram friend and the expression on the face of that image stopped me in my tracks. It screamed at me: “That’s Persephone!”

Suddenly everything stored in my subconscious spilled out, the ideas coalescing into a full project. What if I could tell the story of Persephone, in episodic posts, creating both mosaic images and accompanying caption text to discuss it, involving the Instagram glass community in its development? This would be the ultimate collaboration. Virtual community art.

“What if I could tell the story of Persephone, in episodic posts, creating both mosaic images and accompanying caption text to discuss it, involving the Instagram glass community in its development? This would be the ultimate collaboration. Virtual community art.”

What I did not know was whether anyone would get involved? Would they be interested? Was I just shouting at the wind? 

I needn’t have worried. Everyone came together, knitting themselves around this project with me, urging me to go on and submit the next of ten instalments over a four month period.  Although the thought that I was so visible and open to the world added a lot of self-imposed pressure, I knew I had to go on to the end.  

Blending techniques and glass

I put everything I had learned in the past years into this one piece, using different glass types and techniques. The project called for both delicate shading and bold statement areas, using light to play off the mirror glass and iridescence to give movement. The piece demanded to come alive with the emotions that I wanted to portray in it. 

The episodic Instagram posts posed a set of ideas and questions in the captions relevant to today’s world, each episode covering only a part of the myth and weaving itself into the overall design like a growing montage of the whole. The complete design was deliberately never shown until the very final post to keep a sense of anticipation. I’ve been told that I do like to “tease” my audience, but I think that just adds to the fun!

Over the months, the work became all-consuming and, when the last of more than 7,000 individually cut glass tesserae was set and the final post put out, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I was euphoric and yet emotionally drained but then also experienced a strange feeling of loss as if a chapter of my life had closed. I think we forget sometimes that creation pulls so much from us. There is a bond formed between artist and work that can be hard to break.

Persephone – the final piece

Mythological stories

Was this a once-in-a-lifetime achievement? Who knows? Maybe this is a new way of integrating the best of social media with the creation of art. Is there room for another? Or maybe a series of mythological stories? 

I must admit to having always been hugely interested in mythological stories and especially the allegorical element of them, linking stories that are thousands of years old to the current human condition. I don’t think there is any doubt (is there?) that these ancient Greek gods never actually physically existed. Created by mankind to explain things which could not be explained at the time, things such as seasons, planetary motion, nature of the sun etc, these gods became their own reality. 

What fascinates me is that mankind created its gods in the form of humans, in the likeness of humans and with all of the inherent failings of humans; the emotions we show, the love within us, the petulance and warlike characteristics, our duality and capacity for both good and bad. None of these facets of humankind has gone away. This means that these ancient stories are still a mirror to today’s world and are as relevant now as they were then, with the ability to teach us things about ourselves if we choose, or dare, to look into that mirror. The idea that I can show this in a series of glass mosaic images and explore concepts, asking questions in captioned stories is, for me, both fascinating and captivating, and I think adds multiple layers of interest to the pieces. 

The art then finally became what I was looking for: an amalgam of visual image, writing,  philosophical thought and a collaboration with the family of Instagram artists. 

The second myth story is already under development and you can follow it in my @portrasaic Instagram feed. This second one tells the story of Pandora and my intention is to create a more light-hearted narrative woven around the central portrait image, again using glass with different characteristics to bring out the elements of the story. 

Thanks to Pearsons Glass @pearsonsglass and Hobby Island Mosaics @hobbyislandmosaicsuk for helping me source all of the glass used.

Instagram: @portrasaic