Pictured above: Mick
Former professional dancer Michael Kruzich brought the skills he’d learned while dancing – discipline, repetition and a strong work ethic – with him to his mosaic practice. Working primarily in the Ravenna method, Michael creates mosaics to express and fulfil his talents. Lynn Jones asks him about his journey so far.
By Lynn Jones
What were the first mosaics you remember seeing?
I’ve always been intrigued and strangely “called” by antiquity, particularly the Greco/Roman periods. But I don’t particularly remember noticing mosaics until my first trip to Italy; Ravenna, Rome and Pompeii in particular. I know I must have “seen” mosaics before then, but apparently they didn’t make that much of an impression on me.
Your first career was in classical dance. How has your training in dance influenced your mosaic work?
Certainly the discipline, repetition, and work ethic of a professional dancer carry over into my mosaic career. Both art forms require a great deal of time and practice to achieve expertise. I have always had a drive to excel in my work. Much as I did when I danced, I make mosaics for the love, expression and fulfillment of using the gifts I’ve been blessed with.
In terms of mosaic design, my theatrical experience as dancer, choreographer, costume designer and maker very much influences my work. The sense of movement, drama, color, and lighting, and of bringing many different components together to make a whole. This is ingrained in me.
How did you start making mosaics?
I had a friend, a fellow professional dancer, who was making Ravenna method mosaics as a sideline. I saw some of his work and immediately wanted to try it, so he gave me a few instructions and started me on my first mosaic. After about a year working in the medium, I decided to attend the Mosaic Arts School in Ravenna, Italy for more serious training. The rest flowed from there.
What materials are your favorites and why?
My favorite materials are natural stone and smalti. There is a depth and richness about these materials that has been proven over centuries. I primarily use materials made by Orsoni, Mosaici Dona Murano and Morassutti. I also use Litovi, a synthetic material that has some of the brighter colors of smalti, but has a matte finish, similar to stone.
The quality of the materials, colors and their interaction with each other is very important to me. I tend to mix stone and glass in the same mosaic. Since I don’t grout my work, I like materials that show the same color on all sides after cutting.
What do you consider the advantages and disadvantages of the Ravenna method?
For my own work, I prefer the Ravenna method because it lets me make changes very easily, placing and replacing tesserae without dealing with permanent mortar until the end. Another advantage is being able to work with the mosaic upright on an easel, which is more comfortable and provides the ability to view and evaluate the mosaic in progress from a distance, sometimes revealing problems not seen while working up close.
Some may consider the number of steps involved in the Ravenna method (or direct-method into a temporary binder) to be a disadvantage. But I find it allows me to work in a “painterly” style of precision and detail. However it is not a method that accommodates great variations in the texture or height of the tesserae in the mosaic. That style of high relief and texture must be done directly into mortar.
You’ve been teaching mosaic for many years. How would you describe your classes?
I take my responsibilities as a teacher seriously and I give everything I can think of to my students, recognizing that different people learn in different ways and at different rates. I explain things multiple times, according to the needs of my students. I am not a teacher who believes my way is the only way. However, it is what I personally have to give, from my own experience.
I believe in learning by doing. I give you some information and then you try it. Then a bit more information, and you try that, step by step. I also provide detailed handouts. There is a LOT of work to do in my classes and the vibe is one of concentration, but most students are pleasantly surprised at the amount and quality of what they accomplish.
What’s your advice to beginners?
It depends on the goals of the student, but my best advice for improving your technique is to get into the studio and work. Work, work, work, as often as you can; practice as much as you can and I PROMISE you will get better. Don’t just take class after class; get in the studio and USE what you have learned in those classes! There is nothing wrong with taking lots of classes in whatever you are interested in. But it’s the work and exploration in the studio, applying that knowledge, that will make the difference. There is no other way. It is this way in dance, it is this way in mosaic. This takes curiosity, commitment and courage.
Who are your favorite contemporary mosaicists?
There are SO many! I really like the figurative work of Sandra Groeneveld, Ylenia Roma, Virginia Zanotti and Dino Maccini for their great sensitivity to detail, subtle value differences, and the soul their work resonates with. Some of my favorite mosaic artists are those who work primarily in an abstract vein, including Dino Maccini, Kelley Knickerbocker, Jo Braun, Julie Sperling, Rachel Sager, Caitlin Hepworth and Helen Bodycomb. Perhaps I find these artists so inspiring and fascinating because their work is so “other” to my own work, which primarily uses figurative, symbolic or allegorical imagery. I am constantly surprised and delighted by those artists who work within the classical principles of andamento, but in a more abstract and contemporary expression.
How important do you think it is for mosaicists to have art training?
I think the more you can learn from other mediums, the more it can inform and improve your mosaic work. It is not necessary to be able to draw well, but it sure does help. I teach a class called Drawing Andamenti that addresses basic drawing skills for mosaic.
When I teach I encourage students to develop a sensitivity to VALUE primarily. Color is secondary to value as far as what our eyes see. You can use and play with colors in any combination, as long as the value combinations [light/medium/dark, or highlights/mid-range/ shadow] work. Training your eye to these principles, possibly with a class in color theory, in whatever medium, will assist you in your mosaic work. Studying composition is another of the golden nuggets to add if you can. I don’t have a formal art education, so I can’t speak from that point of view, but I do know that anything you can add to your bag of tools gives you more to use and explore with.
As a professional mosaic artist, not only do you have to be an artist, but you also have to be a business person. For many of us, the business aspect is daunting. Any advice?
This is a tough one for me, too. I would say, try to get as much exposure to your work as possible. If no one gets to see it, no one knows it’s out there. But do it in an honest, scrupulous and ethical way. Build a reputation for doing what you say you will do and being reliable and trustworthy. Know your value and present yourself with the honest quality of your work. And try to learn marketing techniques that are in line with your values.
Unlike some mosaic artists, your work spans a variety of styles and techniques, from Roman to Byzantine and contemporary. Has this ability to work in such a varied way evolved organically or have you felt it was helpful in your career?
I like working in a diverse way. I would never be happy using a single technique or style. This flexibility and variety of styles was an advantage in the professional dance world. In the world of fine art, however, I’ve learned this is not usually what a gallery goes for. They (understandably) often are looking for an identifiable and consistent subject matter or style they can market easily. I have participated in group shows in many galleries, but my work seems a bit too diverse for gallery representation at this point. Not to mention the general lack of interest in mosaics by the fine art world.
All my work strives to create an experience for the viewer that includes motion, dramatic lighting and a sense of theatricality or elevation above the ordinary. The common thread is to communicate some of the soul and initial feelings that moved me to make mosaic in the first place. It’s a joy to have someone walk into the studio and hear a gasp or intake of breath from them at some piece of work on the wall.
About Michael Kruzich
Michael Kruzich is an award-winning mosaic artist based in San Francisco. He trained at the Mosaic Art School in Ravenna. His classes on the Ravenna method are known for their rigor and comprehensiveness, while being accessible to students of all levels.