Combining fragments to create a new story

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Above: Photo credit to Steve Leath and the Express & Star, West Midlands, UK

After stumbling on mosaics by a happy accident back in 1998, Caroline Jariwala’s life was to change forever. Angela Youngman explores.

By Angela Youngman

Walking past Caroline Jariwala’s house in Bearwood, West Midlands, passers-by frequently stop, stare, admire and take photographs. The reason is not hard to find – there are mosaics everywhere; under windows, along walls and in the doorway. Even the interior is decorated with massive mosaics.  

“During lockdown, I started to mosaic the staircase wall, ceiling and landing, and I’m now doing the dining room,” Caroline said. “The only other artist I know who has mosaicked her house is Carrie Reichardt. She calls me her ‘Brummie doppleganger’!”

Caroline’s style is a unique fusion of Gujarati and Western art, resulting in bright, colourful patterns that capture the attention. Her designs combine nature-based patterns with Gujarati Rangoli and Mendhi patterns, and she is the only mosaic artist to be voted as one of 100 Masters, a Creative Black Country arts initiative.

Caroline Jariwala with her work at the 1st International Urban Mosaic Intervention Santiago, Chile, in January 2014.

Her interest in mosaic came about by accident.  

“My fine art degree was at South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education, Cardiff in the 1980s,” she says. “In 1998, I was teaching a Higher National Diploma (HND) Art in the Community course when I was asked to run a workshop looking at how you can transfer artistic skills into another medium. I decided on mosaics. Everyone enjoyed it and, at the end, I asked how long they thought I had been creating mosaic. Most thought for years. I said no, today is my first day too! It was important for me to show the students how I had transferred my skills as a painter into mosaic; it was like drawing with tiles.

Caroline’s style is a unique fusion of Gujarati and Western art, resulting in bright, colourful patterns that capture the attention.

“I really enjoyed it and started suggesting mosaic sessions during project planning meetings,” she continues. “The more mosaic I did, the more I thought it was right for me. I found the mosaic process so calming and therapeutic. It was good to work in that art form. For me, mosaic has an immediacy that painting does not. I used to create large paintings, and it is very similar to the way I mosaic now. I always wanted to incorporate rich texture in the paint surfaces and play with a three-dimensional quality, which is what I can do with mosaics.”

Mosaic by Caroline Jariwala, Kidlington Methodist Church 2022

In 2010, Caroline began a Master’s Degree in Art, Health and Wellbeing. This course marked the final transition for Caroline’s art practice. “I went in as a painter and came out as a mosaic artist.”

A key part of that transition was discovering the use of broken crockery as a mosaic material when creating art for hospitals. She discovered that dementia patients responded positively to patterns in plates; bringing back memories. By combining fragments, it can create a new story. “I enjoyed the inventiveness of crockery, figuring out ways of bringing out the best of my painting side. People touch a mosaic, but they don’t touch a painting. They are much less inhibited about it and willing to ask questions.”

Setting up Mango Mosaics in 2010, Caroline began selling small mosaics at craft fairs. “I had a solo mosaic exhibition at the Corinium Museum in 2014, and was recalibrating myself as an artist. I devised a studio-based adult mosaic workshop and concentrated on making mosaics. I was always working and showing photos of what I do, and talking to people, but didn’t realise I was on anyone’s radar until Isidora Paz López invited me to take part in the 1st International Mosaic Intervention project in Chile.”

Photo credit to Steve Leath and the Express & Star, West Midlands, UK

Sixty international and 23 Chilean artists were involved in that project, transforming the front of the Municipal Town Hall in Puente Alto, Santiago. After that, Caroline started travelling and working with other artists, participating in projects and running workshops in Australia, India, Germany, Turkey and Singapore. 

Within the UK, Caroline has been involved in a variety of large-scale commissions. In 2017, she created a four-by-one-metre mosaic for The Prince of Wales pub, as part of the Desi Pub Project in West Bromwich showing how the Desi pub story linked to Black Country Pub Culture. More recently, she was commissioned to create a tree of life mandala for the front of Kidlington Methodist Church, Oxfordshire.

“I’ve done a lot of charity-related work. In 2015, I was asked by Birmingham City Council to work with adopted and fostered children to mosaic an owl for The Big Hoot. There were lots of satellite workshops with youngsters creating ideas. I made a composite of their drawings and had them fired onto tiles. I infilled with my own designs. The owl raised over £10,000. This led to work with a Hampton Court Palace community project celebrating its 500th anniversary. I collaborated with a women’s social group from Hounslow (where I am from) to create ideas and designs, then mosaicked a gnome figure for the Gnomes Unearthed trail. That gnome is a public art feature at the Mulberry Centre Cancer Unit at West Middlesex Hospital (where I was born!).”

“I want to keep exploring, expanding my mosaic practice and experience.  I see myself as an inspirer rather than an ‘influencer’.”

Since focusing on mosaic as her preferred art form, Caroline’s work has continued to develop. She has become an expert in the use of picassiette or “stolen from plate”. Old, discarded and broken plates are given a new life in her work. “Crockery inspires my imagination – for example, part of a pattered cup can look like an eye. I cut out what I see and use that in mosaics.”

Photo credit to Steve Leath and the Express & Star, West Midlands, UK

Most recently, she has begun experimenting with glass on glass, creating a mosaic for a glass window in her front door using applique techniques with scraps of stained glass.

“I want to keep exploring, expanding my mosaic practice and experience.  I see myself as an inspirer rather than an ‘influencer’. My social media platforms have over 80k followers combined.”

Not surprisingly, her workshops are very popular and she enjoys passing on her skills and knowledge, encouraging people to share and learn.

“I always tell people to be inquisitive, to experiment. Step back and think about what you really want from a design, then map it on paper before creating it on a substrate. I use my home as a laboratory to experiment with different materials and this has helped me to gain experience in using external-grade materials. I am now experimenting with cement foam boards as a base, before fixing the mosaic to the wall. Watch this space! I have more plans for my home!”

Technical Tips

  1. Always use external-grade materials for mosaic making. Even for indoors, whether it’s adhesives, grout or substrates. 
  2. Experiment and expand your tools of the trade. For example, I’ve just discovered grozing pliers while participating in a fused glass workshop recently. These pliers will help me further my shaping and cutting skills. 
  3. Be inquisitive in your mosaic practice. Be a punter and attend workshops, and learn from mosaic artists; it will save you valuable time in the long run. Always keep learning to refresh your mosaic practice. And spread the mosaic love!

About Caroline Jariwala 
Born and brought up in Feltham, Middlesex, to Gujarati parents, Caroline gained a Fine Arts degree from SGIHE, Cardiff. She worked as an exhibiting artist and teacher before discovering mosaics. In 2012, Caroline gained a Master’s Degree in Art, Health and Wellbeing during which she set up Mango Mosaics. Since then, she has worked on commissions throughout the UK and overseas, and held numerous workshops teaching others how to develop mosaic skills. 

Instagram: @mangomosaics