Pictured above: Detail of a Nereid (water nymph) from team project at LSoM creating a replica of a damaged Roman mosaic at Brading Roman Villa, Isle of Wight
Suzanne Garben, a graduate of the London School of Mosaic’s diploma, believes that handmade is the ascendant aesthetic. Here, Rhona Duffy asks her about her path to mosaic, the benefits of her studies, and the projects she’s been involved in, including the London Bridge project, which is also featured in this issue.
What led you to study mosaic?
I took a winding path to mosaics! After a career as a partner in a law firm practising media and copyright law, I pursued a longstanding dream and studied garden design, which I did at Capel Manor College. Whilst working as a garden designer, I realised I could combine this with my passion for mosaics, which I’d harboured from various trips to classical sites, from Sicily to Jordon. I wanted to understand the various fabrication methods and materials and how mosaics could be incorporated into contemporary spaces.
It became clear very quickly that the best place to study in depth was the London School of Mosaics (LSoM), in particular its diploma course. It was a joyful bonus that the diploma focused not only on design and fabrication techniques but also on mosaics in a historical context, from the classical world through to the Byzantine.
What have you found to be the most beneficial aspects to studying for a professional mosaic art qualification?
Since graduating, I’ve been involved in several team projects, which have rapidly deepened my experience. I joined Lawrence Payne (Roman Mosaics Workshops) and his team in creating the reimagined Roman mosaics installed in Villa Ventorum at the Newt (Somerset), assisting with fabrication, and I worked on the Roman Villa floor at Butser Ancient Farm (Hampshire), a project led by Gary Drostle, Dr Will Wootton (Kings College) and Giulia Vogrig (LSoM). The team from Kings College London and LSoM employed traditional methods, including quicklime mortar, completing the floor in around two weeks by working and living in situ (camping on the grounds!).
What are your favourite projects that you’ve been involved in so far?
I’m currently undertaking private commissions (including a greenhouse floor) whilst focusing on delivering the London Bridge project. Together with Jo Lewis (also a graduate of LSoM), I manage the fabrication of the project, a contemporary mosaic in vitreous glass that’s now partially installed at the London Bridge Rail Station directly below the Shard. I became involved when David Tootill, the instigator of the project, was looking for help in scaling up the design (by Adam Nathaniel Furman). This was a challenging task, which required a bespoke solution.
Can you tell us a bit more about your role in the London Bridge project?
Jo and I worked out a method to efficiently scale up 76 square metres of a hugely complicated abstract design requiring millimetre precision so that it could be fabricated largely by volunteers, some with very limited experience.
We also created, and teach to, a design guide so that the grand scale mosaic is fabricated to an internally consistent “look” and we’re confident that the result will be a highly professional work of epic proportion whilst retaining the humanity and individuality of a handmade work of art.
I particularly enjoy the fact that these handmade qualities contrast very positively with the contemporary concrete surroundings in this historic location in one of the most ancient areas of London. (As if to confirm this synergy, a spectacular Roman mosaic has since been discovered a few hundred meters from the London Bridge project.)
Jo and I run induction sessions for volunteers before they work on the mosaic and supervise the fabrication (with fellow LSoM diploma graduates Francia Hunt and Anne Tyler). We’ve come full circle recently when we ourselves taught the current LSoM diploma students our method for scaling up a mosaic of this size.
What do you most enjoy in your mosaic work?
I relish working on large-scale public and private commissions. Each project provides unique challenges whether related to the location, the design or the materials. Finding the solutions to these challenges has stretched my knowledge and improved my practice.
I enjoy working in a team and I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned from teachers and professionals, and I enjoy passing on these skills, including to our volunteers on the London Bridge project. In the best traditions of craft, learning on the job and passing on knowledge is vital.
Handmade is luxury. I believe that public and private space decoration, interior and exterior, is undergoing a transition to the less austere and that craft and the handmade is the ascendant aesthetic. As in ancient times, mosaics are the perfect embodiment of this luxury aesthetic.
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