One to watch: Katie Surridge

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Katie Surridge says her hands are always dirty – it’s a kind of dirt that seems to be embedded deeper than her tattoos, but she’s happy with that as she loves her work and would much rather spend her days metalworking or mosaicking than sitting in front of a computer. Katie recently became interested in mosaics and did a short course at London School of Mosaic to hone her skills. 

By Rhona Duffy

What led you to mosaic and can you tell us a little bit about your fine art qualification?

The ages of civilisation, for example, the Iron Age or Stone Age, are named after materials because of how they transformed society. To me, there is something therapeutic and grounding in revisiting ancient techniques. I have a longstanding admiration for these types of skilled crafts.

Prior to starting my Master of Fine Arts at Goldsmiths, which I finished this year, I moved to Hereford for three years to train as a blacksmith. This really cemented my love for work that may traditionally be seen as a craft, and so my practice aims to disrupt these boundaries.

In terms of my mosaic work, therefore, I am particularly focused on Roman-style mosaics as I love the physicality of this method, cutting up marble tesserae by hand on a hardie tool with the wonderfully shaped “banana hammer” as I like to call it. It appeals to my love of processes. 

The gates pictured are part of a series of gates that use text messages received on the dating app Hinge. This particular one is the London version of Kissing Gate – usually found in the countryside and reappropriated as sculpture.

I am experimenting with infusing these ancient techniques with a contemporary outlook. I am interested in mixing other materials with my mosaics, for example, forged steel or stained glass work, intertwining skills, exploring new combinations and considering how various technical and cultural processes affect the aesthetics of objects that I make.

If we distance ourselves from creating by hand, for example, by letting artificial intelligence design or make things for us, we have a danger of regressing in terms of hand-making. Perhaps this material-based ignorance is as dangerous to society as illiteracy, and we are becoming uncivilised in a new way.

What have you found to be the most beneficial aspects to studying mosaic art at London School of Mosaic?

I came to study for an intensive week-long course at London School of Mosaic. What is great about this school is the chance to get hands-on practical experience. As a student, I benefitted from learning things in person, rather than learning through reading or watching videos. Talking to knowledgeable tutors and being immersed in other people’s work happening in the large studios there was really inspiring. The environment was a great place to learn; it was friendly and supportive, and it was hard for me not to feel inspired to continue. Although they have loads of tools and materials, they also made it easy for me to learn enough in a week so that I could continue experimenting and working once the course was over. 

Do you have a top technical tip to share with other mosaicists?

Be resourceful with materials! See if you can make friends with someone in your area working with stone, for example, a company specialising in fitting stone kitchen tops or bathrooms. I got chatting with some guys close to my house and they now send me texts with anything going in the skip they think I might like, and I obviously slip them a few beers to say thanks! I love this form of recycling. I like setting up networks that could almost be seen as ecosystems that facilitate my work. This also addresses the issue of wasted materials in creative practices, which I worry about as an artist.

What are your plans for the future – both short and long term?

Now that my degree is over, I am starting to work on a new body of work that explores the modern idea of peacocking (dressing for attention). I love mixing past and present, and using ancient skills to make a comment on contemporary situations. This new work will contain my largest mosaic to date and will be in an exhibition opening in February. I’m also planning a few trips to visit mosaics, like at Fishbourne, to continue to gather inspiration for my work.

Instagram: @katiesurridgeart