Jane Wright shares the inspirations and techniques behind her piece Do Not Go Gentle, which she created to help her deal with the loss of her best friend of over fifty years.
By Jane Wright
For me, art is a life journey. It is my way of exploring myself, my surroundings and my experiences. Art seems to relieve my stress and calm my chaotic imagination. It can be limitless, powerful and profound all at once. To me, there is no art more powerful than that of mosaics. Gazing at the face of a Madonna in an ancient mosaic and finding a visual softness in the curve of her cheek that is a stark juxtaposition to the hard material used to portray her amazes me. There are contemporary mosaics that are so incredible and innovative in their structure that I cannot figure out how they were conceived and created.
I believe that the longer I make my own mosaics, the more personal and meaningful they become to me. This piece Do Not Go Gentle is a perfect example of this. It evolved into a cathartic experience as a way of dealing with the loss of my best friend of over fifty years.
After her passing, I knew that I wanted to create a mosaic in her memory, but sometimes creativity takes a backseat in life to other things. Over two years passed without being able to come up with a mosaic design that seemed appropriate.
The turning point in its creation came one day when my daughter and I were sharing our memories of my friend. We discussed her proud determination and her unbelievable zest for life, even when she became very ill. The passages from one of my favorite poems by Dylan Thomas Do Not Go Gentle began to float in my head. I realized how perfectly it epitomized my friend’s life and how she chose to live it.
It was my hope to create a piece that would evoke the power of living one’s life to the fullest no matter what obstacles are faced, especially as we grow older; our existence in this world can seem more fragile, our days more difficult. My friend made it clear that, for her, a choice should be made. Would she fizzle out like a snuffed candle, or let her light shine as long as possible? As the poem says, she chose to rage against the dying of the light.
After the conversion with my daughter, a design for the mosaic began to gel in my mind. I decided on the simple image of a night sky filled with sparkle and frantic glints of light. I wanted to create a feeling of intensity with the tesserae as the eye traveled down the mosaic, much as life can intensify as we age.
For texture, I chose natural sea spines to create the fervency that I wished for. I wanted to continue the gold of the smalti, so I individually dipped the sea spines in liquid gold leaf. I also hoped to create andamento in the mosaic by layering the smalti to add further texture. The moon is represented by a large “soap bubble” marble that is surrounded by glass frit and bits of Italian Cotisso glass.
I also incorporated “crackled” marbles that I broke apart with the side of my hammer against the hardie. I used Weldbond PVA glue as my adhesive versus using mortar (thinset) on this mosaic. This may seem unconventional when using smalti but I felt it would work the best due to the delicate nature and tiny size of some of the tesserae. Weldbond tends to be one of my “go to” glues because it dries clear, is odorless and non-toxic, a huge selling point for me working in my small studio.
I added pieces of Vitrigraph stringers to help with the mosaic’s flow and some black glass pebbles to give it further texture. There is something about a variety of textures in a mosaic that I find very appealing. I am constantly looking for new materials to add that tactile sense to a piece.
I normally make two or three preliminary sketches when I create a mosaic, abstract or otherwise, but generally have a clear idea of the design in my head before I begin. After those quick first drawings, I make a final, more detailed one, in which my intended materials are labeled as well as the position of the tesserae. Of course, everyone has a different artistic process, but this works for me. The mosaics that I consider to be my most successful were the ones in which I had a very solid course to follow, then incorporated the happy accidents as I worked.
As with many mosaicists, I rely heavily on the use of tweezers and wooden skewers to move and place the tiny pieces. I use a small hand vacuum intended for keyboards to quickly remove the bits of glass off the substrate. This keeps the mosaic clean and uncluttered as I work. Sometimes things that seem the most insignificant can be the most helpful.
I cut the majority of my materials with either Leponitt or Depp Xtreme nippers. I have found the Depp Xtreme nippers to be much easier on my hand and they cut smaller pieces of smalti very easily. For the larger pieces of smalti or Cotisso glass, I use my hammer and hardie. I do not use a grinder, but I do dull out sharp, dangerous edges with a carborundum stone or diamond files. I also have a Dremel tool with various shapes of grinder bits, but I rarely use it. It requires a very light touch and I’m always concerned that I’ll grind off too much. For this mosaic, I used cradle board as my substrate that I pre-painted with a gloss black spray lacquer after masking off the area where I would glue down my glass.
This mosaic is very important to me. The creation of it gave me needed closure about my friend’s death. I feel she would have been pleased with the mosaic and the symbolism behind it. Another example of how art can be powerful and even healing.
About Jane Wright
American-born artist Jane Wright has been creating contemporary mosaics for over twenty years. A self-taught mosaicist, her award-winning art focuses on the interplay of colors, materials and textures in both abstracts and representational themes. Her art has been featured in juried exhibitions in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina in the U.S. She has taught mosaics both privately and in sponsored group classes for the last nine years. Jane is a longtime member of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA).