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Fifteen mosaic artists stop to pose during their Pieces of the Whole mosaic show reception in July. Photo credit: Oli Robbins

c. Pat Halloran 

The Heron, by Pat Halloran

c. Riha Rothberg 

Still. Waiting. by Riha Rothberg

 c. Cate Clark

Still Water Cove, sculptural mosaic, by Cate Clark


Moon Sprout, by Barb Belknap

Pieces of the whole: connectivity by way of mosaics

—Oli Robbins

A mosaic is predicated on the coming together of individual pieces—glass, clay, tile, stone, metal, and found objects. The process requires that the artist consider the relationship and connection between each piece—often no one piece is superior to the others, for all must work together to achieve a harmonious result. So, what better name for Albuquerque’s first group mosaic show than “Pieces of the Whole?”

This month, at the Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Center Gallery (6500 Coors N.W.), 15 New Mexico artists will present works centered around three themes: the Bosque, Land Ethics, and the Web of Life. The works range from the personal to the conceptual, and, viewed together, they demonstrate that the mosaic technique is as inclusive and diverse as ourselves and the land we inhabit. Each work, a unique component of the larger mosaic that is this exhibition, is in conversation with the others. Together they stand (or hang, as the case may be) in reverence to our local and universal ecosystem.

Local mosaic veterans Laura Robbins and Patricia Halloran conceived of and organized the show, and invited 13 mosaic artists to join them in this celebration and visual discourse of the earth. Each mosaicist was asked to make a work of art (or two) that speaks to the show’s themes. And each mosaicist was aware of the fact that the show would be held on the grounds of the Albuquerque Open Space, a place that offers sublime views of the Sandia Mountains, agricultural land, and wildlife. So the “Pieces” in the exhibit are at once theme-specific and site-specific, imagined in New Mexico, and made for New Mexico. As I stood talking to artist Scottie Sheehan, looking out at the Open Space beyond the doors of the show, Sheehan said, “this open space, it just fills you with the feeling that you want to protect it.” 

The 13 artists joining Robbins and Halloran are Cate Clark, Lydia Ann Piper, Erica Hoverter, Joel Davis, Lynx Lightning, Cirrelda Snider-Bryan, Riha Rothberg, Julianna Kirwin, Barb Belknap, Erin Magennis, Holly Kuehn, Scottie Sheehan, and Roger Evans. Lydia Piper’s piece, Bosque Rebirth, reflects our (basic human) responsibility to the land.

Like Robbins (who was Piper’s first mosaic teacher), Piper thinks often about the connectivity between all things. “We’re all part of a circle. We have to be aware of that.” Her current work, three swaying black trees—the central one with a blood-red trunk—alludes to land devastated by fires and is partially inspired by Alice Walker’s words in “The Color Purple:” “That feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed.”

Cirrelda Snider-Bryan reiterates the sense of communication and exchange that is inherent in mosaic-making: “The process of creating mosaics, I feel, is about relationships... I think about an ecosystem and all of those pieces being in relationship.”

Joel Davis, who calls his work “mixed media assemblage” and incorporates found metal and glass, draws on the havoc caused by industry. His work, says Davis, “hints at nature having an adverse symbiosis with what we’re doing.” For Scottie Sheehan, this project came at the heels of a great personal tragedy, the loss of a daughter, and it allowed for emotional processing and release, as the broken became whole. “I try to use broken pieces to breathe new life into things that are no longer respected by people. My daughter was in the studio with me as I made this piece.” Her seven-foot sculpture, Tread Lightly and Handle with Care, is a monument to the freedom and joy that mosaic-making can generate.

Five of the 15 artists—Laura Robbins, Barb Belknap, Riha Rothberg, Cate Clark, and Roger Evans—are Placitans. Belknap crafted a pair of works, which treat the dichotomous relationship between day and night and the communal effort of growth within nature. Sun Sprout represents “the concept of all the things that grow into a single sprout—the water, the fossils that enrich the soil. Look at what goes into growing this one little plant.” Its counterpart, Moon Sprout, is about nighttime, when “things cool off and the earth absorbs all the water it possibly can, a time when things also grow.”

Rothberg’s conceptually vivid sculptural assemblage, Still. Waiting., includes a variety of materials, including old bottles and broken ceramics (made by Placitas ceramicist Michael Prokos) inside an oxidized and rusted metal cabinet, atop a gilded corbel. It alludes to a time capsule with its static objects in perpetual wait. Clark’s freestanding, three-dimensional landscape Still Water Cove recalls an expansive geode, within which rests an intricate and collective environment. Master sculptor and mosaic artist Evans contributed a life-size green figure, Harvest Maiden, which illustrates his innate and unfailing humor. It was Evans who, years ago, generously shared his techniques with Robbins.

Robbins created two works for the show: a triptych (an art form which draws reference to the historical altarpiece), Bosque Fall, which presents three large cast glass panels of a bee and flowers, cranes and “silvery minnows” alongside elegant fired clay branches and leaves, and her traditional whimsically cut glass; and a three-dimensional sculpture, Liquid Assets (a play on the relationship between our natural and manmade resources), comprised of a bevy of materials, including collaged printed money, fired clay, cast and cut glass and a water bottle. Bosque Fall is about the “important neighbors who share the river and bosque with us,” while Liquid Assets—which Robbins professes to be the most challenging piece she ever worked on—is a physical manifestation of the artist’s own concepts about “what we value and our relationship with water and our river.” She asks viewers to look at the piece while considering such questions as, “How do you think the currency and flow of money affects the currency and flow of water?”

Halloran also made two works for the show, Heron and Coyote and Crow Play with Gaia. Both showcase Halloran’s virtuosity as a mosaic artist capable of rendering nearly illusionistic forms that are arresting in their strength of presence. The two pieces are inspired by animals that are both “creators and survivors, pointing the way to the sacred.”

“The Heron,” says Halloran, “symbolizes the rest and the beauty that we all need to recover from the kind of destructiveness that is going on. We continually have to refocus on what is beautiful, or we despair.” The coyote functions differently: “It is more a play on the idea that the world is held and controlled by the trickster... and is also symbolic of the shadow, of parts of ourselves we don’t acknowledge.”

Robbins hopes that together, the works in the show will function as “a kind of activism.” She references a quote by American ecologist and environmentalist Aldo Leopold: “There are some who can live without wild things and some who can not.” Like Leopold, says Robbins, “I am one of those who cannot.” The artworks in “Pieces of the Whole” echo such a sentiment. Halloran says it well: “Artists and art lovers share a sensibility of the value and connection to the fragile ecosystem we inhabit... Each of us has a different song, each a different perspective of our part and connection to the whole.”

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