m.a.s. 'Q & A' with
California Mosaic Artist - Irina Charny
Irina and I met at the Sama Convention in Miami, I have to admit I was thrilled, it was like meeting my mosaic superhero! I love everything about her mosaics and found she is a real sweetheart and probably the most modest person I have ever met. Recently, we had a quick little e-chat:
- m.a.s. How did you get into mosaics?
- Irina I had an ugly fireplace with peeling paint. I saw a picture in a magazine of a broken tile mosaic on a fireplace and I thought "I could do that". I did and never stopped.
- m.a.s. Your understanding of color, rhythm & pattern is superb, do you have a background in fine arts?
- Irina I have a Degree in math and Masters in Library science. No background in the arts but have always needed to do something creative. Did ceramics, soft sculpture, polymer clay, lampworked beads as hobbies.
- m.a.s. You are one of the few mosaicists I know that loves to use thinset, why?
- Irina Thinset is just so permanent and I want my mosaics to last thousands of years. Maybe that's the only chance for mosaics to get into a museum, after a thousand years.
- m.a.s. Your famous "thinset in a bag" is genius, can you explain how it works?
- Irina On the same principle as a cake decorating thingy. I tend to work in rows of tesserae. I mix up a small amount of thinset, put it into a sandwich ziplock bag. Twisty tie the top and snip off one corner. That way I can squeeze out a bead of thinset and set a row of tile then go on to the next row. The thinset lasts a long time in the bag, too. Gives me lots of working time.
- m.a.s. You're so prolific, I swear you have a direct conduit to the mosaic gods. How do you work so quickly?
- Irina Unmedicated obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- m.a.s. Favorite mosaic tools?
- Irina Leps, wooden popsicle sticks, dental picks. Also, can't live without my nitrile gloves, as much as I love thinset I hate getting it on my hands.
- m.a.s. Best advice someone gave you?
- Irina To step back and look at the mosaic while working on it to spot mistakes or flubs. Wish I'd remember to follow it more.
You've always worked with a wide variety of tesserae do you have a favorite?
- Irina Not really. I still love mixing materials and I'm still discovering new things that can be cemented down.
I've noticed your newer panels include smalti, marble, pyrite & sodalite, love the interplay of textures, what was your experience using them?
- Irina I'm still learning to use a hammer and hardie. I've somewhat gotten over the fear of chopping off a finger (that hammer is just so wickedly sharp) but still don't have very good control over the thing so I'm wasting a lot of material. I'm taking a workshop at the conference in Mesa, and hopefully my hammer technique will improve after that.
What the heck is sodalite?
- Irina It's a lovely blue stone.
Are you finding yourself drawn in any certain direction?
- Irina Unfortunately, my directions kind of go all over the place. I tend to work in a series and until I get the whole "series" out of my system I will keep going back to it... trying just one more thing that I forgot to try in the last piece.
Worst mosaic disaster?
- Irina Oh, god, too many to list. I really should follow that great advice about stepping back and looking at a piece while working on it.
Favorite part of creating a mosaic?
- Irina Cementing the first piece down and the last piece.
- Irina Getting stuck in a design and not knowing where to go with it.
Artists that inspire you?
- Irina Too many to list but I will try anyway.
Here is a short list of painters - Modigliani, Klimt, Klee, Gaudi, and a couple of contemporary artists - Samuel Gareginyan, Jesus Vilallonga and a few others, too.
Mosaicists are harder, because it is my medium I love looking at all mosaics. That's what makes the SAMA shows so special - a chance to see "live" work that one has only seen in books or on the web. All mosaics are inspiring in some way. And then there are these people whose work makes my heart skip several beats - Marco Bravura, Cleo Mussi, Ilana Shafir. I know I'm forgetting someone.
How do you cut such interesting shapes for your mosaics?
- Irina I don't cut them - my husband does. Having overcome the fear of the hammer and hardie I'm still fighting fear of the jigsaw.
Do you draw a complete design on your base before you begin?
- Irina Because it is my husband who cuts the pieces, he needs an outline to follow (even after 20 years of marriage he can't see the design in my head), so I do enough drawing on the board to provide an overall outline.
What do you seal your bases with?
- Irina Water based Kilz II
After you finish, do you ever see little things you wish you did differently?
- Irina YES!!!! See advice up above.
When I visited, you had a great studio set up in your garage, that was a few years back... you are producing & selling so much, do you still have room for the cars?
- Irina I've taken over a little more of the garage since then but I've already outgrown that space, too
You've been so successful, do you have any advice for those of us who find it difficult to even get our mosaics seen?
- Irina I've been very lucky, I found a great gallery whose owner gave my work a chance and things worked out very well. Mosaic tends to be more acceptable as an installation, if you want to try to sell as fine art, you need a lot of luck. It is still a very hard sell to the gallery owners. The funny thing is the public loves mosaics, but the gallery owners don't know that until they hang your work on their walls and most don't want to risk it.
- m.a.s. Thank you for allowing us to feature your mosaic art in our gallery
- Irina See you in Mesa!
Mosaic Art Source Gallery - Mosaic Artist - Irina Charny
Mosaic Art Source Supplies - Mosaic Tools - Hammer & Hardie
Mosaic Art Source Resource - Mosaic Art Associations
Mosaic Art Source Exhibits - SAMA - MAI 2007 Mosaic Art Photo Gallery
For further details please visit the artist's site Irina Charny Mosaics