human behavior

Descent into Kitsch: Mosaic Cityscape

Posted in Art, Crafts, Sydney by humanb on October 13, 2012

I blame Mosaic Magic.

I was going pretty well with my mosaic art and craft. Not too kitsch. Definitely not chintzy. This was in large part due to the fact that I’ve avoided pictorials or any representation of real places or objects. My tables, benches and house numbers featured tesserae arranged in provocative color combinations – ordered or random – but never pictorial. That’s it.

But I still had a ton of unused tiles from Mosaic Magic in colors that didn’t excite me on their own, though when seen as a pile on the store website, had looked marvellous:

And worse, I only had a few of each color such that whatever I’d make would require most of these tiles in unrelated colours.

So I went representational.

I blame my neighbourhood church too.

The Church by the Bridge in my neighbourhood of Kirribilli hosts an annual art competition called “I Heart Kirribilli“. Anyone – regardless of residential address – is invited to submit to the competition an art work that features our neighbourhood. I’ve always wanted to enter the competition – not because I’d ever thought I’d be a serious contender for a prize. It just seemed like a fun excuse for drawing or painting any number of lovely scenes that can be found in my neighbourhood on any given day.

It really is a beautiful place to live:

One of the most memorable (and most seen) views of my neighbourhood is from the ferry in Sydney Harbour, looking directly at Kirribilli’s most exclusive waterfront apartments at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I’ve always thought the neighbourhood looked very village-like from this view: a little city by the sea. Cozy, charming and fun. Pretty even, despite the ugliness of many of the individual buildings.

You know – like a cityscape mosaic made of unwanted tiles.

Look closely, and you’ll notice that many of the neighbourhood buildings feature render and brick in ugly reds, browns and greys, as well as roof tiles in variations of orange – precisely the colours I was struggling to use.

A Kirribilli mosaic seemed like a brilliant solution to my overstock problem. All of the pieces were literally falling into place.

One by one…

Building by building…

My tesserae were only 1 cm x 1 cm, which I had always thought too small in previous projects. For this project, however, the tesserae proved too big. My buildings looked pixellated like some 1980s Macintosh game…

The individual tiles were also impossible to glue on straight. Remember, these tiles are the size of fingernails.

Gluing the tiles took much longer than I’d expected – a good two days in front of the TV. Fortunately, the grouting took less than an hour.

And then came the fun part – wiping away the excess to reveal the (hopefully) beautiful picture beneath…

Okay. In sections, it looks promising. But the result was a bit of a disappointment.


This picture is the very definition of kitsch. Period. The colours are still ugly. The representation, dodgy. The execution, wobbly. It’s a bit of a mess, really.

So I did what every hack artist does in such a situation. I spent three days trying to frame it properly as if it were fine art worthy of such treatment.

I cut the pine planks with my jigsaw and painted the frame with a coat of thin, white watercolor paint. I think I’ve improved the mosaic with this frame. The simple, whitewashed wood has a calming effect – bringing order and refinement to the cacophony of loud and shiny colour.

But this mosaic by no means does justice to my little village by the sea. It does however, suggest it, I think, and for that I’m quietly satisfied. It’ll be a pleasant enough memory of this neighbourhood when I leave it.

And hey, it also uses 998 unwanted tiles!

It was also conveniently completed one week before the I Heart Kirribilli competition deadline. Would I be laughed at for deigning to enter this mess into the neighbourhood competition? Perhaps not, given the theme this year:

Seriously, if this mosaic doesn’t scream discord, contrast, friction and brokenness, what does? Surely there’s a place in the competition for my piece. A dark, back corner even?


I kept reading – something I really should have done before I started this project:

Um… where’s the mosaic category?



2 Responses

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  1. edublan said, on October 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    I found your cityscape mosaic very inspiring!!

    I think I will make something with some spare parts from my workshop.
    I don’t know if I will get such a creative thing as yours!! I’ ll let you know if I get something interesting…

    I am still impatient to see how you managed to get a good lock for the mail box.

    Best regards from Madrid

    • humanb said, on October 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Oh dear, the mailbox. That has become troublesome! I found the perfect magnet like you suggested but because of mail theft in the area, the future owner of the mailbox would like a lock and I have had trouble finding a lock that would work.

      You should definitely try to make something artistic with spare parts from your workshop. It is so satisfying!

      Great to hear from you.

      All my best from Sydney.

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