Publication: Robert LISAC
1. Frederic, in the mosaic community you are quite known for your exceptional “eyes – mosaics”. When you make a portrait, the eyes are the most important thing and also the most difficult part of the face to master. Why did you chose to make just eyes? Can you tell more about the whole story?
You know I am French… Romantic Love was invented in France at the end of the Middle Ages. Of course people did not wait for the French to fall in love, but during the XIIth century, French poets and musicians began writing and singing about Romantic Love. Back then, they called it « Amour Courtois » because it was mostly happening in the courts of Lords and Kings. You had no TV, no Internet, not even printed books, but you had travelling Musicians and Poets: Trouveres and Troubadours making a living at entertaining people.
«The eyes are the scout of the heart» is a line of a poem by Aimeric de Péguillan. Every time I look at a woman’s eyes, this comes to my mind. What Aimeric means is that you are attracted by the sight of someone. That does not mean you will love that person, but it’s a start. Of course, you can be attracted by a voice, or a smell, or an idea, but mostly, your interest is triggered by your Eyes.
So Love is the first reason why I specialize in eyes. Love ! And then there are 2 other reasons why I love to make my Mosaic Eyes : Eyes are fascinating to look at ; and their expression is difficult to capture. You can see so much in the eyes of a person, if you take the time to observe and try to feel them. There is another saying «The eyes are the mirror of the soul». We believe we can learn so much about someone from their eyes. And this of course is the reason why women have been using makeup for millenia, darkening their eyelids to enhance the mystery ! And that is also why I am so fascinated by VEILED women. The mystery behind the veil.
And there is – you mentioned it – the technical complexity and challenge. Eyes are not easy capture. I was not sure I would be able to make the magic happen, so I one day I decided to give it a try with « Green Eyes ». I was using the reverse method. Like most of my mosaics, Green Eyes was built upside down, which means you do not see what you
have made until everything has been assembled and glued together, and you finally flip the whole piece. So as you can imagine, I was a little nervous, and when I flipped her and looked at her, I thought it was not bad at all !
2. It is quite uncommon, that a mosaic artist has a martial arts background. How are the martial arts influencing your way to create mosaics?
To tell you the truth, at this time, martial arts only influence my mosaics in an indirect way, they do not so much influence what I do, but they rather influence how I do. I started practicing martial arts when I was a kid. I wanted to be able to fend for myself. I was a little guy ! You get older and you realize this is not really about fighting but about becoming a better person and you start working at that. This is the spiritual aspect in Martial Arts. There is also a spiritual aspect to mosaics. I’ll tell you later about this.
Another thing Martial Arts taught me is that you generally do not win the first time, or the second or even the third time… you get beaten several times, you try to understand why you lost, you train harder, you come back… and again, and again, and again… Until one day you win. Fall 7 times, get back up 7 times…
It is the same wih mosaics… I look at my first mosaics, and I know the ones I now make are better, For several years I competed in numerous art shows and got little or no award. Last year, I got first prize in a local Museum. It is difficult to make a living out of your art, I have been doing mosaics for 10 years, and it is difficult to get there but I keep fighting, I keep entering contests, trying to meet people and understand how succesfull artists do. I keep studying what the ancients were doing, and what the moderns do… It is important to come back, again and again, work hard at your art and at promoting it., not listening at those who tell you to give up… That is how Martial Arts indirectly influenced my career.
I have also been directly influenced by Japanese Art. I created mosaics of samurai clans emblems (Montsuke)
But what I am reallly proud of are 2 mosaics of calligraphies by 19th century Sword and Zen Master Yamaoka Tesshu. Japanese Calligraphy is a very unique kind of painting. I wanted to see if I could reproduce the flow of ink with stones. So I did these two mosaics of his famous calligraphies : Tiger and Dragon, for a Japanese Okinawan friend of mine : Yoko, who is also a talented swords woman !
3. What was your main trigger to start your mosaic – journey?
Before I tell you about the trigger, let’s look at the context. You only trigger something ready to explode. I have always been fascinated by ancient history and mythology. France’s culture was extremely influenced by Rome. You cannot drive 20 km in France without finding some Roman remains. From a young age, I was attracted by Roman antiquity, and saw multiple amazing mosaics. I found fascinating they were often describing scenes of the lives of real people, not just battles, but also farming, feasting, hunting… And these gorgeous pieces had been made 2000 years ago. A lot of what the Romans built lasted much longer than some of the things we build today will ever last. So I was very very interested, and very admirative of the Romans.
And then, 10 or 11 years ago, as my parents had purchased a beautiful mosaic table from an artist named Jean Pierre Soalhat we went to visit his studio in Provence. His work was absolutely fantastic. The beauty, the quality of execution, I had never seen such art. Jean Pierre’s mosaics are absolutely incredible. And I loved that he would walk the fields of Provence to harvest ancient Roman roof tiles and old marbles or stone slabs to use them in his work. I was flabbergasted. I looked around his studio, asked him a couple of questions. We left, and on my way back home I started to think about this and thought « I have to try this… It is absolutely gorgeous, it is complicated, very precise, difficult… Just what I like ! »
4. You got also an award for your mosaic artwork. Can you tell me more about it?
Actually I got a few awards, but I am particularly proud of what I call my « First First Prize ». It was awarded by the Ann Rudd Museum of Art in Ozark, Alabama, last August 2014, for Miriam’s Eyes.
Miriam is the twin sister of Mariam. I built them both from April to June of 2014. Mariam was a commission for a French client friend of mine, and I decided to create a mirror image of her. I called her Miriam.
5. Who are your average customers and why do they decide to buy your mosaics?
Most of my customers are educated women in their 50’s or older, with strong and interesting personalities. They have Higher education degrees, have travelled extensively and are interested and curious of different world cultures. They have a clear and marked appreciation for original art and they undertand the amount of work involved in creation.
My customers also definitely understand and appreciate the uniqueness of mosaic as an art form. The fact that a mosaic is always an original. That it cannot be a reproduction ! This is important to them. Painting can be reproduced in prints almost as good as the originals. You cannot do this with mosaics or sculpture. This is why I often say that mosaic is closer to sculpture than it is to painting. Because of this, to really appreciate a mosaic, you should touch it, lay your hands on it, feel it with your skin, move your hands on it, exactly as you would on a sculpture. A mosaic is not just something you see, it is something you touch and feel.
People purchase a mosaic for 3 reasons :
- Its uniqueness as an art form.
- The way it captures light differently depending upon the angle you look at it.
- The way it Feels when you touch it.
Now often people commission a piece. And one of the first thing they do when I deliver their mosaic to their home, is lay their hands on it. You don’t just see a mosaic, you have to TOUCH it !
6. Is there for you any spiritual aspect in making mosaics?
Yes, definitely. It is not so much in the mosaic itself, in the result It is more in the way you work, the process. When I make my mosaics, I stand in front of an horizontal table, in the very same way I was standing when I was taking calligraphy classes in Korea, 28 years ago. The position is important, you hold yourself very straight, you breathe from your stomach. You start working with the right posture and the right breathing. This is very important. This is what Zen is about : right posture, right breathing.
7. Every artist has a dream, what he wants to accomplish. What is your dream?
I have several dreams… Life often comes like this, you think you are following different paths, and then one day, if all goes well, everything comes together, and you realize that all these things apparently different come together and you see the big picture !
Dream Number one : I would like mosaic to be acknowledged as an art in itself. It is unfortunate that in the past mosaics have been used to copy paintings (For example most of the paintings you see at the Sixtine Chapelle in Rome are micro mosaics. But nobody speaks about that). Although it is a 2 dimensional art, mosaic is closer to sculpture than it is to painting. A mosaic is a unique piece of art, just like a scupture is. You can create excellent quality print of any painting, and display in your home a copy of the Girl with the Pearl Ear Ring which might look almost as good as the original. But you won’t ever be able to reproduce in print the way a mosaic reflects light.
Dream Number two : Be able to master – in my own way – traditional early Greek and Roman mosaic (Opus tesselatum), to create modern mosaics. Let me expand here : I love Roman mosaics. Mosaic cannot get better than that. Byzantine or Modern mosaic can be absolutely amazing. But my love goes to classical Rome… So I would like to master the techniques and materials used by Roman musivarii to create my own mosaics.
I am working on that, I did create one simple mosaic in the classical roman style.
Right now I am working on a portrait, I am going to use ceramics only to realize it, but I will also treat it in my own way. Although the technique will be very close to the Roman technique, the style will be mine.
Dream Number Three : Be an inspiration for other people to get into an artistic career. A lot of what we know of a number of cultures is the art they have left us. Of course art is not everything. A culture cannot be established without social structures, food production, agriculture, industry, commerce. But its art makes that culture distinct from other cultures, it is what gives the members of a community the feeling that they belong to that particular community. Art is important, and artists have a responsibility to participate in the community that allowed them to develop their art.
8. Like fighting and reading about fighting are completely different things, so is making mosaics and reading about how to make mosaics. I was really impressed, when I read your newsletters, because you managed to close that gap between theory and “real life” and inspire people not only to read about mosaics, also, to try to make mosaics on their own. How do you do that?
The newsletter is a good way to share my passion, get people interested in my work and inspire other people to get into mosaic art themselves. I am a hands-on kind of person, and I am also an engineer. When I see something I find
beautiful or interesting my first question is : « How did they build or make this ? » And the second question usually is «How could I build it ? »… I wish I could build Pyramids, or Cathedrals, but it takes lots of people to do that ! And I like to work by myself ! So I do mosaics. I see something and I wonder: « how can I do this ? ». I research the questions, I experiment. I’ve had a few disasters ; I figured out some innovative solutions. And I share the results of my investigations through my newsletter because as I told you before, I would like to inspire other people to get into mosaic.
Beside this technical stuff, I also share my research in ancient mosaics. Archeological discoveries. Mosaics tell us of the way people were living 2000 years ago. So I’ll show images of antic mosaics and try to explain things about the lives of the people who made them, or ordered them made, or maybe the mythological meaning of the mosaic itself.
You find 3 main things in this newsletter
- My own mosaics : Inspiration, and the techniques I use.
- History of mosaics : evolution of techniques, materials and themes
- History told by mosaics – what mosaics tell us about the lives of our ancestors
If you are interested here is the link to SUBSCRIBE to my newsletter.
9. Which are your top 3 mosaics?
This is a good question ! The Afghan Girl is certainly one of them. It is now displayed at the top of the great stairway of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of Alabama !
I think at this time I have to add the Black and White veiled eyes.
…and Sean’s Eyes – I am sure you recognize him ! Both Veiled Black and White and Sean’s Eyes are available for purchase.
10.Do you dream sometimes about mosaics?
Not that I can remember of. But some designs I have were inspired by ideas I could have had in dreams, I am not sure where they come from. It is like they are in me, I just have to let them come to the surface. This is at the beginning part of a project, when I draw the mosaic. I start from an original image found in a magazine or on line and I play with it on the computer. Then I leave it alone for a few days, and I come back to it. I know exactly how to transform it. It is there in me, but I have not thought about it. So maybe, it came to me in a dream ?