A Tide's Turning
with guest shell by Rachel Sager
Smalti, 24k Gold Smalti, filati, fused glass, marble, sand, shell, steel frame. Size: 85cm Diameter
"When I first saw this piece the first thing that came into my head was the idea of resurrection, the bird itself, the source photograph, was an image of death but transformed into a mosaic it became reanimated and full of energy."
Rona Munro, Playwright
Death, the ultimate point of transition.
The sea ebbs and flows, redefining the landscape daily. This day I found a seagull on the beach at Hillswick, Shetland, still very much intact but also very much dead. It was beautiful. The way its wings were spread out appeared angelic but simultaneously also a little crucified too, strung out, taut. Around it were wet pebbles, shiny and vibrant.
Having had an intensely religious upbringing by missionaries in India and then Birmingham, I am both drawn to and also intimidated by religion. I was brought up in a denomination that avoided trying to represent anything holy believing that art could not do this. This left a hole in me. I am an artist. I have since been fascinated by religious art and have even made a triptych for the outside of St Catherine Labouré Catholic Church in Glasgow and a mosaic of Our Lady Crowned for an altar on the inside.
But I also think there needs to be a space for holes. I am interested in the work of musician and artist John Cage, who is famous for his silent composition 4' 33' and who talked of an earlier silent piece he was thinking of, called “Silent Prayer”. The other side of richly decorated figurative art is the space for minimalism, chance, imagination and maybe even freedom...
These two elements, the realistic figuration of the seagull and the space of the surrounding sand, echoed in imperfect circle shapes, overlapping, encompassing one another or on their own, together make up the whole mosaic. It was into this space that I invited American artist Rachel Sager to compose a shell of malmischiato, a technique and form she has created herself. Using fire she pulls tiny threads of glass from larger pieces of smalti, a glass tesserae used traditionally in Italian Byzantine mosaics. I felt her tiny microscopic world added another dimension to the work.
The piece suggests contrasts, the holy and the holey, the figurative and the abstract, the macro and the micro, human and animal, Christianity and paganism, life and death.
I visited Chester Cathedral before I started work on this piece. I prefer to make work for specific locations so that I can both respond to the environment in which they will be seen and know the context in which they will be viewed. The contrast of the narrative Victorian mosaics in the cathedral, designed by J R Clayton, and the structures of its high vaulted ceilings resonated with my idea of depicting the seagull lying on this northerly and remote beach of the United Kingdom.