The young mosaicists Silvia Naddeo and Matylda Tracewska have followed two distinct courses in their artistic development, yet their paths coincide in Ravenna, Italy – ancient capital of the Western Byzantine empire and an important center of mosaic production both in antiquity and today.
Studying within the Academy of Fine Arts of Ravenna, neither artist limited her- self to the simple acquisition of technical prowess in the art of traditional Roman and Byzantine mosaic, revived in the twentieth century thanks largely to the 1924 creation of the Academy’s faculty of mosaic. Rather, each sought to find a new conceptual dimension from which contemporary images and textures could emerge. Both express a belief that has become evident among this latest generation of artists touched by the materials and “inner voice” of mosaic: the firm notion that mosaic contains an individual expressive capacity of its own – that it is never just a translation or reproduction of another image. To them, fragmentation, the sensuousness of the material and the surplus of color and light have a modern, contemporary meaning. To them, the art of mosaic is a springboard to enter into new spheres of experimentation, a realm in which to try out endless possibilities.
As such, a playful and open-minded attitude distinguishes these artists, allowing them to wander easily between tradition and experimentation and to break down the boundaries between painting, sculpture, and design. In doing so, they constantly renew their approach to the world around them, inhabiting an evolving landcape of observation and imagination. Looking at these artists, we get the impression that the contemporary art world must once more open its eyes to the art of mosaic, a medium too-long dismissed as a forced and archaic means of representation.
With unusual materials at her disposal, Silvia Naddeo patiently mirrors the collection of the colors and the cut of the tesserae used in the mosaic grammar of Ravenna, obtaining the surprising effect of a moving surface, where the light glides across the tesserae or stands still, then flows forth and ignites.
In her ongoing search for new materi- als and an unconventional definition of mosaic, Silvia Naddeo looks beyond all limitation. She begins with a bold venture, setting aside vitreous smalti in favor of less precious, more commonplace materials – even composing one mosaic of plastic drinking straws. Yet it is only at first glance that she dissociates herself from the «high art» of traditional mosaic. With unusual materials at her disposal, she patiently mirrors the collection of the colors and the cut of the tesserae used in the mosaic grammar of Ravenna, obtaining the surprising effect of a moving surface, where the light glides across the tesserae or stands still, then flows forth and ignites.
Naddeo’s careful attention to her subject matter becomes crucial in Eat Meet, an artwork for which she received the National Award of Arts in 2010 (now in the collection of the Ministry of Universities and
Research for Higher Artistic and Musical Education (MiUR-AFAM) in Rome): a carrot supernatural in size, but not in texture, whose surface suggests (or truly approximates) the skin of a real carrot through the kaleidoscopic effect of its alternating murrhines and smalti. The visual surprise takes the viewer into the dream/nightmare of Alice in Wonderland running after the White Rabbit. Another of her works sets the viewer before a table laid with delicious treats constructed of glass tesserae, luring us into the same funny, cruel game of simulation and deception. So what then is mosaic? Newly reconceived as Neo-Pop object, mosaic, to Silvia Naddeo, simply takes its form from life as we know it, the «disposable» lifestyle in which we exist in the fragile times of today. Matylda Tracewska has also opted for mosaic as her visual language of choice, developing the constructive and perceptual dimension of color within rigorously designed mosaic projects. In fact, the young Polish artist comes from a background of painting, which she studied in Warsaw before coming to Ravenna to pursue her studies in mosaic. Here, inspired by the language of the city’s mosaics, she found a fresh starting point for her artistic investigation of color. Her intimate and refined works, such as Istanbul and The Seasons (both 2009), already show her focus on the luminous and emotional expan- siveness of the tones of light available in mosaic, which even a painter’s palette cannot exceed. In her first, above-mentioned work, the artist’s periodic interjection of vitreous smalti to the mosaic creates points of illumination, even as other, cooler tones and materials seem to dissolve away before our eyes. In the latter work, The Seasons, the presence of nature is evoked in a magical transformation of color – each season recalling not one single color, but an infinite number of hues, multiplied by the texture and refraction of light from the tesserae. This expansivity is also present in the artist’s jewelry, in which the formal perfection of an ancient artifact is combined with natural inserts of micro-mosaic that transform the apparent monochromacity into a symphony of color and light, generated by slight discrepancies within the tonal range.
This expansivity is also present in the artist’s jewelry, in which the formal perfection of an ancient artifact is combined with natural inserts of micro-mosaic that transform the apparent monochromacity into a symphony ofcolor and light, generated by slight discrepancies within the tonal range.
The artist’s subsequent experience – a public art commission in Cuba – represents a remarkable leap of coordinates, but not artistic direction. Selected by experts of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, Tracewska’s proposal featured a mosaic depiction of La Poderosa, the motorcycle of Che Guevara that has become a symbol of his journey to discover a world worth fighting for. The work is a dynamic, colorful icon of freedom, the long horizontal trail of the vehicle resolving itself in the form of the Cuban flag. The mosaic was carried out together with the other members of the Master’s Degree program at the Academy of Ravenna. Interpreting the original image in a highly material way, the students combined tes- serae of different textures and reflectivity – marble and vitreous smalti, bitumen and gold – in order to obtain a powerful chromatic vibration. The mural mosaic was installed in the university area of the city of Sancti Spiritus, Cuba in 2010.
With her mosaic installation Trompe l’oeil at the Museo Carlo Zauli of Faenza, Italy, Tracewska unreservedly shows the full grasp and ability of her mosaic skills. The piece was awarded the second edition of Starting Point!, the thesis prize with which the Academy of Fine Arts in Ravenna encourages its young talents. It also received a special award from SoloMosaico. She situates her modern-day Trompe l’oeil within the most cerebral area of the Faentine sculptor’s laboratory-museum, the studio. There, in an inversion of the visitor’s expectations, she obscures, rather than presents, her work: a series of small mosaic interventions inserted within a chaos of objects that serve as a reminder of the artist’s creative process: a T-square for making measurements and a sheet of paper for drawing, but also a sieve, a mirror, the metaphysical shadow of a carpet beater, even a wet spot or a hole in the wall. She presents a confusing web for the viewer to explore, searching out the presence or absence of the mosaic storylines, trying in amazement to distinguish fact from fiction and artwork from context (just as the ancients, perhaps, enjoyed the playfulness and wonder of an «unswept floor» executed in mosaic, an exercise in technical expertise and extraordinary illusionism).
Among those objects we observe is a small mosaic: The Daily Mirror. Instead of the simple mirror she raises to her face each morning, this mirror becomes a threshold to another dimension, igniting the infinite possibilities of light, not only to reflect the world, but to be it.