All images used courtesy of Claudia Bini https://www.claudiabini.com/
Hello again and welcome to another Face Behind the Mosaic. Claudia Bini is an Italian artist now living and working in Sweden. It was Claudia’s glass depictions of social settings which caught my eye. If you haven’t seen them, then do have a look as she uses coloured glass to great effect. Claudia is the BAMM coordinator for Scandinavia and, although she isn’t currently a full-time mosaicist, she has recently started studying Archaeology and Ancient History at Lund University and for which mosaics are bound to be included. So, as always, please read on!
Claudia, welcome. You’re originally from Tuscany, Italy, and you studied at the Institute of Art in Monza and then a further year at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan. That’s quite an arts education! How do you think your studies feed into your mosaic work?
They certainly gave me some background. I have a diploma in visual communication and worked in advertising and publishing. I have learnt how to handle a project from start to finish, plus I have some good notions of history of art and colour theory; all useful aspects that can be applied when working with mosaic as a media.
Did you see many mosaics when growing up? And did these influence your decision to become an artist?
More than mosaics, I would say art in general. Growing up in Italy, I had been surrounded by art and architecture. As a child, I used to visit museums and exhibitions together with my grandfather, who also loved art. I guess it runs in the family, because his daughter, my mother, is also very interested in arts and crafts. She has always encouraged me to try out all possible media, from drawing to painting, working with clay, making jewellery and so on. When I applied for art school, my dream was to become graphic designer and create images for record covers. Vinyl was still huge at the time!
You then moved into freelance graphic design for advertising and you’ve said that it was while working on a project that you gained experience in different modes of art and how you first experienced modern mosaic making. Can you tell me about that?
That was an interesting turn of events. I attended a course to learn the basics of ‘trompe-l’oeil’, which was held by Maria Rita Macchiavelli, a renowned Italian journalist and one of the first makers of DIY tutorials and handbook publications. She suggested I assist her while preparing two handbooks: one on paper mâché, and one on mosaic. We needed to make many pieces for the different stages of ‘work in progress’ photos, so she put a mosaic nipper in my hand and a bunch of glass stripes in the other and said, “Start cutting them into small tesserae”. And just like that I was hooked!
And how did you move from making mosaics as a hobby to becoming a professional mosaic artist?
It happened when I moved to Sweden. I had a studio, which sadly I no longer have, where I was giving courses and selling the tools and materials for mosaic making.
You’re based in Lund, Sweden. Are there many mosaicists working there?
There are few; some of them are former students of mine, but to my knowledge none is working full time with it.
Is there a big mosaic community in Sweden?
Nothing comparable to other countries, but we are slowly growing. As BAMM coordinator for Scandinavia, I welcome the newly joined members. At the moment Denmark has a larger group of mosaic artists.
Do any of your former students still mosaic, do you know?
I am still in contact with two of them. One in particular attended my course more than 10 years ago. She does mosaic as a hobby and now that she is retired has more time to work on her projects.
And could I ask what you enjoyed about teaching?
I like to give the students the chance to express themselves, so I encourage to come to class with some ideas of what they would like to do and see how to transform them into mosaic. In this way everyone can work on a more personal level, and at the same time they learn about mosaic techniques. What I enjoy the most is to see the variety and originality of artworks at the end of the class. The students seem to appreciate it as well; it’s more fun than making a clone of the same work for everybody
So, are you self-taught or have you studied with teachers?
After my first encounter with mosaic I decided to learn more, so I bought some books and went back studying ancient mosaics in churches. We are talking about 25 years ago; there were no YouTube tutorials or Google search to help me back then. Later, I took some courses and I intend to continue to do so in the future. It’s always good to get out of your comfort zone and learn new skills.
I’m particularly interested in your ‘People’ pieces depicting social settings. What inspired you to create these? And why did you stop? I love them! There’s so much expression in these pieces, I almost feel you could make these your signature pieces!
I am glad to hear you appreciate my “people” pieces, I have so much fun when I work this type of subject.
I like to go around and take my own pictures. In this way I will always render an original scene, most often almost impossible to recreate no matter how hard you would try; the flow of the city is constantly changing. Whenever I see something that has potential, I take a shot. The scene in ‘Another working day’ is an exception. There, I was aiming at taking a picture of The Shard in London. It turned out dull and grey when suddenly I realised that something much more interesting was going on along the street! That is the story of how that piece was born.
I have only made four pieces, so far. The original plan was to make many more and showcase them all together during an exhibition. Unfortunately, or should I say luckily, I sold them all very quickly!
The plan to make an entire series still stands, I just need to have the patience to collect them and not show them before they are all ready.
Do you draw your images before you begin the mosaic or do you lay the glass over the photo?
I usually draw my images. I trace the outline of a photo to keep the right proportions and adjust, smooth or remove some details before I start with the mosaic part.
You also make jewellery in which you incorporate mosaics. When did you start making jewellery?
It started long time ago, when I took a course in fused glass and lamp beads. Myself I am a big fan of eccentric, odd pieces. Something that makes a statement and can be worn easily without worries. When it comes to incorporate mosaic, I smooth the edges as much as I can to avoid accidental cuts on the skin or damages on fabrics. To enhance the artistic part of a jewel, it is crucial to pay attention to details; from the finishing of the findings to the length of a chain or cord. Some details are the same to give consistency to a collection, but each piece has a special detail that makes it unique.
Your mosaics are made of decorative glass and also smalti. Do you have a preference as to which material you use? And where did you learn to use a hammer and hardie?
It depends from the kind of project I have in mind. Decorative glass is the first love, the one I used the very first time. I can cut it very quickly and get any kind of shape I want; also the colour palette is very rich in gradient shades, so it allows me to give that illusion of a brush stroke I am looking for. I love the roughness of smalti; their thickness gives me the chance to work on three-dimensions. I am less familiar with natural stones and marbles; I have recently started to experiment with them, but so far, I really like them. They are the original material used since the appearance of the first mosaics in history.
I went to Orsoni in Venice and attended a workshop to learn how to work with a hammer and hardie. It was a wonderful experience to live and work in the same spot of the factory. I warmly recommend it!
I’ve seen you’ve contributed a piece to Carrie Reichardt’s famous mosaic house, which I’ve only seen online. How did you come to create a piece for the house?
I have been following Carrie’s work since many years, being both part of BAMM, so when she put out a ‘call for artists’ to help her finish the house, I was happy to join. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the possibility to go there and help in person, but I sent a couple of ‘alien eyes’. I worked on a mesh, using vitreous tiles and luminescent glass tiles. I called them ‘alien’ because they glow in the dark! I look forward to finally seeing The Mosaic House next time I am in London.
And now for those questions I ask of every artist! Is there a mosaic artist you really admire? Or more than one?
There are many contemporary mosaic artists I admire, and it wouldn’t be fair to name only one or two. There are those who treat their motives in a very interesting way, some who can combine different materials with astonishing results, other have a quirky sense of humour that I love. Our community is full of great, talented people!
And is there a mosaic that stopped you in your tracks and gave you that ‘Wow!’ moment?
Yes, without a doubt is the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently preparing a presentation about the significance of mosaic in art, plus some workshops for the upcoming seasonal courses at ‘Folkuniversitet’ in Lund. There will also be a collective exhibition in April 2020 with the art group I am part of and for which I am the only mosaic artist. I need to prepare some new pieces.
And plans for the future?
I am in the beginning of my studies in Archaeology and Ancient History at Lund University; I will spend the next few months in the company of ancient Greeks and Romans… more classical art and more mosaics to study among other things! Besides continuing with more exhibitions, another plan for the future is to take a course at the Mosaic School in Spilimbergo. I want to learn more about materials and techniques.
Claudia, good luck with your studies and thank you for speaking with me.