Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mexican Diary # 4: They’ve Started!

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary # 4: They’ve Started!

They’ve started on the mosaic, today is day two of production. I’ve chosen all the colours and it’s a great thrill to see the design coming to life – even at this early stage.
Well so far so good. The colours are lovely. I am able to communicate well with them and make comments – even though I am supposed to go through Aida – who passes on my comments to Luigi. I WILL do that for big things but small details I want to ‘nip n the bud’ and make sure that we are steering the ship in the right direction. – And I don’t mean the Titanic!
Alfredo the draughtsman is like a human photocopier – he will copy, flip, enlarge and reduce but he does not create - neither has he shown any sign of an artistic opinion that I have seen, and has so far offered none – even when pressed. When I ask him what he thinks he just agrees with me! I guess it is simply not his job to give artistic input. So when Magdalena said to me “He can do anything!” in many ways she was speaking the truth – in the same way that a photocopier can copy ANYTHING, can enlarge ANYTHING then so too can Alfredo. Frankly I miss the debate. With my old pal Andrew there was always a discussion – a REASON for doing whatever it was that we were doing – why the bird was blue, why his eye looked like that, why that line disappeared and emerged later on in another part of the composition – WHADEVER! All that said Alfredo is an agreeable chap though, he’s warm and friendly, he likes to please and I like him very much. He DOES see the point of any criticisms / changes that I suggest and makes them immediately without question. Of course I think I know what I am doing after all these years – I really don’t think that I could have handled this ten years ago, I still find it daunting, but I feel in control – so far anyway.
I’m getting on very well with Luigi too. So far we’ve agreed about pretty much everything. He DID put me under a lot of pressure to finalise the design – but I’m happy with the result so that’s fine. I had my first minor disagreement with him today though. I felt that the drawing of the female dancer was too short. I have made two attempts at this: the first, being 16 x the scaled original sketch, was far too large, the second 78% of that one, ended up slightly too small. Alfredo split the difference, but in my opinion lost the dynamism and dare I say it the spontaneity and sleek elegance of the original. I explained this to Alfredo, who agreed to start again. Luigi came by and said it was fine because she was dancing. At this point I decided to take action. I chose one of the girls, whose figure, I thought most matched the spindly form of the girls I had seen in Barbados. She was VERY shy and self conscious but eventually I persuaded her to strike the position of the dancer. At this point even I didn’t dare to point to her breast etc. so I demonstrated on my own (not so) sleek body – indicating the distance between the breast, the equilateral triangle formed by the nipples and the navel and finally the distance from the navel to the pubic area. I then transferred these principles to the drawing. I also pointed out how, being on the floor and therefore being looked down on at an angle, the figure appeared even more foreshortened that if it was, say, on a wall being looked at ‘head on’. I know this to be a consideration having seen ceiling paintings in Venice, notably by Tiepolo in the Academia, which are stretched out to compensate for the fact that they are on the ceiling and therefore the viewer strains his or her neck to look up at them. I thought I had put forward an unarguable case towards changing the drawing. Luigi simply said “Do what you want” and walked off. So as not to lose face, he shouted at one of the girls for having a bottle of coke on the work bench. Alfredo changed the drawing.
I’ve been told that it is not necessary for me to give a full scale colour design next time –Alfredo will do all that. However I wouldn’t have changed a thing and fully intend to work in exactly the same way next time. The simple fact is that it helps ME to work full scale – I find that when you enlarge a drawing say 16X as in this case – it looks entirely different. What looked delicate on the original – like the dancing girl, looked far too big and imposing when multiplied by sixteen. This is no doubt due to the fact that when you double the length you quadruple the area: i.e.: 2 x 2 cm = 4 sq cm where 4 x 4 cm = 16 sq cm and so on. So you’re not really doubling at all – you’re quadrupling! (This is a good tip to remember when grilling fish too.)
At the moment there are only 4 x ladies cranking out the mosaic. They are:Josephine (Breadfruit leaf - light) who has 30 years experienceMargarita (Breadfruit leaf - dark) who has 10 years experienceGuadalupe (Drums) who has 10 years experienceEtavel (Drums) who has 10 years experience
It seems to me that Luigi has given me the cream of the crop. They all know what they are doing. I go and have regular inspections and so far my changes and criticisms have been minimal and I’m pleased to say that in every case they have understood what I was on about completely and even agreed with me.
I’m surprised to see that, individually they are no faster than I am. I remember only too well Manuela Farnetti the Ravenna guide commenting on the St. Appollinaire Nuovo mosaic that the master would mosaic one square per day. “That’s astonishing” I commented “I can only ever manage a square foot” “Yes” she replied “But an EXPERIENCED mosaicist would make a square metre!” Well that put me in my place – see you in another twenty years time Manuela. I still refute that statistic. Maybe the team managed a sq metre per day or maybe the maestro did even – if all of if prep was done for him – including most of the cutting, but the fact that these guys here in Mexico work at the same pace as me makes me even more certain that this is a myth.
Starting the mosaic production is like pressing the button on a huge machine – like, say one of Willy Wonka’s chocolate bar machines. Apart from the gurgling the effect is much the same, like a huge dinosaur or Frankenstein’s monster coming to life. I choose this metaphor because I feel that the chances of stopping the damn thing now that it is in motion is about as easy too.
The workers all seem very happy. Their ages range from around 19 to 70 and some of them have been here for more than 40 years. They chat together and laugh a lot which is a good sign. Is it patronising of me to say that they seem so content? Maybe they don’t have any choice about the matter – that they simply have no choice and so they are making the best of it. It doesn’t feel like that though. Yesterday Eli – the only one who speaks English –asked me how many hours a day I put in on the mosaic front. I was too embarrassed to admit that I tend to work when I feel like it, that I have good days and bad days and a good day one day almost invariably means a slow day after. In other words I simply can’t stand the pace or keep up with these lot on a consistent day to day basis – never mind – there’s always the day job...err..But this IS my day job!
This is the first time that I haven’t actually made the mosaic myself, or at least some of it – I have taken on assistants in the past from time to time, when the job called for it – but nothing on this scale. It feels very much like directing a film, I have a vision in my head and it’s up to me to make sure that that vision becomes a reality and doesn’t get lost in the ‘Chinese whispers’ of filtration as it emerges via the hands of others.
And I’ve finished one!...Title: Mexican Day of the Dead CatMedium: Mexican Smalti, Millefiori Size: 60 x 53 cm
n.b: you can see this mosaic on my website – the page is:http://www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/day_of_the_dead.html
The cat is my first finished mosaic here in Mehico. It shows a ‘day of the Dead Cat’. In his mouth is a demon which he has caught as if it were a bird. The cat is very happy and this is meant to be a funny image.
The Day of the Dead is celebrated n November 2. It is the day when the dead are honoured. Offerings of flower, fruit and food etc. are made in the churches. Usually it is a parent, relative or lost loved one that is remembered but children also honour their pets- Tom’s rabbit Chippy would do well out of this one!
The skeletons are not meant to be fiendish, ghoulish or frightening in any way.
There are little boxes which you open up to reveal a skeletal man or woman or both – these are clothed in their Sunday best. Most of the effigies that I have seen on craft stalls have been pretty crudely made, however I was able to buy some extremely well made ones, with intricately painted details and it is these that I am using for the inspiration for my mosaics. I’m currently working on a dog to make up the pair. The dog is female – with a huge pink sombrero, and in his mouth he has a tortoise.
What do you think?!

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

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