20 August 2009

Julie Richey is a true Renaissance woman

I first became aware of the work of mosaicist Julie Richey through the image above, Night Shirt. It appeared in the 2009 edition of Mosaic Art Now. Until I saw Night Shirt, the idea that mosaic could be three-dimensional, sculptural art never crossed my mind.

Well, it's certainly an idea Julie Richey's been perfecting for a while. I mean check out this:

This piece is her L’Ambasciatrice, The Ambassadress in English. Clearly, this is a woman of uncommon talent and a terrific sense of humor.

This is a detail shot from L’Ambasciatrice. It's absolutely beautiful.

So much of what appeals to me about contemporary mosaic art is how effortlessly it rests on the shoulders of the ancient masters who perfected it. Contemporary mosaicists use an ancient medium to communicate a modern point of view and I find it to be thrilling. I see in it the very essence of Western Civilization.

That mosaic survived to the modern era is due in a large part to its use in sacred art. Mosaic is permanent and ethereal at the same time and it made the perfect medium with which to decorate a church. Many of those churches still exist, and probably the most famous one is St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

The first time I stood under this dome and looked up is a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I didn't have a religious epiphany, it was more a human epiphany. Some of the greatest minds of the last 500 years stood on that same spot and looked up to see the same thing I saw. Frescoes and paintings age and darken. Mosaics are forever and St. Peter's ceiling looks today just as it did when it was a new building 500 years ago.

I bring that up for a couple of reasons, the first of which is that Julie Richey creates sacred art as part of her oeuvre. Here's an overview of a baptismal font from a church in Fall's Church, VA. The design features Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the Four Evangelists.

Early Christian icons portrayed St. Luke as a winged bull, St. Mark as a winged lion, St. John as an eagle and Matthew as a winged man. These symbols come from a prophesy found in the Book of Ezekiel and in referring to them, Julie Richey just put a modern space into a historical context. It's a pretty staggering achievement and she does it with the subtlety of a whisper. Julie's use of ancient symbols rendered in an ancient medium in a modern design for a space where an ancient ritual will be carried out makes a circle through 3,000 years of history. It's genius, but a really quiet genius.

This is St. Matthew under construction.

This is a detail shot of St. Matthew's eye.

The face of St. Matthew.

A detail shot of St. Matthew's hands.

This is the artist herself installing St. Matthew.

Matthew being grouted into the floor.

The finished St. Matthew.

Stunning work, all of it.

Despite the rambling nature of this post, there is a thread that's about to tie it together. A couple of weeks ago, Julie left a comment here after one of my recent posts about mosaic art. She mentioned that she leads tours of Rome with an emphasis on the mosaics to be found there.

Julie guides these tours along with an art professor and together, they operate out of the University of Dallas' campus in Rome, Due Santi. Read more about this guided excursion here. Every square centimeter in Rome is full to overflowing with nearly 3,000 years worth of significance. I've always wanted to take a casual walk through those streets with someone who could explain everything to me. I think I found the opportunity.

So after all that, the artist as three-dimensional mosaicist, the artist as iconographer, the artist as art historian. After all that, the woman can still pull off a wall or a floor like nobody's business. Brava! Go check out the rest of her gallery on her website. It's some amazing stuff.

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