MOUNT STERLING — Mosaic is not necessarily an art form indigenous to this Eastern Kentucky town of 6,995 just south of Interstate 64. But mosaic artist Terry Pulley is definitely making a place for it at Gateway Regional Arts Center, the Main Street art outpost in Mount Sterling.
In the basement, members of the community are busy creating a giant mosaic piece that will cover one of the exterior surfaces of the historic First United Methodist Church building that now houses the center. That project will be completed and unveiled this spring.
But now, area residents are being treated to an almost exclusive look at an international mosaic exhibit, Pattern Now XIV. Thanks to Pulley's pull in the mosaic community, Mount Sterling is one of just two U.S. cities — the other is Charlotte, N.C. — hosting the exhibit. It features works by some of the world's most highly regarded contemporary mosaic artists.
"I'm the exhibition chair person in the American Society of Mosaic Artists," Pulley says. An inquiry came from exhibition curator Emma Biggs and manager Vicki Hanson- Burkhart, saying, "They had this show in Charlotte and, 'Do you know of somewhere else we can put it?'" Pulley recalls. "I said, I think I might know someplace."
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Pulley says the exhibit is very much guided by the sensibilities of Biggs, an internationally acclaimed mosaic artist based in England.
"It's impossible to be a mosaicist without involving yourself in the creation of patterns; putting one tile next to another is intrinsic to creating patterns," Biggs says in a video accompanying the exhibit. "The artists invited to be in this show are people for whom pattern is an area of exploration. I don't think any of the artists have got precise conclusions about how to deal with or how to think about patterns."
Indeed, Pattern Now XIV presents a variety of approaches to patterns and the art of mosaic, taking it well beyond the commercial experiences many have had with items such as trivets and coasters made from chipped glass and tile. A number of pieces reach well beyond typical mosaic materials.
"This is the most fascinating one to me," Pulley says, stepping up to Italian artist Sonya Louro do Rego's Order. "Whoever thought you could use thorns in a mosaic? It's thorns and lava rock pressed into a thin-set background." Thin-set is a setting material akin to grout in tiling.
The thorns create a pattern, though not exactly uniform, and Rego sent directions that the work was to be lit from the side, creating a jagged shadow in a statement about the futility of humans trying to control nature.
Other rule-breaking includes the work of Japanese artist Toyoharu Kii, "the only mosaic artist I've seen who can work in all white," Pulley says, and Vicki Hanson- Burkhart's interactive Magnetic Connection, with pieces observers may move around in a wood frame.
"I can set it out any morning and I will come back and it's all been rearranged," says Gateway Arts Center director Cay Lane.
The exhibit also boasts more traditional and even historical visions of mosaic, such as Texas artist Julie Richey's works echoing Southwestern petroglyphs and pictographs, exotic cityscapes by Dallas artist Sherri King and the whimsy of her daughter Sonia King, and the intricate pattern studies of Biggs and Brazilian artist Sandra Naxara.
Just in case visitors are interested in how the work is made, Pulley set out a hammer and base where people may cut bits of tile like the artists have done.
"A lot of people have expressed interest in learning how," she says, "so that's opening more possibilities of people creating original mosaic work in the Bluegrass area."