Painting with Tile: Spotlight on Mosaic Artist Lívia Garreta
Spare, airy snowflakes melt as they hit the sidewalks of Gràcia on this cold, gray morning in February. The Gràcia section of Barcelona is known as an artsy, hip neighborhood filled with shops, cafés, and creative spaces. Here, Catalonia’s beloved architect Antoni Gaudí built his first home, Casa Vicens, as well as the enchanting Park Güell, sealing Gràcia’s reputation as a historic arts center.
Winding through the damp streets, I am looking forward to a refuge from the cold weather but more eager to meet master mosaic artist Lívia Garreta in preparation for this summer’s Folklife Festival.
“I was a little girl the last time it snowed in Barcelona," Garreta says, inviting us into her studio. She kindly adjusts the dials to power up her electric heater, but the vibrant scene of textured, vivid tiles, piled, colorful in all their unbroken and minced states, is so visually exciting that I quickly forget the chilly journey. Garreta established this studio after earning degrees in fine art and art history in Barcelona then mastering an in-depth study of the mosaic arts in Ravenna, Italy.
She describes her work as painting with tiles—an eternal art. Here in Barcelona, trencadís mosaic makes up much of the city’s modernism. As Garreta explains, the style originated in Sumaria but gained its iconic status in Barcelona when Gaudí used it to cover buildings. Garreta is a master of many mosaic styles in her own right and restorer of famous works such as Gaudí’s Sagrada Família and Lluís Brús’s work at Montjuic cemetery.
She quickly names Barcelona and Gaudí as her work’s inspiration, but when explaining her love of the materials’ textures and colors, her smile deepens. Dozens of glass jars holding small, imperfect square cuts of cobalt, amber, scarlet, lapis, pearl, and emerald tiles are gathered on shelves.
“Color and emotion, for me, are the same,” she explains.
These emotions in the materials, even I can feel, as I run my fingers across rows upon rows of neatly stacked tiles, sensing their patience until chosen by Garreta to infuse the needed emotion in her next work.
As I look around Garreta’s studio at the layered textures of the tiles, my eye falls to a large, bound book holding sketches upon sketches and watercolor paintings—each representing one of her completed works. She first creates a sketch, then adds watercolor paints defining color solutions for the installation. Once completed, she sketches a full-scale version spanning many pieces of paper, each carefully numbered for recreating on site.
Topping all but one of her worktables are marble, ceramic tiles, and glass pieces in varying shapes and colors. In addition to color, quality is most important in her selection—only the highest quality will make her cut. Chosen tiles are affixed to large pieces of mesh, layered over plastic-covered drawings. When finished, installers will cement them in place on-site, under her careful supervision.
Even on this gray day, the studio walls are home to brilliant, lively mosaic fish bouncing light as if catching sunrays underwater. These aquatic swimmers seem to glide and jump across the walls. Unlike other mosaic work, Garreta explains these are created with a favored method of crushed glass and tiles, her own style honed over years of study and work.
A number of days a week, her studio is filled with students eager to learn this mosaic craft from a master artist. Standing in her space, surrounded by Garreta’s inspirations, processes, photos, and paintings, I dream of being one of those students learning her art of painting with tiles for eternity. The snowflakes seem heavier in the cold air, but leaving Lívia Garreta’s studio, I am warm, angling to return.
Meet Lívia Garreta at the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, June 27 to July 1 and July 4 to 8 in Washington, D.C. Her mosaic work will also be for sale in the Festival Marketplace, located on the south patio of the National Museum of American History.
Jackie Flanagan Pangelinan is the Marketplace and artisan engagement manager for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.