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Helen Bodycomb - Public Mosaics and Public Art
Helen Bodycomb
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Helen Bodycomb

Castlemaine, Australia

I moved to the Castlemaine area in late 2007 from Melbourne, where I had lived on and off for almost 30 years. Born in Adelaide and raised as a young child in Elizabeth (SA), I went to Uni High and later – to art school – in Melbourne. I completed a BA in Fine Art (majoring in Painting) at Victoria College, Prahran and then a Post-Graduate Diploma at Monash Uni.

Regarded inside and out as “crummy but chummy”, Prahran was arguably the most warm and inspiring art school in Melbourne during the 1980’s, with staff who maintained their own dedicated studio practices and a diverse student population whose names liberally pepper the Australian art scene more than 20 years later. As Howard Arkley used to mutter to us “the hardest thing as an artist is just to keep doing it”. He wasn’t wrong. Warned on exiting the place (in 1990) that “you still have your 20 year apprenticeship to serve” (Vic Majzner), I feel I am truly arriving about now.

mosaic-hands-cutting-toolsSoon after leaving art school, paint was largely replaced by glass and stone for me. Making art for public spaces, making art with and for communities resonated more for me than making art for the austere and elite “white cube”. I loved the act of making something tactile that stood somewhere between painting and sculpture. Unfashionable as it was (and to a large degree still is) I was always a closet craftie and so somehow, accidentally became a Mosaicist.

My passion for mosaic is as much for the process of assemblage as for the traditional media of glass and stone (smashed glazed Johnson tiles are relative newcomers to the ancient artform). The variations of material nuance are endless. Orsoni’s venetian glass smalti are subtly different from Donà’s Spilimbergo smalti and again from Perdomo’s Mexican smalti (and that’s pretty much all there is in high quality hand-made mosaic glass). We are now seeing marbles and sandstones from China and India that the Greeks and Romans had never dared even to dream of. However mosaic tesserae could be made of anything. Last year I enjoyed working with latex, plaster and flock. The year before I was making mosaics using thousands of chicken wishbones, gold leaf and bronze. It’s a huge learning process. I don’t ever want to feel as though I have carved out my ‘look’ and everything I make from then on will be a virtual re-creation of the same work. The one line joke, repeated over and over. That would be tantamount to the walls of creative possibility closing in, and there is always more to say.

As my career has developed I have been privileged to enjoy influential arts residencies that have included Dunmoochin, Vic, Australia (1992-93); La Scuola di Mosaicisti del Friuli Spilimbergo, Italy (2001 – funded by The Australia Council for the Arts and Arts Victoria); Rimbun Dahan, Kuala Lumpur (2006) and Hotel Penaga, Penang (2010), Malaysia. In 2011, I was honoured to be the recipient of an In-Habit International Research Grant which allowed me to make a return visit to my Spilimbergo mentors in Italy and to exhibit in a major International Mosaic Festival premier exhibition Ravenna Mosaico (my exhibited work later specially noted in Robert Conway Morriss’ review in The New York Times). I have twice in the past few years been a Guest Presenter and Tutor at SAMA (Society of American Mosaic Artists) conferences in Miami and in Chicago and a regular speaker and teacher on the Australian mosaic and public art forum circuit.

Having had periods when I engaged and trained teams of other artists to help me with large commissions (and I became a Project Manager), these days I relish the largely solo hands-on studio practice. However I enjoy collaborating with others, which I do regularly – with stonemasons, sculptors, illustrators, architects and other artists. I do a little teaching each year and most of the time am working on smaller scale mosaic commissions for public or private clients. The few months each year of “fallow time” (between paid work) I can just make work for me or take risks on potentially bizarre art ideas.

After having lived adjacent to my studio (or in it) for almost 20 years, I now love getting up and leaving home in the morning for my studio at Lot 19. I am fortunate to have found a rich and warm community in which to live and work, together with a natural environment that brings me peace and inspiration in equal measure.