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Translating a Painting into Mosaic in Residency at Constitution Hill

Spier Arts Academy Mosaic Studio


Apprentices from the Spier Arts Academy Mosaic Studio in residence at the Nando’s Rites and Duties exhibition at Constitution Hill, Braamfontein, paused between the beats to snap shots of their mosaic interpretation of ‘Small Township’, by one of South Africa’s foremost painters Ricky Ayanda Dyaloyi.


‘Small Township’ by Ricky Ayanda Dyaloyi.
The original painting, ‘Small Township’ by Ricky Ayanda Dyaloyi.


The materials Dyaloyi uses often echo his surroundings in Khayelitsha township – he occasionally mixes sand and dust into his paint, and is fond of working on rough, untreated canvas. The Spier Arts Academy’s mission was to translate the meaning, style and what the artist was trying to say in a mosaic interpretation. Mirroring Dyaloyi’s approach, they collected stones on Constitution Hill and incorporated them into the mosaic itself.


Over the course of the Rites and Duties exhibition ten artists worked on the piece, in two groups of five. Third year mosaic apprentice Heinrich Joemath says, “Apparently our finished artwork is going to be loaned to Constitution Hill once it’s done so it’s nice to include material from here, and to create an artwork in the space in which it’s going to hang.” He continued to give us the low down from the Atrium in The Old Fort.


3. Spier Arts Academy Mosaic Studio in the Atrium Courtyard4.Spier Arts Academy working to a rhythm in the Atrium courtyard
Spier Arts Academy working to a rhythm in the Atrium courtyard


A wonderful part of this experience of creating on on-site artwork has been getting to work out amongst a public audience. We’re used to working in the privacy of a studio at Yellowwoods Art Union House where we only get public response once the artwork is finished and it’s been exciting to get an immediate response and appreciation. It’s really motivating!


Ricky’s artwork ‘Small Township, 2013’ is a 600 x 900mm mixed media canvas artwork. Our interpretation is 2,5m x 1,7m. Because of the size of the artwork compared to the size of table we had to work on we divided the artwork in half and worked on it in two pieces on two tables.


Spier Arts Academy


We used an enlarged copy of the artwork beneath plastic sheet and fibre mesh. We had a colour copy of the painting as a reference to get the colours right. Getting the colours right is not that easy! A painter can just mix two paints to make the shade they want, but we have to find mosaic materials that are already the right colour. There’s quite a large selection of material in this mosaic, mainly because matching up the colours to the artwork was challenging as some colours are only available in certain materials. Our mosaic includes ceramics, Venetian glass, marble, stones from Constitution Hill and, when we couldn’t find the right materials amongst natural stones we used brighter, colour-matched manmade stone.


The crafting process that has gone into this artwork has amazed exhibition visitors – even some mosaic artists themselves found our technique to be something new. This process of working in public has been such a good thing as it’s brought exposure to this new distinctive style and aesthetic of mosaic coming out of South Africa.


Seconds before people walked into the Atrium courtyard and found all of us apprentices working live on this mosaic artwork, they’d been in the Slovo Courtyard next door and seen the massive Vertical Aerial; Johannesburg by Gerhard Marx,. It’s a freestanding sculpture of an aerial streetview of Joburg city centre translated into a mosaic work that’s made of 56 mosaic panels mounted onto an angular steel frame. People were fascinated by it and that it took seven professional mosaic artists to create all 35,8 square meters of it. So when they stepped into our space they could suddenly see how Vertical Aerial; Johannesburg was created. We use the same process and some of the same people have been involved in creating both artworks.


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Vertical Aerial; Johannesburg by Gerhard Marx

Spier Arts Academy Spier Arts Academy


The creepiest thing about this project is that every day we’ve been working in an old prison. At quiet times during the exhibition there’s sometimes no one else around.  It’s just been the artwork and us amongst the empty prison cells.


Ricky Dyaloyi hasn’t seen the finished artwork yet. We’re taking it back to Union House in Cape Town to install it in a frame and finish it off before it comes back here, so we’re looking forward to having him over to see it for himself there.


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Catch the Spier Arts Academy Mosaic Studio in residence and the Nando’s Rites and Duties exhibition on at Constitution Hill before the end of this week.


Take the video tour.


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