Ed Chapman tiptoed into the world of art holding the hands of his artist parents. Playing with pastels and pencils were part of his everyday routine even before he was conscious of his natural gifts. But instead of the more conventional media like acrylic or gouache, Ed Chapman found mosaic to be ideally suited for his artistic expressions.
He devoted himself to the exploration of mosaic art and finding his own niche in its illustrious legacy. From ceramic to pieces of paper, smashed vinyl records to plectrums, there is hardly any item with which creating art is not possible for Ed. He mostly uses famous faces from the world of music and art as his subjects.
He aims for maximum impact by trying to keep the palette as simple as possible. Watch closely and you will start identifying the fragments of life affectionately preserved in each piece of vinyl or ceramic before being skilfully strewn into a larger picture.
How growing up in a creatively stimulating environment helped young Ed Chapman?
All my siblings and I were encouraged by any art we were doing. Both my parents studied art (at Liverpool College of Art, contemporaries of Beatle John Lennon). We even had a family newspaper which recorded the events of the week and, at age five, I was in charge of the pictures (drawings).
Both of my parents were always creating art, my mother painting and father sculpting and making props for school plays and that sort of thing. My art efforts were always encouraged too. They also were tough taskmasters as they were really good at their areas of art, they expected me to know perspective when I was about four years old.
The ’70s and ’80s England saw newer streams of consciousness enter the world of art and music. How did that affect your formative years, if at all?
You can’t help but be influenced by the period in which you grow up, to some extent. I think the change has come about later though, for my work subjectwise. I love music from all periods (and all styles) and wanted to make portraits of the musicians I admire and still do.
When I first tried to take interest in mosaic icons I was literally told ‘that’s not art’ by a very well known gallery owner. Within a few years, the iconic subjects were seen everywhere, as paintings usually do, often really badly done in my opinion, yet still selling in the galleries. The same gallery owner, to his credit, has since bought more than one of my mosaics.
When did you first fell in love with mosaic art? Does having a background in fine arts help you to conceptualise and create mosaic artworks?
In the beginning, I always painted and, even more, created sketches using a pencil. Still lives were my forté. I still do them to relax, when I can. In 1997, I created a mosaic with papers for an A–Level project and was impressed with how the mosaic came together.
I was also pleased with how relatively easier the medium was for me. I was nowhere near an expert in mosaics — I have since read widely about the medium and studied them up close — but I felt the portrait I made of Kurt Cobain was good enough to pursue. By the second torn paper portrait (of John Lennon), I felt it may be possible to sell the pictures.
Have you ever drawn inspiration from historical works? As an artist how do you see the evolution of this art form?
I really admire the ancient mosaics. They are incredible in technique and often on the subject. They are preserved so well in many cases unlike, say, paintings. I draw inspirations from them in the skill employed and the accuracy of the results but I don’t try to emulate them …
I prefer to use as few pieces as possible to make the mosaic, unlike the equally sized pieces in the ancient mosaics. As far as evolution, I have many ideas for unique new and valid mosaic styles, smashed vinyl being a recent one I felt had not really been done properly. I have been asked to make portraits using all sorts of materials like sugar cubes, toys and coins.
I intend to concentrate on the materials that can make interesting and accurate likenesses of the subject rather than working with a bizarre material and having the portrait look nothing like the subject. Computers are playing a big part in creating interesting portraits in the mosaic style. This will continue but they look flat and I think layered mosaics are fare more interesting.
You experiment a lot with the use of colour in your artwork. Describe the way you use ‘colour’ to bring forth the essence of the subject of your mosaic art?
Colour is everything to me. I always have admired work by Vincent van Gogh, Lucien Freud and others in their use of colour among other things, the hyper-real of a pale blue or a bright red or orange in a face is very exciting to me.
Through your collages, you depict portraits, landscapes and abstractions. In the development of one from the other, does it require a conscious adjustment of your thought process?
If I switch from a medium, say ceramic to vinyl there is a definite shift in the thought and work–process. I like to have two or more mosaics in progress at the same time.
Your work often features some of the most well-known faces of the world. So far, the creation of which piece has given you the greatest amount of satisfaction?
Creating a portrait of Jimi Hendrix from more than 4,000 plectrums was something I was very pleased with (it sold for USD 35,000). I think the portrait of Lemmy from Motorhead (shown in the movie Lemmy, 2010) could be the single most satisfying one.
If you are requested to form a collage of your journey so far what would the artwork reveal?
Many many hours of trying to improve the mosaic technique. Starting with paper, to ceramic, to stone, vinyl and back to paper with several other media along the way. I like portraits especially as they are a challenge and yet offer a limitless range of possibilities. No two of my mosaics are ever the same.
When Ed is not creating mosaic art …
He loves being in the sunny coastal city of Torremolinos, Spain. The multifaceted cultural vista of Berlin also appeals to his artistic senses. An artist who adores portraying musicians, finds inimitable Bob Dylan’s voice to be most captivating. William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971) and Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society (1989) are his two all–time favourite movies.
The moving stories of The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro managed to capture Ed’s heart and mind. The flavour, texture and taste of cheese remain unbeaten when it comes to engaging the attention of Ed’s palate.
Find more of his work at his website.