I have to come out at this point. Until yesterday I did not know in the United States there was a “Pattern and Decoration” movement – in short P&D. That was between 1975 and the early 1980s.
The minimalist art of the 60s had put women’s rights and the legitimacy of certain crafts and design elements in question. The art world was male-dominated and euro-centric beliefs prevailed. P&D aimed to finally break down the barriers between high art and craft. So its members focussed on traditional artforms like Roman and Byzantine mosaics, Islamic tiles and asian silks.
Born in Somerville, New Jersey, Joyce Kozloff was one of the central figures of the connection. Beginning in 1973, she created large paintings, drawing upon worldwide patterns and ornamental passages. In 1975, she began to meet with artists who shared her ideas, among them Robert Kushner, Miriam Schapiro, Tony Robbin, Robert Zakanitch and Valerie Jaudon. Since the 1980s Kozloff has executed numerous projects in public space such as subway stations, train stations and public buildings. Her work is inspired by geometric patterns, ornaments and symbols she found travelling.
An Interior Decorated
During the late 1970s, Kozloff produced “An Interior Decorated”. The heart of the installation was a tiled floor composed of individually painted images on meshing stars and hexagons. The project was redesigned depending on the space in which it was exhibited between 1979 and 1981. Moreover, the room filling installation included hanging silkscreen textile panels, 25 hand painted, glazed tile pilasters and lithographs on Chinese silk paper.
The floor was meant to provoke. At that time, the word “decorative” was a pejorative word when used to describe high art. And interior decoration was considered a degraded activity by sophisticated people in the art world.
“I created all the tiles on the floor itself by hand, rolling out slabs of clay and cutting out the shapes with cookie cutters.”
Kozloff used to go to kitchen supply stores where she bought different shapes and sizes of cookie cutters. Each tile was painted with a motif from her books about worldwide decorative arts.
Until end of 2013 the tiled floor and some tile studies by Joyce Kozloff are shown in the exhibition “The Other Americans” at the Ludwig Forum in Aachen, Germany. They belong to the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Peter and Irene Ludwig, who bought specifically in the late 60’s art in the United States.
Out to the public
To reach a broader audience, Kozloff produced fifteen major commissioned pieces between 1983 and 2003. Most of them were executed in ceramic tile, or glass and marble mosaic, with iconography based on local sources and references. Many of these projects were for transportation centers, such as the International Terminal of San Francisco Airport or the Wilmington Railroad Station.
“When I went into public art, I needed to find more permanent materials and methods, especially for artworks that were subject to freezing and thawing temperatures.”
The tiles of the earlier works were low fire earthenware, with commercial under glazes and a clear glaze over the top. That is how she was able to get such a rich color palette. But this method was not appropriate for permanent, public projects. Later, she hand painted all the high fire ceramic tiles in her piece for the Detroit People Mover, working at the Kohler Factory in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. There she learned about industrial porcelain, which has an over glaze very much like Majolica, but is much more durable. For the piece at the library, Mankato State University in Minnesota, she went to Tile Works in Los Angeles, a factory that produces high end tiles, and hand painted the 12 murals in majolica.
Cooperations with Italian artisans
But for some of the artworks that were either outdoors or in unheated areas in northern cities, no tiles would survive. That was when she began to work in glass and marble mosaics. As an artist working with mosaic fabricators in the United States you worked with Costante Crovatto in Yonkers, New York. Most of their commissions were for churches, but they also produced many works with contemporary artists.
“Mr. Crovatto was from a village in the Friuli, but had moved to New York and became a very successful businessman with a shop of Friulani artisans.”
On weekends Kozloff went to Crovatto’s shop to choose the mix of colors, section by section. The next week, she went back to choose the colors for the next section.
“He had something like 30,000 different colors of cut glass smalti, the little pieces, arranged in bins. We would choose 6 or 8 for each passage, put them in a bin, shake it up, and then try it out.”
In her pieces for the San Francisco Airport, the Buffalo People Mover and the Philadelphia Train Station, Kozloff combined hand-painted tiles and the mosaic glass produced by Mr. Crovatto and his staff. Every weekend, she brought the tiles she had painted and fired in her studio that week. Then they were integrated into the work the artisans had done in mosaics.
The smalti were cut into tinier and tinier pieces to fit the artist’s intricate designs. Kozloff went with the staff to install the project every time, supervising on site. For some of the pieces, like the one in Buffalo, tile setters were working on several levels of a scaffold, installing. The mosaics were glued in reverse onto sheets of paper in sections, then glued on the wall, the paper was peeled off, and they were grouted on site.
One of Kozloff’s works was inspired by the famous Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna. The mosaics of the original depict different christian motifs. One of the lunettes shows a young Jesus as the good shepherd grazing his sheep and holding a golden cross. The lunette over the south wall is thought to depict St. Lawrence, next to a flaming gridiron. On the opposite side of the gridiron a bookcase is shown with the books of the four evangelists. In Kozloff’s mosaic William Penn replaces the saints of the Ravenna original. The founder of the colony of Pennsylvania and its capital Philadelphia stands on a hill, with the curled Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the hand. Penn put into effect a system of government that was based on brotherhood and personal freedom for settlers and Indians, and was way ahead of his time. In Philadelphia he is seen like a saint, and his silhouette is the symbol of the city.
Although the wall is only slightly convex, Kozloff’s mosaic creates the illusion of depth and suggests that one is inside an ancient building. While the flames that actually stand for martyrdom here get ornamental character, the typical Byzantine canopy is meant to shield Penn as it shields the saints of the original.
In a review in the New York Times on the P&D reunion exhibition at the Hudson River Museum, the critic Holland Cotter calls Pattern & Decoration “the last genuine art movement of the 20th century, which was also the first and only art movement of the post-modern era and may prove to be the last art movement ever”. I guess a final couldn’t be more hypnotic and funky than that.