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The Whirlwind Mosaic: Interview with Kate Rattray

Few legends in the world of art can maintain the balance between the paradoxical blend of modesty and resourcefulness. Kate Rattray is one of them!

I’m especially thrilled to share my interview with Kate Rattray, the humble yet brilliant mosaicist living and working in Somerset, UK. Inspired by the force, composition and hues of nature, her work tells the story of an ancient allegory that perceives the world as a primitive and magical place. The enchantment in her mosaics amplifies a piece of splendor, both literally and figuratively and pushes your estimate limits concerning her exceptional source of inspiration.

In this exclusive interview, Kate talks more in-depth about her chronic journey with tiles and her life as a mosaic artist. She also shares a work-in-progress mosaic that is both thought provoking and inspiring.

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What does your workspace look like?

I work in my shed in the corner of my garden. It’s 4 x 3 meters and a bit of a squeeze with a large worktop bang in the middle and shelves and boxes full of glass, ceramic, wire, cement, paints  and other  bits and bobs around the edges. It’s rarely tidy except in between projects and is home for many large spiders and mice in the winter. It is insulated but still cold in the winter so I have a small energy saving heater that only just takes the edge of the chill and I put layers of clothes on, wear fingerless gloves and tell myself I have to suffer for my art!

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What initially attracted you to create your mosaics?

I was initially attracted to mosaics in 1994 after being asked to make one on an exterior school wall with the children. I was making and exhibiting collages after leaving Art College and the opportunity to make a school mosaic was an exciting prospect. I found several old mosaic books in the library that were written in the 50’s and 60’s and with the help of some local builders who showed me how to make a mortar mix, I learned how to build a mural mosaic using direct and indirect methods. When I had almost finished the mosaic, I was working on the sky in the stained glass one evening at sunset. I had mixed up the best workable mortar mix so far and I was so awestruck by the reflections and shine of the glass in the golden light, that all I wanted to do was to make more mosaics.

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Who was your early influence of art?

When I was little I would spend hours in the garden making mud pies and mud coffee, but I think I had various influences of art back then. There were two paintings I particularly remember in our house when I was really young. One was a Dutch painting of a family around a table and for some reason, I spent a lot of time looking at the tiled floor! The other was an abstract my dad painted. It had a black background and was covered with bright colored circles of different sizes.

Other influences I remember were either cozy or quite surreal. The cozy ones were illustrations in “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson. There were two I loved, “A Good Play” featured a girl and a boy who had made a ship out of a cardboard box and played in it at the top of the stairs with a bucket of water at the ready to represent the sea, and the other was “The Swing” showing a little girl on a tree swing in front of a large Victorian house. I always wanted to live there! I was also fascinated by the surreal illustrations in Lewis Carole’s book “Alice in Wonderland” and then there was the poster in my eldest sister’s bedroom. The poster was a dream-like painting of a living room with the sea flowing into it and a ship in the hall, a fire burnt on the floor in front of the grate. Two children in the room were semi-transparent, like ghosts. I have just found the name of this painting after much searching online whilst writing this, it is called “Entre Les Trous de la Memoire” (Between the Holes in the Memory) by Swiss artist Dominique Appia. Then my sister introduced me to the dreamscape illustrations by Roger Dean on album covers and the music that was within!

These early glimpses into a world of magic and fantasy led me to an interest in surrealism during my art college days, particularly in Dali, Ernst, and Magritte, and the fantastic female artist Remedios Varo.

Since then my heroes have multiplied and they include William Morris, Turner, Chagall, Gaudi, Jujol, Hundertwasser, Nek Chand as well as admiration for too many contemporary mosaic artists to mention!

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How has your life influenced your mosaics?

Having lived in the countryside for most of my life, nature influences and inspires my work. I am lucky to live on the Mendip hills where I see amazing sunsets and sunrises from my garden and watch birds of prey circle and screech in the sky. I share a gallery with other artists on the Somerset Levels below the hills where there are big skies and flocks of birds such as swans, egrets, and starlings. I’m always drawn to the sky, I’m a storm watcher and I love walking in the wind, rain and snow. I usually find the ideas flood my brain after an atmospheric walk in the elements. I enjoy reading mythology from around the world; it inspires my own stories about nature that I weave into my work.

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What environment do you like to work in?

In fact, I am influenced and inspired by the magnificence and splendor of a sunny day! I prefer to work with my shed door open so I can embrace the warmth of the sunshine and listen to the soothing symphony of birds. I also enjoy working whilst listening to the radio or music which ranges from ambient, classical to heavy rock depending on my mood!

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Which one of your mosaics holds particularly fond memories and why?

A mosaic I made called “How the Sky Becomes Blue” holds fond memories for me. On a birthday walk in 2011 on the hills at Priddy with my partner, we listened to so many Larks that day singing but we couldn’t see them. It was a perfect blue-sky spring day. That day inspired me to make “How the Sky Becomes Blue”, and the others in that series “Larks” and “The Birds Who Bring the Dusk” as well as an accompanying stop-motion animation. I have since made several further works using the same ideas and technique.

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What advice would you give to an emerging mosaic artist?

My advice to an emerging artist is to produce, promote and persevere!

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All The pictures that have been included in this article are copyright of Kate Rattray.
Kate Rattray is an artist that pushed the limits with a meticulous cleverness and dreamy influence.

Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

Let’s wait and witness the spectacular ever-expanding journey of mindfulness through her forthcoming mosaics!

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