The Mosaic of the new millennium

A heir of “Light and Space”, the Californian movement of the Sixties, Lisa Bartleson experiments with light and space in her works made with a kind of new mosaic technique, quite different from anything anyone else has ventured upon until now.

A modern mosaic made from hundreds of small pieces of Mylar, a plastic substance created in the US within the context of the research on new materials that were being developed in Western US precisely in those years. This experimentation with new materials made several artists of the time explore the many possibilities offered by materials, not only out of a mere desire for innovation, but to enrich their art with the very latest techniques and thus with new solutions, to pursue new aims and new emotions.

Bartleson started out as a biologist, and thus with a scientific mind, an investigative approach that made her catalogue her research and the sequence of activities according to the mathematical principles of calculation. But this scientific method has come to suffocate her emotional vitality.

Liberation has come in two ways that may seem conflicting but that are actually wholly convergent and mutually supporting: experimentation with colour, and accumulation technique pursued through a repetition of the same gesture.

The artistic approach of so-called “accumulation” has been explored in different ways in the course of the Twentieth century, from Fernandez Arman’s works in France to Rauschenberg’s “combines” in the USA where the language of “quantity” was elevated to an artistic movement in a kind of free but controlled aggregation of objects. The assemblage technique is a recurrent element in the artistic world and comprises a wide and diverse range of areas, from Daniel Spoerri in Switzerland to Louise Nevelson in the United States, to Cesar Baldaccini and Jean Tinguely in France.

The ideological crisis affecting both Europe and America in the post-war period led to a search for new means of expression that broke with the past, also taking a distance from pictorial two-dimensionality. This resulted both in the introduction of new materials and to the use of discards, refuse, materials that spoke of everyday life and “poverty” or “realism” in the sense of an objective reality, and leads to the birth of Pop Art in America and, as to Europe, of Arte Povera in Italy and Nouveau Realisme in France.

Artistic “action” or “gesture” as such became another key principle and source of inspiration: from the savage gestures of Pollock to the controlled ones of Max Cole, this element became crucial to artistic creation in the United States.

With her art Bartleson is a testimonial of all this baggage of artistic experience, which she combines and assimilates, following her own feelings and instincts that at a certain point have come to prevail on every purely scientific decision.

Accumulation becomes gesture, or rather repetitiveness of the gesture, in the form of a subdivision of Mylar into hundreds of tiny pieces that come to form her unique mosaic.

But this is not all, and cannot be all to an artist as Bartleson who feels an impelling interior need to free her emotionality: a light, subtle emotionality made of small things or small moments: a scenario, a gesture, a sunset, but above all colour and the power of light.

Bartleson cannot do without light and colour, the infinite nuances that lights offers the gaze, creating millions of different shades of colour. The outstanding expressivity of this woman and artist lies in the power of colour, which bursts forth with overwhelming force in her life, her gaze and her art.

Everything is colour and light, and her mosaic is flooded by light. Mylar is a new material, with the poverty of new materials that allow art to retrace history in new forms. From Roman mosaics made from small pieces of brick, through the assemblage technique, to this new modern mosaic that seems to issue from pixels, enlarged and fixed to the support. But while Roman mosaics consist of an assembly of pieces of brick, placed next to one another to form a real drawing, the pieces of Mylar are superimposed through a real and visual “accumulation”, a visualization of the conceptual drawing the artist has in mind.

Her creativity, her emotionality that has thus been freed from the scientific rigor of technique, has found a new reason to exist in the assemblage of Mylar and of colours.

The expressive freshness, which is also in this case child of a critical review of the past, bears witness to an ideological crisis that is overcome through a typically Californian infusion of light and colour.

Finally, the surface of this new mosaic and the whole work is “drenched”, immersed in transparent resin, which makes it completely glossy and reflecting. Yet another experimentation, this time visual, that allows the onlooker to perceive not only the sense of internal depth of the structure of the painting, given by the colour and the way it is composed on the surface, but also the “refraction” of the light caused by the glossy surface of the work. We can therefore say that Bartleson’s works contain, and offer themselves to the gaze through, both an “internal” light deriving from the colour nuances and the composition as such, and an “external” light caused by the refraction of light on the surface.

This kinetic and visual experiment is typically Californian, linked to the tradition of the “Light and Space” movement, but at the same time it is incredibly and perhaps unconsciously rooted in the Italian tradition of mosaic art: yet another proof of the vast possibilities offered by art to the world, from its origins until today.