Knight Park Mosaic Sculpture

Artist Natalija Moss with Mosaic in Progress

Artists Angela Bortone and Natalija Moss have discovered a new way to do huge amounts of extreme physical labor in an unheated loading dock. They call this latest folly the Knight Park Mosaic Sculpture.

I know from past experiences with my own large sculptural projects that Angela and Natalija have doubted their own rationality if not sanity many times while working on this.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Why do we as artists gladly do massive amounts of labor in conditions normally experienced only by construction workers and farm laborers?

Artist Angela Borton with Sculpture Base Pre Mosaic
Artist Angela Borton with Sculpture Base Pre Mosaic

By angels led, by demons driven. We are the lucky ones. We experience purpose at all levels in our creative process.

The physical labor and rough working conditions are often part of it, at least for me. I have only pushed myself harder during survival campouts in wilderness areas.

Natalija Smooths Surface with Trowel
Natalija Smooths Surface with Trowel

Even when I do an art project that doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting or tedium, I still tend to do it in an extreme mode in which I lose myself. I mean that in a literal way: I lose the very awareness of my person and physical needs.

For example, I often find myself painting and realize I haven’t eaten in over six or eight hours or more.

Imagine having that much passion for what you do. Never having to worry about dieting is just the beginning.

We know how lucky we are.

Artists Filling Mold with Concrete
Artists Filling Mold with Concrete in the Mosaic Art Supply parking lot at night. Hey you kids. Get off my lawn.

Anyway, here are some work-in-progress photos of Natalija and Angela’s latest project. It’s a mosaic-face concrete sculpture in the shape of “est 1893” for Atlanta’s historic Knight Park.

Steel Skeleton Frames for All Characters, Full Assembly
Steel Skeleton Frames for All Characters, Full Assembly
Mosaic Sculpture Numeral Nine v3
Mosaic Sculpture Numeral Nine v3
Artist Angela Borton with Mosaic in Progress
Artist Angela Borton with Mosaic in Progress. Here we see the artist in her natural habitat: covered in crud in a dusty unheated loading dock. Just like on the television series Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Steel Skeleton in Compound Mold
Steel Skeleton in Compound Mold

Skeleton Evaluation

Natalija and Angela had to get architect’s drawings made because the project was for a city park. The original drawings called only for central columns of 4-inch square tubing with unspecified additional steel reinforcement.

I explained to Natalija and Angela the most likely failure mode was concrete cracking off the steel tubing and that something was needed to encouraged them to wrap the tubes in a couple of layers of hog wire to sheep/goat wire to create a mechanical interface.

I also recommended adding steel of some kind in any concrete more than 2 or 3 inches below the surface, and that my preferred frame would be a box frame with 4 columns made out of or 2 inch tubing.

The reason I would go with a “distributed” skeleton of 4 columns instead of 1 central column is to help integrate steel and concrete and minimize cracking due to differences in material properties like thermal expansion and flexibility.

Sculpture Steel Skeleton Melamine Mold
Sculpture Steel Skeleton Melamine Mold

Natalija welded steel rods to the tubing column and created these Terminator skeletons. I think wire of some kind was added when the concrete was poured.

I’m a big fan of wrapping hog wire around a stick frame or box frame and packing in the modified concrete from all sides.

Natalija and Angela used a mold technique with concrete poured from the top, and so they felt they needed a more precisely built frame to keep the steel away from the surface of the concrete.

It’s important to make sure the steel is thoroughly encased in concrete, else the frame starts rusting at any exposed points

For my sculptures, I use Versabond thinset mortar mixed with pea gravel to make and indestructible “special concrete” that takes many hammer blows to destroy and does not chip cleanly from steel rods. Anyone who has been require to chip hardened thinset mortar off an old steel trowel can swear to that.

Steel Skeleton in Foam Board Mold V2
Steel Skeleton in Foam Board Mold V2
Steel Skeleton in Foam Board Mold
Steel Skeleton in Foam Board Mold
Mold Filled with Concrete and Skeleton
Mold Filled with Concrete and Skeleton
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14 responses to “Knight Park Mosaic Sculpture”

  1. Love what you are doing . I do Picque assiettecmosaics on a much smaller scale using furniture and mannequins as my largest bases ‘. I dream of creating with concrete but don’t know how . I’m 81 years young and wish I could rework with you or get someone to teach me up here in rural vermont.
    I know how it is to get absorbed in your art so that the time flies. Keep it up ladies !!

    • You are an inspiration! I’m only 70 and am fairly new at this! I depend on articles and on-line support out here in Kansas. Best of luck!❤️

  2. This looks so cool! But I am wondering why they aren’t using alkaline-resistant mesh to provide extra “tooth” and integrity to the sculpture, especially around the sides/edges? I’ve never done super heavy, large works like this, but have made many handmade artwork substrates using polystyrene foam covered with alkaline-resistant mesh and cement-based materials. The international mosaic masters that I have taken professional classes with all advise that the alkaline mesh (which doesn’t corrode with cement like some metal meshes can do) is an important part of the process. Whether it’s raw polystyrene or over the raw edges on Wediboard, they recommend wrapping with a layer mesh before applying cement-based materials.

    • Hi Dee!

      I was wondering what you had been up to.

      The fiberglass mesh with thinset mortar is a good combination.

      Fiberglass mesh with regular concrete or concrete with insufficient polymer additive is problematic because concrete is much less adhesive than mortar, which is very sticky. The result is that the layer of mesh often becomes a point of “laminar failure” where concrete fascia at the surface cracks off the mesh underneath it. You can observe this sort of failure quite often if you work on old houses or do demolition work.

      I typically don’t use mesh like that because I am using my own special concrete of pea gravel and Versabond thinset mortar, which has all the tensile strength and integrity it needs at the surface, and any wire materials are at least 1/2 to 3/4 inches deep.

      I have done enough destructive testing on specimens made with my “special concrete” to be convinced that it is the toughest, most durable material I can use for a base. I have watched a plumber cuss till he was blue in the face while trying to bust out some of the “special concrete” I had used to secure a spigot line running through cinder block. It was just a small amount of material, but it took a lot of wailing with the hammer to break it.

      • Hi Joe! Thanks so much for your response! I appreciate it very much! Best wishes!

        I’ve been happily creating mosaic and mixed media art, using Mosaic Art Supply materials and tools I have purchased from your business, in some of the works. We love our new home on the west side of Tucson, surrounded by nature, but close to amenities of the city. If you get a chance, check out some of my recent photos on my Facebook or Instagram (under Black Cat Mosaics) to see a completely handmade torso sculpture that I made when a Coachwhip snake shedded its skin right next to my backyard patio in August. It’s now in a National Exhibit at Tubac Center of the Arts in Southern Arizona. I never dreamed that I would ever feature something like this in an artwork, but here she is! 😄

        • Congratulations! I really like the “mineralogically-inspired” abstracts! These are one more example of how many different styles and modes are possible in mosaic and how mosaic spans the gap between two-dimensional rendering and sculpture. Very nice!

          • Thanks very much! I appreciate your kind comments. It’s so much fun creating and experimenting. Best wishes!

  3. I loved this post – as I do all of your posts – but this is really interesting to see their process. Thank you for sharing. I hope we will get a look at the finished piece?!!

  4. But it is longevity food for the spirit. My wife occasionally asks me why in my almost 80’s I am bent over a mosaic project at midnight cutting small pieces and getting glass splinters on my fingers and arms. I smile thinking about the bright eyes of the recipient of my next humble creation.

  5. Thank you Joe Moorman. This brought tears. By angels led, demons driven… When I see you have posted something new, I light up. Yours is my favorite email by far, please never stop.

  6. I love what these folks are doing! And yes, it’s all that glamorous work that drives us, Joe! I admit I’ve only done a handful of mosaics, but I also tend to paint my cars with original cartoons, or, in the case of my latest vehicle, silver and gold scales (as in reptile, being the local Lizard Lady)

    Anyway, keep inspiring us, and thanks for what you do, in so many ways.

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