Member Interviews: Maria-Elena Martoglio

Maria-Elena Martoglio is a mosaic artist with a passion for ceramic and glass material. Since 2012 her work involves cutting and shaping materials to create mosaic applications onto shaped substrates. Elena is curious about exploring different materials in mosaic art. From found objects like beach glass, to sculpted objects made from polymer clay, Elena plays with an array of materials.

Her work often involves community engagement across Halton and southern Ontario to create murals. Her interest in large scale mosaics developed from travelling in the USA and South America. She is eager to collaborate with muralists to add a touch of sparkle in paintings.

Interview with Maria-Elena Martoglio

You are an experienced mosaic artist with over a decade’s worth of experience. How has your artistry changed and evolved over time?

My approach to making art has definitely changed, and is still evolving. I started out by simply breaking tiles with a regular hammer and then fitting the pieces back together. With practice and learning from mosaic masters, I look at mosaics very differently now. Cutting techniques, materials used, and the process of tesserae application has developed into a personalised style. Whereas some mosaics are made with one kind of material, I have taken inspiration from this and added a combination of applications using a mixture of materials, like beads, broken china, porcelain figurines and more, all in one. Of course this changes depending on the project I’m working on, but I generally like using more than one kind of material.

Can you share how you got into mosaic art and what inspired you?

I got into mosaics after I had a chance to volunteer at a community mural workshop. I was intrigued by the process of using broken pieces of durable materials and fitting them together like a puzzle, to create a larger whole. Picassiette mosaic really caught my eye. This is a technique using dishes / crockery, and found objects like beach glass and trinkets. It has a whimsical aesthetic.

Through your practice you’ve worked with various substrates. What is a key difference between substrates such as sculptures and a plain surface mosaic?

Oftentimes, the substrate of a mosaic depends on the location. For indoor mosaics you can use plywood, or other softer materials. But for outdoor mosaics, there are specific techniques and rules in preparing the substrates to withstand the freeze-thaw cycles. Sculptures are different all together. A combination of fibreglass and thin-set are best to layer down before applying tiles.

What made you want to explore different substrates in your practice?

I learned so many things by experimenting with potential substrates that in the end failed, using things like plastic, plexiglass, and rubber. It is an ongoing discussion in the mosaic community and although opinions, ideas, and technical directions are shared in these communities, I think it’s a good practice to try it out for yourself. This gives you the best understanding of why or how some things work and others don’t.

Overtime, you have been able to curate large scale mosaics. What are some challenges that you encountered initially and how did you overcome them? 

With mosaic murals two important factors need to be considered, location and installation. For outdoor mosaics there are so many kinds of mortar, it’s hard to know what is best for the work to be durable. Years ago, I made the same mosaic twice because I had taken advice from a store clerk telling me that the type of cement they were selling would be the best one. So I trusted and went ahead. Last minute I panicked. I wanted to make sure it was truly going to last, so I called the manufacturing company (which I should have done in the first place) and they told me to use a different kind. So I made it again. In the end, I learned that the first mosaic would have been ok for up to 10 years, at least. The second one for up to 20 + years. LOL! For indoor mosaic murals, basic things like knowing the construction of the wall, whether the studs are made out of wood or steel, and the weight of the mosaic makes a big difference.

Many of your projects are community-led. Why is it important for you to share mosaics with various communities and make it a collaborative experience?

Community art is a powerful practice engaging individuals. The act of creating something tangible, with colour and shape can reduce stress and create a sense of well being. I believe beautifying a space through art and design can also improve mental health overall. Mosaic art is beginner friendly. Without needing to get too technical, the results can be impressive and its beauty can influence the development of that environment.

You use your website blog as an avenue to discuss differences between materials used in mosaics, techniques and well-being through art. Why is education important to you as an artist? 

As a facilitator, if people find an interest in continuing mosaic art, it’s helpful to provide some level of knowledge. The skills I share can influence the next artist.

Where do you find opportunities as a mosaic artist??

In-person social engagements helps, as well as social media postings, and reading newsletters from Mural Routes of course :)

What advice would you give to those that are looking to begin mosaic artwork? Do you have any tips or tricks for emerging artists? 

If you have a curiosity to try mosaic art I would suggest getting a pair of tile nippers from the tiling section of any hardware store. That is the best economical tool for cutting and shaping tiles. Then, experiment with a dish from the thrift store and play with a combination of materials on a piece of wood.

What value does your Mural Routes Membership provide for you?

Being a Mural Routes member has given me access to potential work within the public art world. It is also a great resource for connecting and collaborating with other artists.

To see what Maria-Elena is up to, please visit her page on Instagram @mosaicsbyelena or check out her website

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