ABOUT THE PIECE:
This installation is so special to me because it’s the crowning jewel of a nearly 20 year friendship, with a man who (like my own personal Medici) quickly became one of my greatest supporters in being an artist— Dean Banowetz. A little background— Around the time of the new millennium (you remember Y2K, don’t you?), our mutual friend Jackie McDougall bought a mosaic from me as a gift for Dean… Next thing you know, Dean and I started working together. It was a match made in heaven— I loved having my hair done, and Dean loved mosaics! Dean started ordering pieces from me as gifts, and soon enough we started to mosaic his beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills. His kitchen backsplash, his waterfall, his shower, his fireplace, his fire pit…. But it was all just a prelude to the day Dean said, “Let’s mosaic this wall!”
When I’m creating a piece for someone, especially an installation, I like to not only think about the space that it’s going in— finding a style and a color palette that fit’s it organically— but I also like to think about the person, or people, or family that’s getting it. Who they are, what they love and are passionate about. What their story is. One of the reason’s I love mosaics (as a medium) is that you are weaving together actual objects, not just paint or ink— but physical objects. Usually those objects are tile or glass, but I like to also incorporate personal artifacts of the client’s, and objects that symbolize who or what the mosaic is about— in a personal way. So I’m always looking for opportunities in the design where those kinds of mosaic pieces can be utilized.
With Dean’s wall I started with the idea of a tree, with a Buddha sitting underneath it. But then I thought, “the viewer should be the Buddha!” I wanted to make a tree that would envelop you. That you could sit under and read a book— or lay down underneath and make wishes up into it and the sky. Not to mention, trees have such rich and beautiful symbolism in and of themselves— the Tree of Life or sacred tree shows up in just about all of the worlds mythologies and religions. Also, family being such an important part of who Dean is (#deweydecimalfamily) that I started playing with the idea of a family tree.
Another consideration was that the wall’s ceiling line was at a pretty steep angle (because of the design of the house), making the mosaic more of a trapezoid then a rectangle. I didn’t want this to make the tree look unbalanced so I decided to make the tree fluid, so there is no exact end, like the tree could go on infinitely. To achieve this, I made the branches spirals, with each spiral representing one of the 15 children of Dean’s family. The trunk has in it’s heart his parent’s wedding photo.
And then there were the “Kirstals”…. One of the greatest things about art is that the creative process asks you to be open hearted and opened minded— often your biggest breakthroughs come in unexpected ways. If you’re open to it, the thing you’re working on tells you what it wants to be. After finding gorgeous sheets of multi-stained glass in my color palette, to form the body of the tree with, Dean’s friend and client Kirstie Alley generously offered him a large cache of faceted, clear glass crystals— which we affectionately dubbed “Kirstals,” in her honor. They were stunningly beautiful, but how to incorporate them? They posed two challenges— first off they were considerably thicker than the stained glass that the rest of the mosaic would be made from (potentially making the transition between thick and thin pieces in the mosaic creatively problematic). And, they were clear. Clear is tricky, not only because I love color, but also you would see the fiberglass mesh and adhesive though them…. So I decided take advantage of their thickness and texture, and make the tree out of them. This would make the tree physically pop out of the sky, and give the entire mosaic a sensual texture, like the magic etherial version of bark. But in order for this idea to work, I had to paint the back of every Kirstal… And if I was going to do all the work of painting it, I obviously had to also add sparkle to that paint surface, even though it was under the glass, so I systematically glittered and painted thousands of Kirstals, re-creating my color palette for the tree. Another side benefit of this idea, was that the added thickness gave more room for the hundreds of personal and symbolic objects I embedded in the trunk, branches and leaves of the tree.
I have to take a moment here to give a shout out to my dear friends, Joe Chaffee and Andrew Luka, who demanded I take over their huge, air conditioned garage so that I would have a space big enough to construct Dean’s Family Tree. Can’t thank them enough for such a tremendous gift!
Besides personal items from Dean’s life, photographs under glass, and meaningful jewelry, the objects hidden throughout are symbols of hope, prosperity, love, earth, animals, and all things to hold dear. There are also, my favorite, several “Li’l Deans” scattered through out. And of course, if you know Dean and his love of Christmas, there are as you might expect, wrapped gifts, reindeer, and hooks on each branch to hang an ornament from. If you happen to see Dean’s Tree in person, or watch the doc (above) we put together showing some of it’s construction and installation, please sign the guest book below with anything you find in the mosaic— we’ll see how long it takes to find everything!
Here is a partial list, just to get you started:
There’s two bonus discoveries embedded in this mosaic— one of which you can only see in the video…. Partially inspired by Dr. Masaru Emoto’s book, The Hidden Messages in Water (and partially just for fun because I can’t help myself), all of the adhesive was drawn on in patterns in between the two layers of backing I used. The patterns encrypt each panel with secret messages of love and prosperity. And finally, each night once it’s dark, the tree glows. I outlined the entire tree and it’s leaves in blue and green glow in the dark glass tile.