07 August 2010

Magical Mosaics 2: South Street Seekers

One panel of the South Street/4th Street Facade mosaic series by Isaiah Zagar, Philadelphia, August 2010

Among Isaiah Zagar's many public mosaic murals in South Philly and beyond is this 1996 series, dubbed 4th Street Facade, just off of South Street. It clearly shows the Cubist bent of his work, as well as his populist spirit that celebrates not national heroes or celebrities but everyday people in all their... well, not exactly glory, which is exactly what makes us so human and worthy of real celebration.

I don't know who is pictured in the mosaic at left but he reminds me of a Greek God of sorts. I especially love the giant hand; look more closely and you'll see several small ceramic hand-like shapes embedded in the mosaic. Zagar's compositions are fascinating; they're so freeform that they seem almost haphazard and even chaotic, yet as I study them I begin to see patterns. Not predictable ones, but even more interesting ones that play on color and texture and shape. Is it entirely intentional: does Zagar plan where each piece goes, meticulously placing them following a clear image in his mind? Somehow I think not; I sense a very strong flow to these pieces and can imagine him working with wide sweeping gestures and almost a sense of flight. (I haven't seen this, having been away from Philly for 17 years now except for the occasional visit). Watch a short video here to learn more about his vision and process. One of the more compelling lines from the video, which struck a personal note for me, comes when Zagar says, "I used the technique of mosaicking to get well, to get better." Art can heal both creator and viewer, in ways we might not even realize until we look up from our feet one day and see the life around us, and the sky, and the possibilities.


Another quote I like: "I'm not a soldier, I'm not a president, I'm an artist. I need to embellish."

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