Contemporary Classics

If, like me, you find a lot of contemporary mosaics too colourful, exuberant and youthful, then this post offers an insight into the perfect antidote; the mosaics of Helen Miles. Inspired by classical mosaics, Helen now provides a wealth of restrained inspiration for fellow mosaicists (and the odd Tile Addict).

Helen Miles
Helen Miles at work in her Edinburgh studio.
David: Helen Miles' mosaic portrait of her husband
David: Helen Miles’ mosaic portrait of her husband

Born in Glasgow in 1963, Helen studied English at Oxford University before moving to America and the Middle East to work as a journalist.  It was in 2003, while living in Thessaloniki, Greece, that Helen began to study mosaics in the Byzantine tradition.  This led to a deep passion for Roman mosaics that has blossomed into a full time profession.

Helen Miles' copy of Nilotic mosaic
Helen Miles’ copy of Nilotic mosaic

Helen initially trained with master craftsmen in Greece, who instructed using traditional methods with a focus on Byzantine iconography.  Today Helen is based in Edinburgh and specialises in mosaics created using Greek stone and marble. Her aim is to preserve the simplicity and directness of early mosaics while producing contemporary pieces inspired by these ancient designs.

Yoga by Helen Miles
Yoga by Helen Miles

I have always loved things which are made by the slow and deliberate accumulation of parts, whether the dry stone walls of the North or a sentence that contains all that needs to be said,” explains Helen. “The result seems casual, organic and simple but the process is usually long and far from effortless. So it is with mosaics. Roman mosaics provide a rich source of inspiration, from their braided borders to their use of colour and surprising themes. I have traveled widely to both obscure and well known sites to see ancient mosaics in situ and study them closely in museums. The Romans did not confine mosaics to a decorative element in interior designs but used them to relay messages about their owners loves, fears, status and communities. It is this which fascinates me and keeps me firmly in their thrall.

Scary Dog - Cave Petrum - by Helen Miles
Scary Dog – Cave Petrum – by Helen Miles

The Scary Dog mosaic, shown above, was made to immortalise a Jack Russell called Pedro who took canine stroppiness to a whole new level.  The mosaic is based on the Cave Canen theme found in Roman mosaics and mirrors the famous threshold mosaic from Pompeii.  The words, which appear on a number of other original Roman mosaics, have been adapted to say: Cave Petrum (beware of Pedro).

Wedding mosaic by Helen Miles
Wedding mosaic by Helen Miles

The wedding mosaic for CH and RZ, shown above, was made using a limited palette of dark grey, cream and red stones. The intention was to focus the attention less on the simple tree design and more on the movement and energy in the background tesserae. The mosaic was grouted in two stages, using a darker grout for the ‘tree’ to bring it forward against the lighter background.

Unswept Floor by Helen Miles
Unswept Floor by Helen Miles

The Unswept Floor mosaic, shown above, was completed in Helen’s studio on mesh.  The lines, along which it was cut for transport, were rendered invisible once the mosaic was grouted.  This mosaic is based on a famous Roman design of an unswept banquet floor.  It was produced on commission for installation in a kitchen that reflected the life of the home’s owner.  Here a shell represents her travels, a pen signifies her work as a writer, etc.  Although original Roman unswept floors provided the inspiration for the mosaic, the design was entirely reworked and adapted for its contemporary role.

Wedding Mosaic - birds, pomegranates and leaves - by Helen Miles
Wedding Mosaic – birds, pomegranates and leaves – by Helen Miles

Pomegranates are a recurring theme and subject of Helen’s work and even form the studio’s logo. She has even used a pomegranate and leaf border for a friend’s wedding mosaic: birds, pomegranates and leaves.

Pomegranate: Helen Miles Mosaics' ogo
Pomegranate: Helen Miles Mosaics’ ogo

Photography: Helen Miles Mosaics.

Helen Miles
Helen’s blog

A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, September 2017.

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