For artist Casey Van Loon, the adoption of a mosaic art practice is only the most recent evolution in a lifetime devoted to artistic pursuits. With a background in modern dance and over twenty-five years spent as a professional stained glass artist and restorer with the esteemed Botti Studio, she draws on an immensely rich and varied body of experience when creating mosaics. She has been working as a professional artist and instructor of stained glass and mosaic technique for six years.
In her work, Casey often favors the abstract, creating compositions that explore sensual dichotomies between contrasting textures and lusters. Broad planes and pathways of marble and slate provide an earthy contrast to channels of iridescent lustre glass and ribbons of lead and copper came, stained glass materials adapted to mosaic. This rhythmic oscillation between matte and luminous effects, rough and vitreous textures forms an aesthetic signature. These juxtapositions are expressed through tectonic arrangements of tesserae that demonstrate a paradoxical duality of geological rigidity and glimmering, sinuous effervescence.
Today we are sitting down with Casey to discuss her journey and her outlook as a mosaicist.
GoCM: What motivated you to begin working in mosaics?
CVL: It was actually The Chicago Mosaic School that motivated me to begin my practice. When I began working at the school six years ago, I thought it would be a nice place to learn a bit more about the medium. Up until that point, I had been working professionally as a technical artist for years, translating or restoring others’ work. Yet I had never thought it possible that I could be the creator. The incredibly supportive community at CMS, as well as the sensational curriculum of courses devoted to design, composition, and expression really opened up that possibility for me.
Coming from an over twenty-five year career in stained glass, I was always aware of the medium, having seen beautiful mosaics in the shared spaces where we were installing windows. From the Tiffany mosaics at the Chicago Cultural Center, to the icons created with smalti in various liturgical spaces, I always had a fond appreciation for the art, but never gave it too much thought. Similar to others, I always considered mosaics as either a decorative art, or as a medium that hobbyists and students tinkered with. But when I was introduced to the world of contemporary fine art mosaics at The Chicago Mosaic School, I was quickly converted.
GoCM: Is it your primary medium or do you work with other materials?
CVL: Although I am still passionate about stained glass, I find the creative process of mosaics much more freeing, and thus easier for me to express myself. It is a form, unlike stained glass, where mistakes and imperfections are welcome, even preferred in some cases. This is not to say mosaics are easier to create, not at all. But it holds the ability to improvise and play, which is helpful to me when creating.
As many other mosaic artists that I know, I play around with other mediums. I still work part time as a stained glass restorer, and dabble with drawing, fiber art, and metalsmith/jewelry making. There are many other mediums that interest me, but you can only stretch yourself so thin.
GoCM: What would you say are your primary aesthetic influences and how have they impacted your work?
CVL: There are so many aesthetic influences that inspire me that it is hard to pinpoint one or a few. So many artists have had a huge impact on me, but I think where I found my greatest influence is through my studies as a dancer.
I spent the first 30 odd years as a dancer, studying modern dance performance and choreography, so a lot of my experiences stem from my studies in physical movement. This, I feel, gives me a slightly unique approach to my art. Structured improvisation, chance, artists like Mere Cunningham and John Cage flipping a coin to reveal the direction of their creations, had a strong impact on my creative process. It is usually the unplanned, spontaneous works created from scraps on the work bench that I enjoy the most.
Another great influence to my work would have to be the years spent restoring historical works of stained glass. I was very lucky to learn on the job from the examples of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edgar Miller, to name a few. To be able to see first hand, viewing up close their choices in color, rhythm, and the elegance of design and craftsmanship. This experience was priceless.
And of course, CMS faculty and visiting artists have had a great impact in my work, particularly Duggie [Dugald MacInnes], Verdiano [Marzi], and Karen Ami. What has inspired me the most, is how distinct and personal each of their styles are. It is extremely inspiring and humbling to be able to work and learn with such great artists.
GoCM: What do you consider the most essential part of your creation process?
CVL: The interplay of materials and color. Working frequently with the lustre glass, I spend a lot of time playing with the brilliantly colored material, and I try to listen to the stories it wants to tell. I always begin a piece with a design in mind, but quickly the piece transforms with the materials leading the way. Like little interactions between people, the tesserae want to interact with one another and reveal their secrets. I love being witness to that. I always try to remain open to change and what will unfold.
GoCM: Do you find that you create with an audience in mind or no?
CVL: Even when I have a final outcome in mind, it never seems to come out the way I envision. Because of this, I find I create my best work when I have no consideration of audience, except myself. However, having great opportunities to create and submit for gallery shows, I am working to improve my ability to create for a specific audiences, and on certain themes, while still trying to keep my work spontaneous.
GoCM: In the future, where do you see your practice going?
CVL: I try to be open to whatever happens in regards to the future. Like many artists, I would prefer to simply stay in my studio and create; reaching out and marketing oneself in order to find new opportunities can be challenging.
My goal is to continue doing what I love, and see where it takes me. I know that I want to continue not only teaching and creating, but more importantly continue to study, learn, and experiment with the art form. It is very important to me to not become stagnant, and always be open to new things.
Casey was recently featured in GoCM’s exhibit Variegation at SOFA Chicago 2017 and GoCM at Gallery 1070, 2017. As a principal faculty member at the Chicago Mosaic School, Casey will be featured in GoCM’s upcoming inaugural exhibition Debut at its new permanent location at 1127 W. Granville Ave. You can find a link to Casey’s CV, exhibition history, and personal website under featured artists on our website at https://www.gallerygocm.com/van-loon-casey.
If you would like to inquire about purchasing artwork from Casey, please contact the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics at firstname.lastname@example.org.