In her work, Lydia Shepard proves time and again that she is not your average mosaicist. Like many artists on view at the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics, she has a firm grounding in historical methods, and coming from a background in large-scale public mosaics, she can adapt her technical skill to a wide range of styles and aesthetics. Just as adaptable in her professional life, she wears many hats including educator and youth mentor, introducing mosaic art to teenagers on Chicago’s north side through the After School Matters program.
In her own practice, this buoyant energy is channeled into a visual sensibility far from traditional mosaic imagery, reimagining the potential for time-honored techniques. She sidesteps the picturesque, aiming instead for high impact visuals that draw the eye with bright and graphic line work, defined borders and patterning, and bright, saturated color blocking. Inspired by comic books, social media, ads, and the guiding example of pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Lydia’s art reflects a appreciation for humor and whimsy and flair for visual drama.
Today she shares a bit about her journey as an artist.
GoCM: What brought you to the mosaic medium?
LS: My mosaic practice began after spending a couple of years working collaboratively with other artists on large-scale public works. I was introduced to mosaics during that period of time, and it was a process that really excited me. When I stopped working in public art, I was still drawn to mosaic, and had a strong desire to continue with my own practice. The switch from large-scale projects to smaller-scale projects was a learning curve, but it has really allowed me to spend more time focusing on details and technical skills.
GoCM: Having started in other media, do you find that mosaics are peripheral or central to your practice?
LS: Mosaic has been my primary medium for the past few years. There are many different elements in creating a mosaic that I am drawn to. I love using the hammer and hardie; I find the repetition therapeutic. I love the exercise of puzzling together pieces, and finding the way that they fit together best. I think most of all I love the flexibility and possibilities that mosaic allows. I'm always excited to start working with a new material, and find a way to incorporate it into my work.
GoCM: What aesthetic experiences or styles inspire you and how do you fine that inspiration playing out in your own work?
LS: Pop art has had a big aesthetic influence on my work, and incorporating pop art elements into my work has allowed me to find my voice in my mosaic practice. I'm drawn to bright primary colors and graphic elements, and I always find myself returning to that in my art. I think that a lot of my work has playful elements. I like to find everyday things to recreate as a mosaic; a to-do list, a cracked iPhone screen, or a Facebook photo of a friend.
The most important part of my process is also the part that intimidates me the most: the design phase. I don't consider myself a strong designer, and I am often slow to actually sit down and get my ideas onto paper. That makes it all the more exciting when I have a design that I am excited about.
GoCM: What kinds of challenges do you find yourself confronting the most
LS: I don't think that the challenges I face as an artist are uniq
ue to me: time, self- consciousness, doubt, etc. I guess that my biggest challenge would be to balance all of those negative feelings with the positive ones... the most important one being that making art and working with mosaic makes me happy.
GoCM: In terms of the bigger picture, what kind of goals do you have for your artwork, either in terms of specific projects or your more global practice?
LS: I guess my only hope is that I can hone my style enough that an audience can look at one of my pieces and recognize undoubtedly that it is mine. I'm very interested in making a comic strip-type mosaic series at some point. I think that is my nearest goal that I am working towards. In the more distant future, I just hope that I continue find ways to challenge myself, and I hope that I continue to enjoy the challenge.