The ArtLex Art Dictionary defines mosaic as a picture or design composed of small pieces of stone, glass, or paper called tesserae that are inset in a medium or adhered to a surface. The earliest known examples of mosaics date from the 8th century BC. Those examples were created in Mediterranean regions using pebbles. Greek and Roman artists and artisans further refined techniques and craftsmanship used in making mosaics during their centuries in power. Fine later mosaic examples can be seen in the famous Byzantine churches of Ravenna and Istanbul and in Barcelona in the brilliantly idiosyncratic early 20th century masterpiece Parc Güell by Antonio Gaudí. Today the term mosaic is used more broadly, and is frequently used to refer to collaged combinations of aerial photographs or more generically as “compositions made up of a variety of elements.”

ACME Fine Art’s exhibition of paintings opening on 12 November 2010 will be comprised of a group of modern and contemporary American mosaic artworks created from the mid-20th century forward. The tesserae in the examples selected by Gallery Director David Cowan for this exhibition are dabs or swatches of oil or acrylic paint applied to canvas or panel to a totally modern affect. Some of the mosaic paintings in the exhibition are nature-based abstractions. Others are entirely non-objective, and still others can be characterized as neo-plastic compositions. What they all share is the formal conceit of using distinct small pieces composed to create an artistically complete whole.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s a number of artists who were then studying with, or had recently completed their studies with Hans Hofmann, began experimenting with a painting technique in which small distinct dabs of pigment were applied over most –if not all- of the their canvases. Giorgio Cavallon can be credited with being one of the first to study and popularize this genre. Two of Cavallon’s rare 1940s mosaic canvases will be included in the exhibition.

Another artist who was among the first of this circle to explore mosaic composition in his work was John Grillo, who did so in his Provincetown studio as early as the late 1940s. A separate exhibition of twelve of Mr. Grillo’s important and brilliantly colored early mosaic paintings in oil and in watercolor will run concurrently with the aforementioned group exhibition at ACME Fine Art. Grillo explored the possibilities of non-objective mosaic expression well into the 1950s.

Other notable artists whose mid-20th century work will be represented in the group exhibition are William Freed, Robert Henry, Myrna Harrison, James Gahagan, Selina Trieff, and Jan Müller. Müller was an artist’s artist whose early mosaic explorations -in a variety of shapes and scales- were delightfully lyrical fully abstract color poems.  By  the mid-1950s Müller’s tesserae were arranged by the artist into figural compositions that led the way to his becoming one of the pioneers of the figurative expressionist movement.

The formal part-and-whole conceit that goes to the essence of the mosaic as a work of art continues to fascinate artists. This will be demonstrated through a wonderfully diverse group of contemporary artworks that have been assembled for the exhibition. Excellent examples by contemporary artists such as Helen Miranda Wilson, Erik Koch, Paul Bowen, and Aviva Sklan will also be featured.

ACME Fine Art’s group exhibition of mosaic paintings will open with a reception from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on 12 November and run through 23 December 2010. For further information please contact the gallery at 617.585.9551.