Meet Exeter mosaic artist Elaine M Goodwin
PUBLISHED: 10:40 23 July 2020
A Roman villa was the inspiration for a career spanning five decades
Like many artists, Elaine M Goodwin began with mainstream art mediums, In her case it was studying sculpture and photography at Exeter College of Art in the early 1970s. But her artistic development was forever transformed after a visit to the second-century AD Roman villa of Italica, near Seville and her first sighting of a mosaic.
“I was captivated!” she says. Returning to England and unable to find anyone at art college who taught mosaic, she set about discovering the medium and spent ten years travelling around the Mediterranean in the company of academics and friends studying the techniques, materials and history of mosaics, aiming to unlock the secrets of this ancient art.
She then shared this knowledge in a series of five books and an encyclopaedia. Her work is now well known, from the Eden Project in Cornwall – where she created a triptych titled Liquid Gold inspired by the olive tree – to works in private and national collections.
Her most recent exhibition Journeying To Light showed the artistic process of her work spanning 40 years at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM).
Elaine’s initial inspirations came from two major sources: firstly, the mosaics of ancient Greece and Rome and secondly the mosaics of Byzantium.
The exhibition showed examples from both sources and concludes by exhibiting works which demonstrate the artist’s acknowledgement of her past influences and their evolvement into her immediately recognisable style.
There are a number of recurring themes and symbols to which Elaine has returned over the years, and they include the tree, the sea, the human form, the Absolutes or eternal truths of life (why are we here,? who are we? and the image of the vine which continues to be a source of inspiration, not least because she now lives in Burgundy, near the Cote D’Or and is surrounded by wonderful vineyards.
Her vine depictions are abstract representations with shimmering surfaces of coloured golds and glass evoking the seasons and the golden light of her new French home. The materials she uses are precious. Mosaic gold and glass from Venice and Ravenna, fabulous traditional materials with innate and powerful qualities of reflection and light which continue to transfix her.
Read more: the Devon artists inspired by the South West Coast Path .
Exeter, she says, is the gateway to the south-western peninsula of England and was Elaine’s home for 40 years.
“It played a subtle yet dominating part in creating my colour palette,” she explains. “The soft grey, wet and misty atmosphere, so often experienced in the city, ensured that my colours were muted, silvery and white with only the occasional appearance of colour, shades of turquoise and blues, reminiscences no doubt from my travels in the Middle East.
“Exeter taught me to love rain, mists and the river - rain turned surfaces into jewels of light, mists blurred and softened and shimmered, and the river allowed a surface to dance with light.”
The surfaces of her work were reduced into individual, small shards of luminosity, not needing to depend on an image for effect but rather on a surface made up of a myriad of facets of light. Her surfaces are manipulated by angling the tesserae and forcing them to live and ‘breathe’ when any change of light or movement affects their surface.
Elaine exhibits frequently, in Europe and around the world. At present she is exhibiting in two venues in France. In northern France in the wonderful cathedral city of Chartres at the Gallery Chapelle Saint-Eman, 11 rue Saint-Eman, with an exhibition called Numinous. 25 new works are depicted which touch upon an extreme: each work evokes an immediacy of delight and wonder but can simultaneously bring to mind feelings of dark mystery and the unknown. This exhibition has just re-opened after lockdown in France and continues into September.
A second exhibition is in Burgundy, in the pilgrimage city of Paray-Le-Monial is held in the highly acclaimed gallery of the beautiful tower of St Nicolas. The exhibition of 42 works called Luminous, covers The Exeter years 2000-2015 and the Burgundy years 2016 - 2020. It continues until September 26. 2020. A sumptuous catalogue is accompanying the exhibition.
During May 2021, Elaine is exhibiting in the little duchy of Luxembourg. This is a major exhibition held in the stunning municipal art gallery and culture house of Diekirch. The title of the exhibition, which will hold more than 50 works is Fragments of Light.
Elaine moved to the little village of Couches in Burgundy in 2016. It was a spontaneous move inspired by seeing a property which she immediately knew would convert into a gallery for her work and combine a home and studio - a real coup de foudre! By November of that year, after extensive renovations, she had opened the gallery with an exhibition called Icons of Light.
The light within her gallery is forever changing under a high Burgundy sky, she says. She holds changing exhibitions of her work and from time to time invites other artists to exhibit alongside her. At present she is exhibiting 25 works entitled She/He until next year. Every Sunday afternoon throughout the summer and early autumn the gallery is open and at other times can be, by appointment.
Elaine’s life in Burgundy is continuously busy with preparing for exhibitions and a hectic village social life! The warm and generous welcome of the village and the surrounding area never ceases to delight her. She welcomes visitors... usually with a glass of Burgundy wine.
Have you joined the Devon Life Facebook page yet?