“A Prayer for the Earth.” Mosaic artwork by Scott Fitzwater. Photo: courtesy Scott Fitzwater
“A Prayer for the Earth.” Mosaic artwork by Scott Fitzwater. Photo: courtesy Scott Fitzwater

By Laura Paull

If the grey metamorphic rock known as slate could revert to the flow of its volcanic origins, it might resemble the dynamic new works of mosaic artist Scott Fitzwater.

Opening Sept. 19 at the Institute of Mosaic Art in West Berkeley, the Portland artist’s solo exhibition “Sketches in Slate” showcases Fitzwater’s year-long exploration of slate as a mosaic material. From the flowing lines and curtains of color in his early “Progress” to the chunky chaos and subtle color overlay in his most recently completed “Diversity Gradient,” “Sketches in Slate” provides the rare opportunity to see this body of work in one show.

Fitzwater is a largely self-taught artist who began his exploration of mosaics in 2008 after retiring from a career in software engineering.

“Subterranean.” Mosaic artwork by Scott Fitzwater. Photo: courtesy Scott Fitzwater
“Subterranean.” Mosaic artwork by Scott Fitzwater. Photo: courtesy Scott Fitzwater

Speaking about what appealed to him originally about mosaics as an art form, he said: “It looked constructive yet was expressive; the small pieces could display fluidity and texture; could make angles and curves yet mosaic techniques remained mysterious and unknown to me.”

Fitzwater sought out the best sources, traveling throughout Asia, Europe and the U.S. to study the techniques and scope of this diverse art form.

“I discovered that mosaic art was ancient, contemporary, architectural, functional, religious, community-based, fine art, folk art, geometric patterns, portraiture, scenes of nature, animal depictions and abstractions and it all mesmerized me,” he has written.

Not surprisingly, Fitzwater favors the abstract. Geometry plays a strong role in his designs, which often reference ancient Roman, Byzantine and Moorish patterns. Noted Bay Area mosaicist Michael Kruzich, a master of the Italian Ravenna technique, who is also known for intricate, perfectionist designs, notes that Fitzwater’s work reveals “an advanced sensitivity and awareness of line, composition and the effect it can have on the eye and emotions.”

Of note to math geeks and techies: several of Fitzwater’s works were inspired by the 12th-century Italian mathematician known as Fibonacci.

“Having been a creative and technical type throughout my adult life, Fibonacci math and objects called to me,” he said. “I saw it in art, in architecture, in nature, in the universe — everywhere. So when I started creating art, I naturally relied on Fibonacci to guide me in my creativity. I’m no longer so dependent on it.”

When he started working with slate — prompted by a discovery of slate roofing tiles — the nature of the material led Fitzwater toward a more organic and improvisational creative process.

In “Subterranean” his intention to explore the movement of lines as they flowed encountered the stone’s opposing course, which he “inevitably, slid past,” he said. He was able to repeat this process in subsequent slate works.

“A Prayer for Earth,” begun with a contemplation of “heaven, hell and our corporeal existence,” took on a different direction with a new focus on “our physical lives on earth and how humans have exacted a terrible toll on our small, rocky planet.” The piece won the Jurors Choice Award at the Society of American Mosaic Artists 2015 exhibition.

“Bee Muse.” Mosaic artwork by Scott Fitzwater. Photo: courtesy Scott Fitzwater
“Bee Muse.” Mosaic artwork by Scott Fitzwater. Photo: courtesy Scott Fitzwater

Indeed, many of the works in this exhibit, with titles like “Gene Pool,” “10Billion Max,” “Biotic Attrition,” and “Reef Gap,” testify to a preoccupation with human-caused environmental impact on the planet, perhaps related to his growing intimacy with the material.

“Scott has had great success building a relationship with slate, which, in my experience, has a mind of its own and is a very challenging material to bend to your will,” Kruzich said. “Unlike some other natural stone, which is more willing to be formed, you often have to merge your vision with slate and allow yourself to use it for its inherent personality rather than insisting it behave like something else.”.

Scott Fitzwater will attend the Opening Night reception of“Sketches in Slate”, which is on Sept. 19 from 5-7 pm. at the Institute of Mosaic Art, 805 Allston Way (between Fifth and Sixth streets). The opening is free and open to the public. The show runs until Nov. 8. For further information visit the Institute of Mosaic Art’s website Visit the artist’s website at Fitzwater Mosaic.

Laura Paull is general manager at the Institute of Mosaic Art.

Want to know what else is going on in Berkeley and nearby? Visit Berkeleyside’s new-look Events Calendar. Submit your own events for free if they aren’t there already — and give them featured status for a few dollars a day.

Guest contributor

Freelance writers with story pitches can email editors@berkeleyside.com.