Still trying new things: The story behind “Punctuated equilibrium”

"Punctuated Equilibrium" mosaic by Julie Sperling
“Punctuated Equilibrium” (2013) — smalti, local stone, skateboard (12″ x 18″)

The concept for this piece, which I’m actually planning to turn into a series, had been nagging at me for months; I say ‘nagging’ because – try as I might (and there were countless sketches, trust me) – I just couldn’t figure out how to execute it.

I’ve always thought that graffiti art (the artistic stuff, not just the random tags that are more vandalism than art) injects a certain vibrancy into what is sometimes the otherwise dull, structured mass of concrete and glass that is the city. I wanted to somehow depict the ripples of energy and life that emanate from the graffiti, fading slowly back to the monotony of right angles and office towers. The solution didn’t hit me until after Rachel Sager’s workshop at Touchstone – I could use irregular chunks of stone (rather than cubes) to introduce that chaotic energy!

Solution in hand, I scribbled a graffiti-inspired doodle down in my sketchbook and picked my palette. I knew I wanted to do the graffiti section in long, skinny bits of smalti to evoke the idea of spray paint. Nice idea in theory, but in practice cutting those long, skinny pieces did a number on my fingertips. Thank goodness for butterfly bandaids! I eventually took to protectively covering my fingertips with masking tape before starting to cut (it was all I had on hand!). But I got through it and, in the end I think it was worth it.

The chunky rock bit came next. The stone I used came from two places: the lovely subtle green ones were scavenged by my parents up by their cottage (around the Lion’s Head area). The greyish-blue ones came from one block away from my apartment – they were just randomly lying there in the middle of the street, so of course I stopped to scoop them up! Both were perfect for the job, because they didn’t break neatly into cubes anyway. I also threw in some lines of smalti, almost like sparks coming off the graffiti. I originally wanted to use marble at the top in the opus regulatum section (and use the polished side too, not the riven edge) to depict that bland regularity, but when I got to that point it just didn’t feel right. So instead I opted for this really cool matte black stone from around here. I also couldn’t resist throwing in one of those fun little bits of skateboard that I made.

I’m still having fun with playing around and trying new things. I’ve never worked with smalti in this style before, nor have I worked with chunky rock. It was exhilarating (and more than a wee bit nerve-racking) to try these new things on a bigger piece and have no idea if the investment of time and materials (and heart) would actually pay off or not.

I had settled on the name of the piece (and eventual series) long before I even stuck the first piece of smalti into the thinset. As a former science nerd, I thought the evolutionary concept of punctuated equilibrium suited my purpose perfectly. So there you have it: “Punctuated Equilibrium I” — “I” because there will be more!

"Punctuated Equilibrium" mosaic - side view (by Julie Sperling)
Get a little peak from the side
"Punctuated Equilibrium" mosaic - detail shot (by Julie Sperling)
Mmmm look at that texture!



Hi’s Julia from Touchstone! This is stunning…really. And I can’t help but inhabit it. A wonderful world I can visualize exploring with sparks and flows and tectonic forces. Is that the landscape in me talking? Anyway. so good to follow you. Be well.

Awwww – hi Julia! You are welcome to inhabit and explore my mosaics any time :-) I was just thinking about you the other day, wondering if you had chopped up any rock lately. Thanks for following along! Hope you’re well and having a good summer!

Let me know what you think!

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