By John Whitmarsh
As an artist, I’m always on the hunt for common, everyday objects that I can transform into something exalted. So when utility poles kept catching my eye, I started to hatch a plan for creating a tiled wall mosaic.
Utility poles are a ubiquitous sight in the city – gray and weathered, full of rusted staples, brown and leeching creosote. Some are ugly, some attractive. No two look alike, and they’re never boring to look at.
I saw a wonderful opportunity to explore textures in the form of tiles. My decision to cast them in ceramic was particularly simple one from a practical and aesthetic point of view. Ceramic is hard-wearing, noble, and comes in rich, compelling colors. My goal was to immortalize them in a permanent material that looked better than the real thing.
Initially, I thought of making tiles from the real thing by skinning a layer from the actual poles themselves. The only problem was the ones I wanted to use were part of a working pole (and chopping one down wasn’t a viable option). It didn’t take long to find a dozen or so poles that I could create impressions from.
Using a process of back and forth casting, I created a final plaster negative into which the clay would be pressed. (If I tried to make a plaster cast directly from the pole, the undercuts would prevent the plaster from releasing.)
The final mosaic showcases all the different incarnations of utility poles.
The tiles are sold through the online retailer Clé Tile: http://www.cletile.com/artist/john-whitmarsh/, and a video about the process of making a similar tile can be viewed here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ozk62FuD8jY.