Paul Neagu, ‘Palpable Object (Mosaic)’ 1970
Paul Neagu
Palpable Object (Mosaic) 1970
© Estate of Paul Neagu
Boris Anrep Mosaic Pavement in Gallery II 1923 at Tate Britain
Pierre Roy, ‘Boris Anrep in his Studio, 65 Boulevard Arago’ 1949
Pierre Roy
Boris Anrep in his Studio, 65 Boulevard Arago 1949

Mosaic has been used as a decorative medium for over five thousand years. It was the Islamic mosaics introduced to Spain by the Moors in the eighth century that inspired the twentieth-century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who arranged pieces of broken glazed tiles with fragments of glass bottles and china plates over walls in the Park Güell and in parts of the cathedral of the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona.

Mosaics also became popular in Mexico, particularly in the art of Diego Rivera and Juan O’Gorman, who used stone mosaics in their murals that were based on socialist ideas and exalted the indigenous and popular heritage in Mexican culture.

In 1921 a young Russian artist, Boris Anrep, who had settled in Britain after the Second World War, was commissioned to design a mosaic floor for gallery II at Tate Britain. The original floor had been damaged during a bombing raid in the war. Anrep’s designs are based on proverbs by William Blake.

This workaday ethic became popular again in the 1970s when artists began rediscovering craft-based techniques. The British artist Mat Collishaw made a ceramic tile mosaic of a woman’s face taken from a grainy photograph of a woman found on the internet.