I love stories of artistic inspiration – the stone accidentally kicked that leads to the creation of a massive sculptural environment or the case of someone like Raymond Isidore who took a walk and came home with a pocketful of broken pottery, beginning a lifetime endeavor. What is it that causes something to click, opening up a new way of seeing the world? All of a sudden color, line, shape are everywhere.
Some people get interested in art and go to school to train while others just can’t wait and begin the moment the urge arises. By all accounts Isidore was an ordinary man, a grave sweeper in the French town of Chartres. In 1928 he purchased a small plot of land and built an unassuming house for his wife and children. For years this was enough, shelter but not much more. And then in 1937 he took the walk that changed everything. He began to hunt for shards of ceramic pottery – in garbage dumps, on the street, anyplace where he might find a colored shape of no longer useful tile or dishware.
Isidore worked for nearly 30 years on his home, covering all the interior and exterior walls with his mosaic designs. But he didn’t stop there. The stove, the chairs, his bed, a sewing machine, if he could attach one of his found pieces of pottery he did.
Luckily for us Isidore had an innate sense of design. Working with simple tools – a trowel, a spoon, a pocket knife – he produced realistic images and abstract patterns. There are reproductions of cathedrals (after all Chartres is known for it’s cathedral), animals, and a range of symbolic female figures. Isidore claimed that dreams were the source for both the abstract and recognizable imagery he used.
Many artists labor their entire life in obscurity but Isidore was discovered in the 1950’s. He was called Picassiette, a combination of Picasso and the french word for plate, so the Picasso of plates (and also a twist on the french term for scavenger – pique-assiette). Today mosaics made with found materials are called pique assiette, some say after Isidore’s work.